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ZAHA'S POOL TAKES A PLUNGE

AGENDA

First it was over budget. Then there was an apology and it seemed it was no longer over budget. Then came the rumours saying that, actually, costs were an issue. Now Zaha Hadid's Olympic Aquatic Centre has been shrunk.

Yet Hadid is sticking to her guns, saying the pool's price has never been an issue.

So why has London's 2012 'Gateway' project, drawn up with sports expert S&P Architects, been altered so significantly?

The new design, which was officially unveiled in front of the world's media on Monday 27 November, will undeniably be cheaper to build. Almost two thirds of the roof area has been trimmed from the competitionwinning designs (AJ 03.02.05).

The initial scheme boasted a 14,000m 2 crown; the new proposals will have a roof covering just 35,000m 2.The pool's eye-catching, wave-like, 'dip' has also disappeared, meaning less steel and less outlay.

But Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chief executive David Higgins refuses to link the redesign with escalating costs, despite Culture Minister Tessa Jowell's talk of probable Olympic price hikes.

What makes it hard to disagree with Higgins is the fact that while gossip puts the budget at around £100 million, the official price-tag is a secret.

But Higgins is more than happy to admit that a key reason behind the rejig was to 'reduce the risk' of building such a technically complex structure.

Speaking at the press conference, he said: 'We have to ensure buildability is tied in with the design and we are con-dent that the development of the design makes it so.'

This statement poses more questions than it answers. Was Higgins worried that the original scheme would have posed a potential financial 'risk' or even that it was unbuildable?

According to Hadid, the pool is not her most technically tricky scheme, even though she is effectively designing two buildings - one a 20,000 seat Olympic showcase and another a post-games leisure facility.

And, despite the fact that only one contractor tendered for her Glasgow Transport Museum project, she maintains that the pool - with its removable, overhanging roof -will not pose a particularly tough challenge for the builders.

She says: 'We have done much more complex things in other areas. There is a tremendous amount of expertise in the country to do this without any problems.'

But the site has undeniably altered and the centre - which features a 10-lane competition pool, a training pool and a 5mdeep diving pool - now ties in far better with the neighbouring Stratford City development.

Higgins concludes: 'The revised design, while just as visionary and exciting, is smaller than the original, reecting the new constraints of the site, and is now fully integrated with the bridge from Stratford City to the Olympic Park.'

So everybody seems happy with the new pool. But it has been a rollercoaster ride so far, and a betting man wouldn't bank against another twist in this saga being very far away.

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