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Marathon not a sprint

Hattie Hartman gives a venue-by-venue guide to London’s ‘Green Olympics’, from cable-net roofs and low-carbon concrete, to the site’s infrastructure

A spectacular one-off mega-event that mobilises more than 14,000 athletes and millions of spectators from around the world may seem at odds with a sustainable agenda. Yet London has seized the opportunity to demonstrate how the Games can be approached differently. The defining mantras of London 2012 have been regeneration and legacy. The hope is that the Games will leave a permanent footprint that will enhance the built and natural environment of east London’s lower Lee Valley and the lives of its residents.

London’s investment in the Games is much more than an Olympic Park full of new sporting venues. It is about the creation of a sustainable urban quarter with an ecological park at its heart, where a quality public realm supports walking and cycling, and residential areas and community infrastructure are well located in relation to public transport. To be successful, the park must be well-frequented by local residents, in the best tradition of London’s Royal Parks. It must also reinterpret Britain’s deep-seated horticultural traditions and adapt them to 21st century environmental challenges.

The message is clear: sustainability cannot be tacked on as an afterthought at the end of the design process, nor can it be pigeonholed as a technical concern. London 2012 has overcome this tendency by making sustainable design a driver from the outset. Notable highlights related to the parkland include the extent of soil cleaning and reuse on the Olympic Park, a park design based on hydrology, flood management and biodiverse habitats, as well as a pioneering water recycling treatment for its irrigation.

Likewise, site-wide energy distribution, exceptional design quality of infrastructure buildings, trialing of low-carbon concrete mixes, and early engagement with supply chains to develop non-toxic products and promote recycling are significant achievements.

Quantitative targets are essential, but they must be tailored to their context. It is no use simply replicating London’s targets in Rio because sustainability is a journey. To move the sustainability agenda on, targets must be relevant to each set of circumstances.

The burning question is how the radical changes to the physical fabric of east London will impact the social and economic opportunities of local residents. Physical transformation must be accompanied by investment in employment training, job creation and community facilities if residents of the East End are to achieve convergence with fellow Londoners.

London 2012: Sustainable Design:
Delivering a Games Legacy


This book by Hattie Hartman is published by John Wiley & Sons, £49.99.

For a 25% discount for AJ readers, go to and enter promotion code VB802

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