Ahead of our building study, Rory Olcayto remembers the critical reception the London Olympic Stadium received when the first images emerged in 2007.
More from: The Olympic Stadium, London, by Populous
One of the more preposterous claims made of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium when it was first unveiled three and a half years ago was that it symbolised the decline of the West. Seduced by the extravagance of Herzog & de Meuron’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ design for the 2008 Beijing Games, critics writing in the nationals were embarrassed by the pared-back Populous design, a demountable crown raised above a concrete bowl.
Here was the anti-icon seen as defining the risk-averse, uncreative, aesthetically challenged culture created by the credit crunch. ‘Underwhelming,’ said one. ‘Tragically underwhelming,’ said another, just to make sure. Some of the feedback was ludicrous - ‘a bowl of blancmange’ - and some was just plain nasty. ‘Vile,’ wrote one industry columnist.
That much of the structure could be removed while leaving a smaller stadium intact didn’t impress. Perhaps because critics often fail to identify with genuinely popular buildings, smackdowns come easier to them than real architectural assessments.
Other aspects of the procurement process were more worthy of criticism. A design competition should have been held. The procurement process was flawed. An industry fearful of another Wembley-style disaster failed to respond to the contractor-led consortia bid, and only Sir Robert McAlpine and Populous - Team Stadium - buoyed by their Emirates Stadium design and build, put themselves forward.
Yet after visiting the stadium - the AJ was granted exclusive access ahead of the International Olympic Committee visit last week - I came away impressed. As the Olympic Park approaches the finish line, its unique circus-like aesthetic, quite different from the organic bubbly sprawl envisaged by Foreign Office Architects in its visualisations created for the official London bid for the Games in 2005, is emerging across the board.
Wilkinson Eyre’s basketball arena, Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre and Hopkins’ Velodrome each marry a striking graphic simplicity, more diagram than Archigram, with an impressive sense of enclosure. The stadium in particular embodies these qualities: the visitor experience will be rich architecturally, but it should look pretty good on the telly as well.
With Anish Kapoor’s Orbit tower rising alongside it, that circus atmosphere the ensemble creates - undeniably English, a super-sized summer fête - will be strongly reinforced. It will serve London well.
JULY Search starts for team to build and design the Olympic Stadium
SEPT OJEU Competition launched
JAN Team Stadium selected as ‘Preferred Bidders’ JUNE Concept design commences JULY Demolition starts on site; a memorandum of understanding is signed with Team Stadium NOV Concept designs launched DEC Stadium site clearance completes
MAR First planning application approved APRIL Contract signed and Team Stadium take over site MAY Main planning application submitted; construction starts
JULY Construction of external structure completed
MAY Work starts on field of play and track area, and first seats are manufactured AUG The Olympic Park Legacy Company starts formal bidding process for legacy operators of the stadium DEC Floodlights tested and all spectator seating in place
FEB West Ham United FC and the London Borough of Newham are anncounced as the preferred long-term tenant, with Populous working on proposals
*MAR Construction completes*
Summer 2011 - Summer 2012
LOCOG over-lay, fit-out and test events.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Stadium: Introduction