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Bob Allies: 'Olympicopolis would have been fantasy 10 years ago'

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Allies and Morrison’s founding partner Bob Allies reflects on leading the victorious team in the Olympicopolis contest and the challenges that lie in store

Q:How does it feel to have won the Olympicopolis bid?
A: We’re really excited to have been picked - it has been a great experience coming together as a team. From our point of view, we’ve really tried to do something that will enhance the place. The buildings will be really good, but it’s a big job to do.

Q: The team includes Buro Happold, O’Donnell and Tuomey, Josep Camps/Olga Felip Arquitecturia. How will you all work together.
A: In our brief there are several buildings. We’ve worked collaboratively as a team and we’ve put it together, and then we will probably divide up responsibility for individual buildings as we move forward.
We had to do that artificially for the competition in order to make a presentation, we might well review that but it’s most likely that people will go on working on the buildings they’ve already started on. One of the first things we’re going to do is work out how we’ll share responsibility and take things forward to the next stage.

Q: As well as a lot of architects, there are a lot of clients - the V&A, University of the Arts London, Sadler’s Wells. Are you expecting the clients to deal with you separately or as a single block?
A: It’s unusual to have a series of buildings for different clients, all being designed together at the same time, all being overseen by the London Legacy Development Corporation.
We don’t know how that will work. I’d imagine  that they will work collaboratively to begin with. Initially, we’ll be working on the whole project as a single entity and as we get over that stage we’ll start getting into more detail, and I would have thought we’ll start to divide up to work with individual clients.

Q: There is still a question mark about the Smithsonian Institution - what does that mean for the design process?
A: In the initial project description there was an allocation of space for other cultural institutions. As the proposals progressed, that space is the size of a Smithsonian. If it doesn’t work out, you could either put something else there or not put something else there. These are the things that our first meetings will be about.

Q: The proposals for the waterfront site also include 75,000m2 of residential space. What can you tell us about that?
A: There will be a residential partner who will come in after we get planning permission. We expect to submit a planning application next year.

Q: Allies & Morrison were joint masterplanners for the original Olympic Park site. When did you first join the project? And when was the Olympicopolis idea first mentioned?
A: We started work in 2003. [The masterplan] got planning approval in 2004, then the Olympic bid won in 2005. We worked on the masterplan for games and the legacy masterplan. I don’t think [the Olympicopolis idea] was raised until after the  games. I don’t think there was any thought of attracting these kinds of institutions there. It’s a very interesting thing.

When we were doing the masterplan, it would have been a fantasy to say “we’d like to have the Victoria & Albert Museum here”. But belief and enthusiasm for the site grew - in particular after the games - and people began to realise how much else the site could contribute.

Q: What difference will Olympicopolis make to Stratford, and more widely to east London?
A: It just gives an even greater significance to the place. Right from the beginning there was a recognition that as you went eastwards across London the number of cultural institutions went into decline. If it was a quiet suburban part of London, you might expect that, but as it’s become absorbed into central London it deserves that status and becomes more alluring for the institutions. Olympic Park is not just about housing - it’s a real piece of the city.

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