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The Regenerators #1: Tom Russell

The London Development Agency group director for Olympic legacy promises Richard Vaughan that he will ‘capture the best in design’.

Why did you draft in Kees Christiaanse Architects (KCAP) to join Allies and Morrison and EDAW on the Olympic Park legacy masterplan?
We were impressed with KCAP’s brief. We decided to bring it in for the ‘visioning’ exercise and to collaborate with Allies and Morrison, which has a strong masterplanning record. Also KCAP offered something new to the mix. I know EDAW is a global practice but KCAP brought an extra European flavour to the team, and we felt it would mean we could get a much stronger product.

Who will lead the consortium to deliver the legacy?
KCAP will take the lead with the visioning of the masterplan. It is, however, important to say ‘taking the lead’ but not determining it. KCAP will create a platform for collaboration. When we interviewed the firm it had a lot of enthusiasm, and was keen to collaborate with others.

The winning consortium boasts 17 practices (AJ 24.01.08) – how will they fit in?
Although EDAW and Allies and Morrison agreed that there needed to be an overarching vision, they also said that this project is too large for just a handful of people. As we develop a more detailed plan, we will start to bring in more people.

When will we expect to see this?
By the middle of the year, June or July, we expect to have the strategic plan in place. We have already been involved in the selection of LDA Design and Hargreaves Associates for the design of the Olympic Park
(AJ online 17.03.08).

You were at the helm of New East Manchester Urban Regeneration Company up to, and during, the 2002 Commonwealth Games in the city. How does this job compare to your last one?
The scale and complexity is much greater than the Commonwealth Games, but some issues are the same as with Manchester. I don’t want to be seen as coming down from the North showing everybody how to do things, but there are similarities. The RIBA has criticised the Olympic Delivery Authority for the lack of smaller architectural practices involved in the Games’ design – will you be looking to use smaller firms? There is every possibility. I became very used to working with local and small businesses in my last job (chief executive of New East Manchester Urban Regeneration Company). There are lots of large financial issues involved, but when you are talking about something on this scale, you need diversity in architects. I want to capture the best in design as possible. In my experience, when it comes to diversity, the smaller practices are at the leading edge. There will be 40-50,000 houses for sale in the area, and these houses have to be different from the standard housebuilders’ model. Small practices can provide this.

Who is going to take political ownership of the legacy?
A lot of our planning work has been looking at the organisation’s management structures for delivering this. There’s a degree of consensus that a project that will take place over the next 20 to 30 years can’t be done by a department from the London Development Agency. We will need a specialist vehicle, such as a not-for-profit public/private partnership of some sort. The devil will be in the detail, as you move from planning and consent to delivering the masterplan. There will need to be an executive edge, and there will need to be accountability. The body in charge will have to look through everything at a detailed level to make progress. It is our responsibility to find this body.

There is a lot of talk about creating communities in the Olympic Park area, do you really believe any organisation can create a community from nothing?
I am well aware we don’t create communities. You cannot just create the tradition of a community; this can only come when people move to the area. All we can do is put in place the right type of housing and employment space for people to move to this area. It is gradual, we must learn from our previous experiences and be sure that we absolutely cannot make any mistakes.

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