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The future of architecture is mobile

UK-GBC’s final Lessons Learned seminar: ‘Delivering Sustainable Temporary Venues’

For the final session of UK-GBC’s London 2012 Sustainability Lessons Learned series a rather small audience of just 23 people assembled at The Building Centre, despite the fact that London has been much vaunted as the ‘only games’ to set out a design strategy and sustainability plan.

Kevin Owens, Design Principal at LOCOG, highlighted the fact that an important aspect of sustainability was questioning how many permanent new buildings were actually needed. This thinking has resulted in the most ambitious schedule of temporary structures the Olympics has ever seen.

The Olympic Park with transformative venue Eton Manor in the foreground

The Olympic Park viewed from the north with Eton Manor in the foreground

Julian Sutherland, Design Director at Atkins and author of the 2012 Temporary Materials Handbook, pointed out that sustainable engineering of temporary buildings is really all about smart, efficient design; a key part of which is ensuring a material-minimising strategy is in place.

With this in mind, it’s also vital to understand the procurement chain and to make use of resource efficiency measures such as carbon accounting. In short, Sutherland’s key message was that sustainable temporary venue design is easily attainable – there’s no need for a sustainability specialist!

Eton Manor will host the Paralympic tennis and become a legacy tennis and hockey centre

Eton Manor will host Paralympic tennis and become a legacy tennis and hockey centre after the Games

Arup associate Joanne Larmour, who was the engineering design director on Stanton WilliamsEton Manor, a venue that has three modes; temporary training pools during the Games, Paralympic tennis and finally a legacy tennis centre and hockey pitch. The major design challenge here was to minimise adjustments between these modes.

Eton Manor's timber-clad building is wrapped with level access ramps

A landscaping levelling exercise meant built-in accessibility, while the use of modular raised pools reduced cut and fill. For future use, the 50m pools have been designed with coupled water treatment kits that can be divided into two 25m pools and sold on. The project showed sustainable design and flexibility don’t have to cost more if you have transformative, efficient solutions.

The Basketball Arena is the third biggest venue on the Olympic Park

The centrepiece of London 2012’s temporary stock is Wilkinson Eyre’s Basketball Arena, the third largest capacity venue on the Park. Associate director Sam Wright explained how the Arena’s development framework served as a blueprint for other temporary buildings.

The undulating skin is lightweight and easily separable from the structure

Having developed several options at competition stage, Wilkinson Eyre whittled down to the final design of a lightweight box with a steel structure on efficient, small pad foundations. The skin, structure, services and seating packages were all disassociated from each other to ensure easy demountability.

Seating at the Basketball Arena will re-enter the market after the Games

The product selection and specification of the Basketball Arena was prescriptive rather than descriptive, a shift that Wright argued is important in ensuring the final building is truly ‘cradle-to-cradle’. Early engagement with the supply chain meant 70 per cent reuse and recycled content were achieved.

Shooting accomodation at the Royal Artillery Barracks was reduced from four to three buildings

The next case study was the playful Royal Artillery Barracks’ Shooting Range designed by Magma Architecture. From the perspective of the firm’s director Martin Ostermann, the real legacy of this ‘vanishing’ temporary venue lay in creating a special ‘I-was-there’ moment.

The playful form of the buildings is optimal for membrane structures

Translucent membrane skins allow for natural lighting and ventilation, and the form is an optimal geometry for demountable membrane structures. It was encouraging to hear that negotiations are underway for the reuse of these structures at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Translucent membranes allow in natural light

Jeff Keas, principlal at Populous, headed up the team in charge of the Games ‘overlay’ – the collection of 35-plus sport and 100-plus non-sport temporary venues. Early market engagement was of paramount importance to ensure the UK temporary structure industry could deal with the vast quantitiess required:

270 000 modular seats

165 000 m2 of tents

2500 cabin units

140 km of fencing

250 km of crowd barrier

In fact, the amount of temporary seating and buildings at the London Olympics is more than the last three games - Sydney, Athens and Beijing - combined. Populous responded to this mammoth task by identifying every user experience and every piece of kit. These were then input as pictorial icons in a huge mapping exercise for each event.

Canary Wharf's skyline is framed by the design of the Greenwich Park equestrian venue

Greenwich Park equestrian venue

Perhaps the real gems of the Olympic overlay are venues such as the equestrian venue at Greenwich Park, and the beach volleyball venue at Horseguards Parade, where the seating and layout have been manipulated to showcase the surrounding historical buildings and skylines of London.

Jeff Keas attributes these successes to the client who he maintains has a ‘great vision for a sustainable games’. Indeed, when questioned about the final destination of elements such as the temporary pools of Eton Manor, Kevin Owens mentioned that LOCOG has engaged with schools and local authorities very early in the process even though a final plan isn’t yet in place.

Seating at Horseguard's Parade was arranged to showcase the architecture

Beach volleyball at Horseguards Parade

He assured the audience that post-Games these issues associated with re-use would be totally transparent. As for elements such as seating and lighting, these are all due to re-enter the market or be re-appropriated back into Legacy venues.

The real success of the temporary and overlay facilities of the Games is the way in which they have embraced the ‘unique context’ of London. As for the sustainability credentials, if the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ procurement is properly addressed, the extensive use of temporary facilities is a valid approach which avoids the legacy of Olympic buildings without a sound business plan post-Games.

Horseguard's Parade nestled in the 'unique context' of London

The resounding message from the morning’s event was one of excitement at the future potential of temporary venues. The speakers all agreed that their involvement in the Games has encouraged them to consider incorporating temporary structures where appropriate in future design projects and Martin Ostermann went so far as to boldly offer his lesson-learned: ‘The time for eternal monuments is over – the future of architecture is mobile.’

All images credited to LOCOG.

Read more in Hattie Hartman’s London 2012: Sustainable Design.

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