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More than a crisp... by Samuel Allen

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

Walls, a roof, and floors. These so basic of elements make up the entirety of architecture, but the way in which they are devised and executed give each building it’s own personal ambience and feel. Shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, The Velodrome at the London VeloPark is an exemplary building; a massive sense of power and excitement is held within it’s tapering walls, sloping stands, and curved roof. The building sees thousands of people through its doors each year due to its ease of use for its purpose.

You pass from the reception into a spacious staircase passively lit from outside. Though the actual space is smaller than the reception area, it feels bigger due to the glass walls and the connection to the outside. A distinct hierarchy of space is formed by these different sized rooms, building tension for the final grand space, the cycling track itself. Breathtaking.

As a spectator walking through the entrance doors, you are urged on into the next light filled area by light filtering through glass walls. Private spaces are defined through concrete walls and opaque doors, which allow less light into the space and so makes them less appealing to inhabit than the bright public areas. The condition of public and private, and by extension- the circulation, is made very clear through these contrasting material choices.

 As an indoor space designed to seat 6000 people should be, the room is gigantic yet feels curiously intimate. As a spectator, you can hear every rumble of the cyclist’s wheels as they whirl around the 28° sloped corners; the choice of concrete helps to reflect the sound out from the centre, creating a cavernous experience as you feel the deep tones pass through you to be absorbed by the walls behind. The space feels cosy due to its oval nature; instead of endlessly extending in one direction, its expanse wraps around you.

It is obvious that a lot of anthropological research went into the design of the seating and barriers, with the chairs held at the perfect height for both comfort and visibility of the track. The barrier dividing the track from the stands is covered in wood, both separating but also bringing the two spatial elements together through lines of sight.

The walls follow the same trajectory as the stands, tapering out above a ribbon of glass which encircles this large space. The room appears to be larger than it is, stretching up and away from the centre. This tapering effect also, when coupled with the stands, leads the eye onto the track, and acts as a “material spotlight”, highlighting the wood inside the concrete;  the use of light wood for the walls and ceiling creates a contrast between the darker concrete of the floor. Passive lighting is also present through diffuse ceiling panels, compounding on the light and dark contrast.

Coming out of the building through the glass doors onto the second level walkway allows you to sense the weight of building behind you, as if it were in tension, floating above the emptiness inside. From afar however, the building does appear very grounded, due to its distinct composition of material and form. The exterior walkway flows all the way around under the overhanging walls and links the spectator to other cycling events.

Lacking in ornamentation, the wooden façade reflects both the ideas of Adolf Loos and Modern Architecture, as well as reflecting modern environmental concerns by using renewable materials. The façade invites patrons in, appearing warm and welcoming; opposing common Modern buildings covered in sheet glass which reflect the outside world and give the impression of inaccessibility.

The building has gained a place in the hearts of the British, and not only because of all the Olympic wins! The space is a pleasure to inhabit, the cosiness of the velodrome draws you into the action, whilst simultaneously asking you to admire the created space, and raises your excitement to new-found levels. It is easy to find your way through the individual rooms due to their transparent walls and obvious circulation routes, and unlike most sport centres, the sport venue itself is just one short staircase away from the entrance.

The building is very distinctive, although if you were to drive past you might not be able to remember its official name, its nickname however, comes to mind right away: “The Olympic Pringle”!

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