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What became of the Aquatics Centre’s temporary wings?

What is clear from these efforts to reuse and recycle is that new ways of working do not penetrate industry overnight, says Hattie Hartman

Eighteen months after hosting audiences of more than 17,000 spectators during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Zaha Hadid Architects’ Aquatics Centre has been stripped of its temporary wings and reopened as a smaller community venue. Much hoopla accompanied the reopening, yet what became of the construction materials in the temporary wings?

Temporary buildings were a key strategy for avoiding under-used white elephants on the Olympic Park after the Games, and stringent targets were set for the reuse and recycling of materials. Yet the London Legacy Development Company was unavailable for comment. Contractor Balfour Beatty confirms that all materials were dismantled and nothing was sent to landfill. Over 3,000 tonnes of steel were taken apart, smelted and recycled. The lime green stepped seating terraces, which could not be recycled due to sandwich plate construction, were offered free to any purchaser who would collect and pay for transportation.

They have found a permanent home at Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino in Miami, Florida. The surplus toilet cubicles had been hired and were returned to supplier IGLOOS for reuse on the rental market. And, the phthalate-free PVC wrap was taken back by French manufacturer Serge Ferrari in an arrangement agreed at procurement stage. Serge Ferrari has patented Texyloop, a process which separates the polyester fibres from the PVC coating so that the materials can be recycled.

Perhaps most challenging was finding a home for the 14,000-plus surplus seats which were removed from the stands. These were stored in containers by the contractor until suitable destinations could be found. Three hundred seats have gone to Bromley Football Club. ‘Reuse is best, but it costs you money,’ says Balfour Beatty’s David Clarke. Clarke goes on to explain that because dismantling and reuse requirements were known at the contract stage, both costs and financial credits for selling the steel were planned for.

Twenty lengths of the lime green seating tiers tell a modest, but compelling, reuse story in nearby Hackney Wick. Through the proactive efforts of Zac Monro Architects, the tiers are to be incorporated in the CRE8 Lifestyle Centre - a sustainable construction skills and urban farming project located in the grounds of the former Hackney Wick baths. The landscaping of the site using dismantled bridges from the Olympic Park is already complete, and the remainder of the project, which won planning last month, is to be built through donated materials and to be hung from an arched structure made from the seating tiers.

What is clear from these efforts to reuse and recycle is that new ways of working do not penetrate industry overnight. Even a clearly circumscribed project which was planned for from the outset - such as the Aquatics Centre’s temporary wings - requires innovation to change standard practice.

Now open daily from 6:30am to 10pm, the Aquatics Centre welcomed more than 8,000 visitors through its doors on its opening weekend. For £7.50 per adult and £5 per child, non-members can book online to visit AquaSplash, sold out last weekend. The story of the temporary wings will rapidly fade, but the lessons and challenges of designing for deconstruction should not be lost.


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