THE GREAT ARENA ROOF: Part II (Zaha Hadid’s London Aquatic Centre)

The underside of Aquatic Centre roof via Detail

London Aquatics Centre. London, UK. 2012. Zaha Hadid Architects

The London 2012 Olympic Games were held in several spectacular new purpose-built buildings in the UK capital this past summer; none however were quite as spectacular as Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre. Housing all swimming and diving events for the Games, the main action centers around the 50 meter competition pool and a 25 meter diving pool that sit beneath a flowing roof that seemingly floats above it all.

Structural diagram created by project Arup via Detail

Hadid is the Queen of the Fluid Shape and the Aquatic Centre Roof is vintage Zaha. Measuring 160 meters long by 90 meters wide, the complex 3,200 ton steel roof sits amazingly on just two columns to the north and one wall to the south allowing for complete column free interior space. Working with Arup Engineers, Hadid developed a highly complex space-frame steel truss roof to create the form and the appearance of these trusses would be quite spectacular on their own.

The 3,200 ton roof is set in place via Detail

However, Hadid is one of the most ambitious designers in the world and settling for the exposed-structure-aesthetic was clearly not good enough, even if the exposed structure here might be a sight to behold. Instead, Hadid covered the top of the roof with a aluminum panels and the underside with over 30,000 sections of Red Lauro Timber. This metal and wood cladding simplifies the complex truss roof to create a flowing shape that was one of the great icons of the 2012 Games. 

The round cut-outs provide home to lighting via Detail

Lighting, speakers and other systems for the arena are organized in a series of round peep holes that dot the expansive roof surface. These circles of light create a secondary pattern on the roof and allow for the amorphous roof shape to efficiently distribute services throughout the space below.

Thankfully the post-Games Aquatic Centre will lose the two carbuncle appendages it carried for the Games when it reduces its seating capacity from 17,500 to 2,500. The form created by Hadid while sculptural and aesthetically pleasing is also functional urbanistically in that it opens the sides up for views from the soon to be open public walkway. 

The roof serves to connect the Aquatic Centre with the surrounding Park

The ambition of this project is nothing new for Zaha Hadid whose defined her career by countless projects of equivalent prowess. The Aquatic Centre is however remarkable for a sports venue and perhaps a great legacy of the Olympic Games is that they can raise the architectural bar and push the boundaries for what sport facilities can be.

The soaring roof provides a dramatic backdrop from the circus below via ClickClickJim
The soaring roof provides a dramatic backdrop from the circus below, via ClickClickJim

In this series we are collecting and dissecting the world’s great arena roofs. Let us know your favorite in the comments below – I know they are out there. Next up, Nervi’s Palazzetto dello Sport, Rome >

Main picture credit: The underside of Aquatic Centre roof, Photograph: Hufton + Crow, London via Detail