Olympic park 2014
London’s surprising win was attributed to its focus on urban regeneration and legacy: perhaps the first time an Olympic bid had specifically presented the Games as merely the warm up for a longer-term rejuvenation.
Bill Hanway is executive director of operations at AECOM and behind the master planning for the 2012 Games: “We decided not to speak about the architectural wonders of the Games but focus instead on the total outcome the Games could deliver for London, and in particular East London, which has a range of social challenges and economic deprivation”.
But when the celebrations are over and the hangovers clear, what will Londoners find? Will we see an East London regeneration that has the hallmarks of Barcelona’s transformation, or an empty and bedraggled temple to hubris of Athenian proportions?
Hanway says legacy is enshrined in the project: “Right from the beginning, legacy was a strategic decision. We never drew up a plan that was just an Olympic plan. There was always also a transition plan and a legacy plan. For example, we made sure that infrastructure was in the right place for legacy use, not just for the Games; that roads were placed where they’d be needed after the Olympics”.
It’s clear that legacy has played a key role in the design of the main venues. The Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre will have a capacity for 17,500 spectators during the Games, reduced to a maximum of 2,500 post-Games. The two clumsy wings on either side (which house additional seating but detract from the centre’s visually pleasing wave shape) will take 10 months to dismantle, after which the centre will provide two 50m swimming pools for public use, doubling the number of Olympic-size pools in London.
In designing the Velodrome, Hopkins Architects had to address conflict between Olympic Broadcast Services’ (OBS) needs and legacy requirements. “The broadcast service wants total control of light in venues and this means minimising natural light because the OBS can’t control it”, says Mike Taylor senior partner at Hopkins Architects.
“We decided natural light was the right answer for legacy users, to reduce running costs and improve the environmental performance of the building, so we designed for legacy. We pressed on with rooflights, leaving the OBS to black them out if it insists on it for the Games”, says Mike Taylor. The Velopark will be open to the public from the end of 2013.
Olympic park 2012
Other stadia, including the white-clad basketball arena, have been built specifically as temporary venues. In part this obsession with post-Games legacy can be traced back to the Athens Games of 2004. Athens’ legacy is considered among the worst of any Olympiad: as many as 21 out of its 22 venues lie abandoned and maintenance of the sites alone has cost as much as £500m.
“We didn’t find a plan for the post-Olympics development of the venues”, said New Democracy politician Fani Palli-Petralia in 2008, before the financial crisis and its subsequent impact. “When a city gets the Games, it should make a business plan and decide what the country needs for the day after the Olympics. This did not happen”.
London organisers took note. Says Peter Tudor, director of venues at London Legacy Development Corporation, “London is further ahead with its legacy plans than any previous host city. We have secured the future of six of the eight permanent venues and are well on our way to appointing operators for the remaining two”.
The main stadium and press centre are the only two permanent venues that have yet to find a post-Games use, and Tudor believes both are likely to be finalised shortly. A creative or Silicon Valley-style commercial hub is the most likely use for the press centre and the hope remains that a football club will take over the main stadium.
But the real legacy of these London Games will not be in its temples to sport. Legacy goes far beyond stadia, which is perhaps just as well as architecturally there are few gems – the Velodrome and the lean but appealing Copper Box multi-use arena by Make are two; the John McAslan and Partners rust-red energy centre is another.
The main stadium in no way rivals the complex visual delight of the Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei-designed Bird’s Nest in Beijing and the site itself will never compete with Barcelona or Sydney’s sun-drenched parks. Instead, the legacy of the 2012 Games is most likely to be judged on their impact on urban renewal and place-making in East London.
Greg Clark, senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Europe and the author of a number of books on legacy, points to the importance of public realm, architecture and urban design in achieving long-term social legacies. “If we want East London to have a different future it has to look different”, he says.
“It needs a high quality of place and amenities so that people decide to stay there rather than move out as their wealth increases. To become a more mixed-income location, the place-making agenda is a very important part of what we have to do”.
Olympic park 2030
A key aspect of the place-making legacy is the Olympic Park itself, which will become the Queen Elizabeth Park, one of the largest urban parks to be created in Britain in the past 50 years. Waterways, cycle tracks, footpaths, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and hockey pitches and lush acres of new parkland are planned, and the park should be open for public use from July 2013.
East Village – the Athlete’s Village during the Games – will also play a key role. It will be converted to housing, with some 4000 properties becoming available to Londoners by mid-2014. Other developments include 900 family homes in the Chobham Manor area in the north east of the park. Five neighbourhoods in with 7,000 homes are scheduled to open; 42 per cent of which will be family homes, 35 per cent affordable housing.
Social infrastructure is also planned: three schools (two primary and one secondary); nine nurseries; two walk-in health centres; one primary care health centre; and community, leisure and cultural facilities are all on the cards. Jonathan Kendall, director of urban design at Fletcher Priest, the master planner of East Village, points to the accelerated time frame as a positive legacy of the Games: “The development of the housing and community spaces of the village would have taken 20 to 30 years to build in a non-Olympic world; the Olympics have condensed delivery to seven years”. The architecture of the estate is not immediately lovable: 10-storey blocks in a repetitive scheme that lacks a sense of warmth. But Kendall believes a sense of community will develop over time.
The architectural planning may have been inspired by developments such as Maida Vale but the result – a dense grid of high blocks – is not typical of the area in which two-storey terraces are still the norm.
The village will be handed over to its new owner, Qatari Diar, by March 2014. Some 30 per cent has been designated as affordable – the true measure of legacy may well be how affordable it actually ends up being for the economically deprived communities that border the area. “Legacy isn’t just about whether a development is economically sustainable but also about whether it delivers community cohesion, how it transforms the built environment and how it transforms how it feels to live in the area”, says Iain Macrury, director of the London East Research Institute.