Like the London Games of 1908 and 1948, the 2012 Olympic Games could mark a fundamental shift in the Olympics as we know them. While 1908 saw the introduction of national teams and an Opening Ceremony, and the 1948 Games were the first to be televised and have corporate sponsors, the 2012 Games will fully embrace existing and temporary “pop-up” structures for its venues. While not a new idea to the Olympics, the London Games will embrace the transient building more than any other before. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) design mission required that all venues be temporary unless there is a specific post-Olympic defined use.
As with the “Pop-Up” retail strategy where brands occupy existing or new spaces for short periods, the shunning of permanent buildings for the Olympics seems to be a smart, economically prudent decision for this two-week sporting spectacle. It is yet to be seen if these games will be as spectacular as the games of 2008 in Beijing, but the buildings will help make the Games of the XXX Olympiad a financially feasible, environmentally sound Olympics.
Designed by the leaders in sports architecture Populous (formerly HOK Sport), the Olympic Stadium is the centerpiece of Olympic Park. The Olympic Stadium will hold 80,000 spectators during the games and after the games the upper bowl is designed to be broken down leaving just the lower 25,000 seats. This is the lightest steel structure of its size ever built – one quarter the amount of steel was used as at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest. A lightweight, fabric roof protects spectators from the elements but also ensures likelihood of high winds will not affect times on the track below. The designers created an extremely compact seating bowl which will bring fans closer to the action and lower the stadium height. Lowering the height of the stadium requires extra tall lighting masts to ensure a properly lit track and infield for TV coverage. Fourteen smartly conceived, iconic, triangular lighting posts ring the stadium roof. At the moment the Olympic Stadium lacks the architectural fireworks you would expect from an Olympic Stadium, though I will hold off on final review until installation of exterior fabric cladding and it has seen some action.
The Aquatics Centre
The Zaha Hadid designed arena is inspired by fluidity of water and swimming motion will house all swimming and diving events. Post-Olympics, this will be a beautiful, cozy 2,500 seat swimming arena. During the games however, two large carbuncles with 15,000 seats in tow will be affixed to the elegant structure. It seems the Aquatics Centre was designed for life post-Olympics, its appearance during the games an afterthought. Disappointingly, the most visually striking, ambitious building of the games will not be seen as it is intended to during the Games for which it was actually designed.
The most sustainable venue at Olympic Park, “the Pringle” was designed by Hopkins Architects. This permanent venue will host the track cycling events during the Olympics and will used for community cycling projects following the games. A lightweight, double curved, cable net roof follows the angled geometry of the Siberian wood track below. Two levels of seating separated by a glazed concourse provide 360 degree views of Olympic Park beyond. Apertures in the FSC (forest steward certified) timber cladding and strategically positioned skylights make this a naturally ventilated and naturally lit venue.
The Copper Box
Make Architects in collaboration with Populous designed another permanent venue in Olympic Park. The 7,000 seat arena for Handball and Modern Pentathalon during the Olympics and Goalball during Paralympics will be adapted to a multi-sport arena for community use following the games. Unlike the organic shaped Aquatic Centre or swooping roofed Velodrome, The Copper Box is an orthogonal shaped rectangle whose main feature is 32,000ft2 of recycled copper cladding on its exterior. 88 light pipes in the roof provide natural lighting on the interior.
The Basketball Arena
Designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, the 12,000 seat arena will be completely deconstructed following the Olympics and reutilized for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (plans for the Arena to be reconstructed at 2016 Games in Rio were recently shelved). This is the largest temporary facility ever constructed for an Olympic Games but a striking exterior of PVC membrane will provide a canvas for nightly projections and will ensure the home for basketball, handball finals and wheelchair basketball and rugby in Paralympic Games will be a memorable venue.
In addition to these, the temporary 16,000 seat Riverbank Field Hockey Arena, 6,000 seat BMX track and 5,000 seat Water Polo Arenas in Olympic Park, the 5,000 seat Beach Volleyball Arena at Horse Guards Parade, the 3,000 seat triathlon venue in Hyde Park, and the 7,500 seat shooting ranges in the Royal Artillery Barracks will be completely deconstructed following the games. Existing venues for tennis (Wimbledon), volleyball (Earls Court), archery (Lords Cricket Ground), boxing (ExCel) and soccer at Wembley in London, Old Trafford in Manchester, Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Hampden Park in Glasgow, St. James Park in Newcastle and City of Coventry Stadium will further reduce the need for the city of London to find uses for Olympics-specific venues following the conclusion of the Games in September. This is a thoughtful approach by LOCOG to the development of temporary sporting competitions going forward. One does however hope the short-term nature of the venues does not sacrifice the spectacle of the games. With the great capital city as backdrop and clever use of projections to create exciting display I have little doubt this will be an extraordinary games. The permanent legacy of the Pop-Up Games remains to be seen.