Issue Number: 115
While the world’s sports stars have been limbering up for London 2012, our leading architects – many of them Royal Academicians – have been setting the stage for the Games with innovative projects. By Hugh Pearman. Illustration by Christian Montenegro
London 2012 is as much about the long-term regeneration of east London as it is about the making of excellent sporting venues for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Architects (and one artist) of the Royal Academy are directly and indirectly involved with the making of the buildings that the world will see this summer.
Two exhibitions at the Royal Institute of British Architects, starting at the end of June, will cover both the design of the buildings of London 2012, and the ‘legacy buildings’ of previous Olympiads and Expos around the world. Meanwhile, the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields will stage ‘Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture’ from July, putting today’s stadia in their historic context, stretching back to the Colosseum in Rome. For a round-up of art projects for the Cultural Olympiad, including Frieze Projects East and art in the Olympic Park, visit the RA Magazine blog
Buildings in order from left to right.
London Aquatics Centre: Zaha Hadid Architects
With its rolling wave of a ceiling – the whole vast roof touches the ground at three points – this is an acoustic miracle inside, with none of the harsh echo that characterises swimming-pool buildings. Externally, however, we’re not seeing it at its best for the Games, as it has big temporary seating stands grafted onto it. These will be removed, whereupon we’ll see its final, glass-sided, façade emerge in ‘legacy mode’.
ExCel Centre extension: Grimshaw Architects
The huge waterside exhibition halls of ExCel in the Royal Docks have recently been much extended by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw (a previous PRA) and now include a dashing new yellow-edged eastern entrance. The complex will provide shelter for five arenas and will host no fewer than 165 sporting events, from boxing and fencing to table tennis.
The Dome: Rogers Stirk Harbour
The Millennium Dome designed by Richard Rogers RA’s practice in 1996-99 (see page 83) found a popular new use as the 02 Arena and exhibition venue. The arena will be adapted again – by Populous – to host 20 Olympic and Paralympic events, including gymnastics, trampolining and some basketball. Meanwhile, Rogers’ team has now designed a thrilling rooftop walkway over the top of the Dome from which visitors will be able to catch a view of the Olympic Park during a 90-minute tour.
Velodrome: Michael Hopkins Architects
Designed by Michael Hopkins RA’s firm with Expedition Engineering as engineers, this is a lean, low-energy building, inspired by cycling itself. With its taut, cable-net roof (no heavy girders required) and its curving, up-tilted form that follows the banks of spectator seating within, the Velodrome is designed to create maximum atmosphere. Unusually for this kind of venue, it has been built so that it lets in a lot of natural light through its roof and sides.
Olympic Stadium: Populous with Peter Cook
The international sports buildings specialists teamed up with Sir Peter Cook RA, veteran of the 1960s architectural theorists Archigram, to develop a new kind of main stadium: one that could easily shrink after the Games, and which would have wider popular appeal than usual. This boils down to a sparse, elegant, white-painted steel structure with ‘plug-in’ sections of seating and broad concourses for additional structures for temporary events.
ArcelorMittal Orbit tower: Anish Kapoor RA
None of the structures for the 2012 Olympics is as contentious as this tangled tower encouraged by London Mayor Boris Johnson and sponsored by a steel magnate. Kapoor, who has joined forces with engineer Cecil Balmond and Ushida Findlay Architects, is noted for his large-scale art works and conceptual breadth but here he has had to compromise by making a sculpture serve a dual purpose as an observation tower with a party space on top. Well, you can’t say it’s not distinctive. Will the public love it?
Basketball Arena: Wilkinson Eyre
Chris Wilkinson RA’s practice has always been an innovative one, and this building, with its sculptured shrink-wrap white plastic skin, is designed to be dismantled and re-used after the Games, possibly for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It has a 1,000-tonne steel frame. White on the outside, predominantly black and orange inside, it caters for basketball’s famously tall players by having especially high doors. Wilkinson Eyre has also designed the new Emirates Air Line cable car across the River Thames to link two other 2012 Games venues – North Greenwich and the Royal Docks.
Wembley Stadium: Foster + Partners
It could have been turned into an athletics stadium for London 2012 but Norman Foster RA’s 2007 Wembley Stadium was on the wrong side of town. Never mind, the football finals will take place here. Badminton and rhythmic gymnastics will grace the adjacent 1934 Wembley Arena.
Horseguards Parade: William Kent
The Horseguards buildings and parade ground on Whitehall were designed in the 18th century by Lord Burlington’s protégé William Kent – the original designer of the Royal Academy’s Fine Rooms in Burlington House. However, we doubt that he envisaged the parade ground’s use for beach volleyball. This is one of several historic buildings in the capital to be utilised for the Olympics and Paralympics. Inigo Jones’ Queen’s House in Greenwich is another, forming the backdrop to many of the equestrian events. This mix of old and new venues is partly pragmatic, partly marketing – calculated to maximise the visual and tourist appeal of London as host city.