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London 2012: designing for legacy

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AJ SPECIAL REPORT: How plans for the Olympic Park are shaping up under legacy chief Baroness Margaret Ford

When London won the 2012 Olympic Games in 2005, its success was based on the promise of a legacy – a new East London providing future-proof housing design, thousands of jobs, improved transport links and new communities.

As former London mayor Ken Livingstone puts it: ‘I only bid because of the regeneration potential, otherwise we could never have justified it. I would like to see allotments set among sports pitches and an area that allows people to walk from Enfield right down to the Thames.’

But with three years until the big event, questions remain about what exactly will happen to the Olympic Park once the Games are over. Just a few weeks into the job and newly appointed legacy chief Baroness Margaret Ford has already torn into the existing post-Games plans to scale down Populous’ 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium into a smaller, 25,000-capacity version. Ford would prefer to keep the arena at its full size, although it is doubtful she will be allowed to force this through without consensus from her board, due to be appointed in September.

While more certain plans exist for the other Olympic venues (see map), there are still large chunks of land in the park masterplan – some designated for temporary infrastructure and venues during the Games – that remain blank in legacy mode. According to one source close to the project, ‘there is a map doing the rounds with big white areas on it that no one knows what to do with yet’.

Ford, who heads up the Olympic Park Legacy Company, admits there is still a lot of work to be done on the park’s legacy masterplan, due to be submitted for planning in early 2010. ‘A lot of excellent work has been done in planning the legacy up to this point,’ says Ford. ‘But there should be a greater emphasis on celebrating the sporting legacy we will inherit from the 2012 Games.

‘Just as South Kensington is a destination for museums, the Olympic Park should be a visitor destination for a unique sporting experience – whether you play sport or not,’ adds Ford.

What has been decided is that the park will be divided into five main quarters, each with its own residential areas and community facilities including marinas, schools, nurseries and parklands. According to Markus Appenzeller, design co-ordinator for the Olympic Legacy Masterplan Framework and a director at KCAP Architects, ‘each housing area will have a certain focus, like the family-orientated area in the north’. Ford places emphasis on the parkland aspect of the site: ‘The Olympic site will be defined in legacy by the use of its parkland. We will inherit one of Europe’s largest urban parks and I want it to be beloved by Londoners in the same way Central Park is in New York.’

MJ Long, chair of CABE’s masterplan design review panel, doesn’t think the lack of clarity regarding the legacy plan is something to worry about. ‘Plans might seem a bit vague right now, but no one is hiding anything or being cagey. It’s really just all happening as we speak,’ explains Long. ‘That’s not to say there aren’t unresolved questions,’ she continues. ‘For example, during the Games there will be extra toilets and hamburger stands and we need to decide what to do with these. All options are being looked at – they might be recycled, whole buildings might be moved to somewhere else, or their long-term use might simply change on site.’

Ford agrees: ‘The development of the Olympic Park site will take place over a period of 25 years and beyond. We will be working with the Olympic Delivery Authority [ODA] and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games to ensure we can begin work on site as soon as possible after the 2012 Paralympics has finished.’

One option is using spaces that will not be immediately developed to house cultural events, giving the public access to parts of the site that would otherwise be closed. ‘It could be similar to the Potsdamer Platz programme in Berlin, where there was a big exhibition hall to show people what it would look like,’ says Appenzeller. ‘The area was also opened up in the summer and cultural events were held there for the public.’

The shape of the masterplan is not the only aspect of the legacy plan still undecided. What is also unclear is how planning and design vetting for the park will work. The area currently falls under the jurisdiction of the ODA, but it is hoped that planning conditions for the park in legacy mode, which straddles four London boroughs, will be decided by a joint planning committee. Newham Council’s divisional director for the 2012 Games, Nick Williams, says: ‘Anything we do will be coloured by what the aspirations for the park are, and in legacy the obvious place for these decisions to be made is with a central committee made up of representatives from all the boroughs.’

As for design delivery, Appenzeller says: ‘You can have the nicest plan, but if the delivery mechanism isn’t properly in place then you won’t get the quality you set out for.’ The responsibility of ensuring appropriate designs are picked for permanent structures will fall to the legacy company – but how this will be done remains uncertain. ‘The Olympic Park Legacy Company has to define its own agenda. Within it there has to be some sort of design supervision or design control,’ says Appenzeller. ‘This could come in the form of a CABE-type review, or a separate department within the company that focuses on design. It’s all very much in discussion.’

The future of most larger venues, whose delivery is the responsibility of the ODA, is more clear-cut. Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre will be slightly downsized, while the VeloPark – comprising the Hopkins-designed, 6,000-seat Velodrome, road circuit and BMX track – will remain very close to its Games-mode design.

The Media Centre, designed by Allies and Morrison with RPS, will be eventually transformed into a commercial structure. CABE has had its issues with early designs for the Media Centre, effectively a giant warehouse, and exactly how the building will be successfully split remains to be decided. But it has been agreed that the ‘modular’ design will be chopped up and replaced in phases by ‘permanent structures for different uses’.

For now, much of the detail regarding the legacy plan is a work in progress. To fulfil their brief, the Olympic Park Legacy Company will need to form a robust long-term strategy – one that allows for change and evolution, but keeps to its original agenda.

Legacy plans for the permanent Olympic venues

Olympic Park legacy map

1. Olympic Stadium

Architect Populous
Games mode Host venue with 80,000-seats for opening/closing ceremonies and track and field events
Legacy May become a smaller 25,000-seat venue, or remain at full size
Issues Baroness Ford has questioned the reasoning behind building a half-temporary stadium, especially since the UK is hosting the 2015 rugby World Cup and bidding for the 2018 football World Cup
Certainty of plans 20%

2. Aquatics Centre

Architect Zaha Hadid
Games mode 17,500-capacity venue hosting swimming and diving events
Legacy Wings will be removed to reduce capacity to 2,500
Issues Spiralling costs, up to £300 million from £75 million, were brought under control by simplifying the design. A £40 million, post-Games, add-on leisure centre and public wave pool was ditched last November
Certainty of plans 90%

3. Media Centre

Architect Allies and Morrison
Games time Host venue for 20,000-strong international press and broadcast media
Legacy Designed to be converted, in phases, into commercial spaces by being dismantled and rebuilt
Issues Essentially a gigantic metal warehouse. Innovative cladding and reworking of the facade has dispelled most fears that it will sit as an eyesore at the edge of the park. However, no tenants have been found post-2012
Certainty of plans 10%

4. VeloPark

Architect Hopkins
Games mode Host to all cycling events. Includes the 6,000-seat Velodrome
Legacy The Velodrome and road circuit will remain intact. BMX and mountain bike courses will be redesigned
Issues Costs escalated early on because the site was used as a landfill in Victorian times, resulting in a huge clean-up operation
Certainty of plans 95%

5. Eton Manor

Architect Stanton Williams
Games mode Training venues
Legacy Stanton Williams is responsible for turning these three areas into a 3,000-capacity hockey stadium, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and allotments
Issues The last major venues to be designed in the park, but also the least challenging
Certainty of plans 99%

6. Handball Arena

Architect Make
Games mode 7,000-capacity venue hosting preliminary handball and Paralympic goalball
Legacy The first venue to be opened in legacy mode, the arena will be used as a multi-sports venue and will host cultural, entertainment and business events
Issues Making the design as flexible as possible in legacy mode
Certainty of plans 99%

7. Olympic Village

Architects include Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, CF Møller, Denton Corker Marshall, dRMM, DSDHA, Glenn Howells Architects, Ian Simpson Architects, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, Make, Niall McLaughlin Architects, Panter Hudspith Architects, Patel Taylor and Piercy Conner
Games mode Home to 17,000 Olympic athletes in 11 residential blocks
Legacy Will be converted into 2,818 apartments, with 1,379 taken on by Triathlon Homes as affordable housing. The rest will be sold to developers for private resale
Issues The Olympic Village is currently owned by the taxpayer, so a value-for-money sale to future developers is essential. The conversion to apartments will take three years to complete
Certainty of plans 50%

8. Basketball Arena

Architects Sinclair Knight Merz, Wilkinson Eyre and KSS Design Group
Games mode 12,000-seat venue for basketball events
Legacy The ODA plans to recycle the majority of the structure. Plans to reuse it as a market hall have been ditched
Issues Designed as a temporary venue, it is likely to be pulled down
Certainty of plans 50%

A-E. Other temporary venues and infrastructure

Although the builders’ merchant and training facilities (A) and the fuel farm and waste consolidation centre (E) will revert to parkland in legacy mode, the future of the concrete batching plants (B), the Olympic Park health centre (C) and the logistics and command offices (D) remains uncertain

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