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Opinion - The Olympic Stadium

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The 2012 Olympic stadium’s only claim to architecture is that it is removable, writes Patrick Lynch.
I suspect that some of us still have a problem with the idea that London’s 2012 Olympic stadium will cost nearly £500 million to build and yet won’t be a permanent monument to the events. I suppose you could argue that removing the stand after a few weeks isn’t such a shame, especially as it’s no looker. At least the track will remain, with some seating. It is curious, though, that Peter Cook is defending HOK’s circus tent as ‘being a real temporary building rather than just looking like one’, thus disrespecting the entire legacy of Archigram – the Hi-Tech buildings that pretended to be temporary. Is it the fact that the building is temporary while the landscape isn’t that makes this an Archigram project? Clearly not, since while the tent might ‘walk’, the playground will clearly be part of a permanent urban ensemble. Is this enough to make it architecture though? I’m not convinced.
The 2000 Sydney Olympics will always be remembered for Cathy Freeman’s 400m gold medal, and visiting the stadium stirs up all sorts of emotions beyond the aesthetic or technical. Arrival at a stadium is always shocking, even if the rituals housed there are announced on the skyline as the ‘other’ to our workaday lives. Most stadia are colossal beasts that disrupt their host cities – the Colosseum was, well, colossal. This juxtaposition is what gives them their sense of drama – indeed their architectural presence symbolises the invasion of the natural world into city life and has its analogues in sacrifice, festival, theatre, territorial conflicts and thus in sport. Driving past the lurking shadowy gargoyles of Dublin’s Croke Park in the early morning sunlight on match day is a powerfully
affecting experience, and watching a match in Cardiff ’s Millennium Stadium makes you feel like you are at the centre of national life. Joseph Rykwert reminds us in The Seduction of Place of the twin role of architecture to symbolise public life as well as to accommodate it. Design of a national athletics stadium may need to be carefully calibrated in functionalistic terms that concern Health and Safety matters and sight lines; but beyond the basic erection of some seating and the laying out of a ‘fast track’ in the hope that some records might be broken – all matters that a surveyor or engineer is qualified to undertake – where is the architecture in HOK and Cook’s project?
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