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ZHA slams Olympic Park scheme over Aquatics Centre ‘demolitions’

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Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has criticised the plans for a £1.1 billion cultural quarter on Stratford Waterfront for proposing ‘demolitions’ to its award-winning London Aquatics Centre

The practice has sent an objection to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) claiming the East Bank development will cause ‘significant harm’ to the design integrity of its 2014 Stirling Prize-nominated Olympic venue next door.

The Allies and Morrison-led mega-project aims to provide new facilities for some of the UK’s major cultural institutions including the BBC and Sadlers Wells, creating a ‘powerhouse of culture, education and innovation’.

But ZHA is objecting to a range of proposals, including demolition of the Aquatics Centre’s external lift and changes to its plaza located on the bridge that connects Stratford with the Olympic Park.

In its letter, ZHA writes: ‘With almost a million visitors every year since it opened to the public after the 2012 games, the venue deserves to be protected and enhanced by new developments.

‘Instead the proposals as set out in the application treat the venue as an inconvenient neighbour which can be modified at will to accommodate requirements of the new development by demolishing and adding parts to the London Aquatics Centre.’

Planning documents sent to the LLDC explain there are ‘existing wind conditions’ on the plaza and suggest installing six columns carrying screens and planters to help mitigate wind speeds along the bridge.

The Aquatics Centre’s external lift, meanwhile, will be demolished to make way for an additional lift, which according to the applicant will improve accessibility. 

But ZHA director Jim Heverin, the Aquatics Centre’s project director, told the AJ that the lift enclosure was an integral part of the building design.

‘It was designed in conjunction with the external stairs to signify the main Aquatics Centre entrance on the lower level,’ he said. ‘Removing it loses the composition with the stairs and the undermines the significance of the Aquatics Centre entrance from the plaza.’

ZHA also objects to plans to ‘remodel’ two ground-floor areas underneath the bridge on both sides of the river with new retail and bike-parking enclosures and the installation wind mitigation masts and planters on the plaza.

‘None of the proposed changes are sympathetic to the Aquatics Centre and this is a shame given the extent of area available for the Stratford West development,’ said Heverin.

In its letter, ZHA adds that the building was described as a ‘masterpiece’ by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and that any alteration should be done ‘in sympathy rather than destruction and indifference to its qualities’.

Urging the LLDC planning committee not to approve the application, it adds: ‘We cannot accept that the qualities and capital investment of a highly successful building such as the Aquatics Centre should be so heavily compromised in the insensitive manner of the current proposals.’

But an LLDC spokesperson hit back, claiming the ZHA lift kept breaking down and needed regular repair work.

‘LLDC is not modifying or altering any of part of the London Aquatics Centre main building,’ they said. ‘As part of the overall Stratford Waterfront development, we intend to remove the existing external lift located next to the London Aquatics Centre on Stratford Walk. This is to be replaced with two new public lifts.

‘The proposal will increase the lift capacity and accessibility to meet the future visitor needs of Stratford Waterfront and the overall park. This also addresses the issues with the existing lift that breaks down and needs regular repair.’

ZHA said it only saw the proposals a few weeks before the huge scheme was submitted to planners in November. 

Earlier proposals for the cultural quarter, formerly known as Olympicopolis, had to undergo a major redesign, with tower heights cut back after a row over protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Subject to planning permission, Stratford Waterfront is expected to open from 2022.

ZHA's summary of the proposed changes

ZHA’s summary of the proposed changes

ZHA’s summary of the proposed changes

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