As with every Olympics in history one of the primary concerns facing organisers is where on earth to host everything. With 302 individual events in the Olympics and a massive 500 in the Paralympics it takes a vast amount of space to contain all of the athletes, spectators, coaches, families and friends – not to mention all the pitches, tracks and equipment – which is where the architecture comes in.
It’s become a tradition that with every consecutive games the ambition and vision of the architects involved increases tenfold. You’ve only got to compare Beijing’s Bird’s Nest to its predecessor in Athens to realise that the ante was upped considerably in the space of four years. And while we’re not thinking about it all that much at the moment, the world’s architectural elite have already launched their own ambitious preparations for Rio 2016.
So how has London fared in the quest to out-design the Chinese of 2008? Well, without wishing to sound biased (we’re sat only a couple of miles from the Olympic Park itself) the numerous constructions that house this summer’s events have been one of the highlights of the games since before the athletes even arrived.
Hopkins’ Velodrome, Hadid’s Aquatics Centre and the Olympic Stadium itself have all been beautiful (if a little slow-growing) additions to the East-London landscape reminding us that, Olympics supporter or not, us Brits really do have a knack for building nice things. And as far as we’re concerned, the nice things are these…
The Olympic Stadium
It was clear from the first few seconds of the opening ceremony that this year’s stadium is a pretty special affair. While it doesn’t match Beijing’s Bird’s Nest in terms of pure exterior aesthetics, it’s still a breathtaking structure in its own right and has a couple of unexpected yet canny design features definitely worth mentioning. Drawing inspiration from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, designer Rod Sheard said that the Olympic Stadium was designed with acoustics in mind. “The athletes are so focussed, it’s very easy for them not to hear the crowd. So we’ve got to make it really loud for them to get any benefit from it.”
As a result the £486 million stadium has been designed to keep its 80,000 capacity audience as closely-packed as possible with the roof specially shaped to rebound their cheers right back into the heart of the space, generating maximum volume.
Also mighty impressive is the stadium’s location; standing proudly on its very own island and accessed by six footbridges that surround the perimeter. Stadia with their own moats are just cooler than those without. Fact.
The Aquatics Centre
Arguably the most impressive structure on show in the Olympic Park, the Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre has been embroiled in controversy since the swimming events began owing to a rather embarrassing oversight that left 600 ticket holders unable to properly view the highest diving events. Hadid argued that: “The brief for the building from LOCOG was to provide 5,000 spectator seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m diving platform events. The centre actually provides over 8,000 seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m platform events” – thus surpassing the requirements of LOCOG’s brief.
Disagreements aside it has become clear over the course of some 10 hours watching swimming events (I normally abhor swimming as a ridiculous pastime owing to personal inadequacy in the water) that the Aquatics Centre is a mammoth feat of design and achingly beautiful with it. Some 3,000 tonnes of structural steel and who knows how much concrete are utilised to startling effect, turning the hardiest of building materials into seemingly weightless structural features that occur only on the building’s periphery, making the main spaces free from obstruction and the roof appear to float.
Though steel and concrete might be the height of good modernist taste, my heart has always lain with the wooden exterior of Hopkins Architects Velodrome. It’s also hard to deny the exquisite appearance of the hyperbolic paraboloidal roof, even if it is a pain in the backside to say. Architectural Review certainly appear to be admirers of Hopkins’ work, enjoying the “empathic sense of forces in action, whether of a heaving arched action or of loads being brought down to ground. It is in these terms, as well as for its elegant economy of form, that the Velodrome is so satisfactory.” And we’re inclined to agree.
One of the main features of this years’ games has been portability. It’s all well and good building vast, breathtaking structures, but what happens to them once the games are over? This question has led a number of competitive venues to abandon permanent housing in favour of structures that can be disassembled and moved on after the competition becomes a distant memory.
Both Magma Architecture’s Shooting Venue and the Beach Volleyball Stadium have been erected in temporary locations and will be removed once festivities are over, reducing wastage and the impact on London’s permanent landscape. While it’s harder for architects to build show-stopping structures from scaffold and fabric we’ve been mighty impressed with the way the temporary architecture has held its own against the main events at the Olympic Park; which makes us wonder if this semi-permanent approach to building might well be the future of sporting architecture.