The Olympics have always spotlighted the host country’s architecture. The London 2012 summer games, 26 sports at 34 venues, showcase Great Britain’s new and modern designs alongside its historic architectural past.

The Olympic Park architecture includes Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre, Hopkins Architects’ Velodrome, and the athletics stadium designed by Populous. Make Architects/Populous designed the Copper Box, for handball and fencing, which will become a multi-purpose sports centre. Service buildings include (as well as Allies and Morrison’s Media Centre) John McAslan’s Olympic Energy Centre, and John Lyall Architects’ Olympic Park Pumping Station to channel grey waste. Two reusable structures are Wilkinson Eyre’s Basketball Stadium in the Olympic Park, and Magma Architecture’s Shooting Range, sited in Woolwich.

Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond / Ushida Findlay Architects: Archelor Mittal Orbit

“Despite the fact that it is sculpture it is a structure. Before it is a structure it is a sculpture”. The £22.7m, ruby red, 114.5-metre high ArcelorMittal Orbit (AM Orbit) is an iconic archi-tourist-sculpture hybrid based on the geometry of a six-pointed star. A stabile sculpture, landmark structure and public viewing platform it is accessed by two lifts and exited by a staircase of 455 steps. The 5,560 metres of tubular steel are illuminated by 250 coloured spotlights.

It includes additional sculptural elements by Kapoor: A canopy at the base has a concave floor with a view through a funnel looking up from dark to light. On the upper level of the viewing platform two concave mirrors are placed on the external walkway to invert the horizon and visitors will be able to look down through a central rectangular void or annulus. 
It is an architectural fantasy in the spirit of Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised monument for the Third International in Petrograd in 1920; and part science fiction: “Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles” H.G. Wells. The War of the Worlds, Book 1, Chapter 10.

Zaha Hadid’s The London Aquatic Centre

The £244m LAC contains two 50-metre pools for events, training and a 25-metre diving pool and is the architectural star of the Olympic Park. The curved shape – double-curvature geometry that creates a structure of parabolic arches – represents fish-like fluidity and the motion of water. 
The building has a double height to allow maximum spectator viewing for 17,500 people during the Games.
Legacy value? Post-Games, its temporary box additions will be removed to create a 3,500 capacity venue.

Populous with Peter Cook: London 2012 Olympic Stadium

The main stadium for the Olympic and Paralympics is a strangely anonymous, ego-free structure, although it will have a £7m temporary external corporate advertising wrapper, 900-metre long and 20-metre high, funded by Union Carbide. It is the centrepiece for track and field events and beneath the wrap it has an exterior skeletal frame of white painted steel zigzag columns creating a triangle/pyramid motif that repeats in the floodlights and in the black and white pattern of the seating.

Legacy value? It has a capacity of 80,000 seats but has been designed to shrink to become a modest 25,000 capacity athletics venue, or more likely, rebuilt as a soccer stadium for West Ham United (or more improbably the original O’s, Leyton Orient).

Hopkins Architects: London 2012 Velodrome

The £93m velodrome has been dug out to create a hidden bowl and stadium, and the velopark is set on raised landscape, which suggests a shrine for a Tibetan sky burial. The structure is, however, more urban in concept and the architects were inspired by the bicycle as the epitomy of ergomomic and engineering efficiency.
The elegant wooden exterior and geometry of the building was designed to reflect the shape of the cycling track and is clad in Western Red Cedar.
Legacy value? The stadium has 6000 seats and is one of the permanent additions to the Olympic Park.

Magma Architecture: Olympic Shooting Venue


The three shooting ranges at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich are contemporary architectural fairground tents. The façades of the three structures have a white, PVC membrane each demarcated with vibrant red, pink and blue coloured holes protruding from the skin to provide natural ventilation and lighting. 


Disarmingly, the coloured circles might be described as giant bullet holes, a case of architectural expression encapsulating the activity of the shooting competition.
Legacy value? These are flexible, sustainable, landmark buildings that will be reassembled for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Make Architects with PTW and Ove Arup and Partner: Olympic Handball Arena


Clad in recycled copper, the look of the Handball Arena will evolve as the surface becomes patinated. The interior features flexible, retractable seating that can accommodate a wide variety of events besides handball: basketball, badminton, boxing, martial arts, netball, table tennis, wheelchair rugby, and volleyball. Sustainable features include “light pipes” installed in the ceiling that mimic natural light and a rainwater harvesting system.
Designed to be both permanent and flexible, the Copper Box is a new multi-use sports centre for the London community. When under construction, the building was known simply as the Handball Arena until the exterior copper cladding was afixed. 


Monica Bonvicini. RUN: Three nine-metre tall letters forming the word ‘RUN’ situated on the plaza of the 6,500-capacity Copper Box – the London 2012 Handball Arena.

SKM/Wilkinson Eyre/KSS Design Group: Olympic Basketball Arena

One of the largest temporary venues ever built for the Olympic Games, the Basketball Arena will seat 12,000 under a steel frame wrapped in 20,000 m2 of white recyclable PVC membrane. 

During the events, lighting will animate this surface. Following the Olympic Games, the structure can be disassembled and elements can be reused elsewhere for other events.

ExCeL Grimshaw Architects: Excel Exhibition Centre (Phase II)


Since 2001, motorhomes, bikes, baby carriages, and yachts have been shown off at the ExCeL conference and exhibition center. Construction events like ecobuild regularly take place here. For the London 2012 games, however, ExCeL becomes the site of the largest number of competitions, including boxing, weightlifing, fencing, wrestling, and table tennis. 


Through adaptive reuse, ExCeL exhibits five sports arenas—with no construction required. That’s versatile and flexible architecture.

Greenwich Park

Greenwich Park has been used for sports since King Henry VIII hunted deer here. Located about 20 minutes from central London, the venue for the 2012 Olympic equestrian events offers riders and horses an historic backdrop from which to compete. A cross-country course with over 42 jumps and water obstacles makes use of much of the 74 hectares (183 acres). A temporary arena was constructed in April 2012 for dressage and jumping events. As shown here, the removable arena consists of a dirt-covered platform made from plywood, aluminium, and steel held above ground by over 2,000 pillars.


Norman Foster + Partners: Wembley Statium – Redevelopment

With 90,000 seats, standing almost four times the height and covering twice the area of the original, the new stadium is the largest covered arena in the world. Facilities are designed to maximise spectator enjoyment; seats are larger than the old ones, with more leg-room; the highest tiers are easily accessed via escalators; and the concourse that wraps around the building provides catering for up to 40,000 spectators at any one time. 


One of the things that make the stadium special is the retractable roof, which ensures that the spectator experience is comfortable in all weathers.


Athletes’ Village: Various Architects

The Athletes’ Village will house over 17,000 athletes and incorporate dining and shopping and the communal spaces and courtyards reflective of London’s housing traditions. When the Olympics are over, the complex will provide affordable housing for East London residents.

During the games, many athletes will live within walking distance of these sporting venues. One striking residence within the Olympic Village is a stone building with bas-relief images of ancient Greek athletes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *