Kay Hughes sums up the challenges facing the ongoing development of the Olympic Park
In urban planning terms, the Olympic Park was always a staging post for the delivery of the longer-term renewal of a run-down industrial site in east London, the last opportunity to consolidate the physically divided areas of Hackney, Stratford and Leytonstone around a new park and expand London to the east.
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) delivered the site for the Games. In five short years it cleaned the site and the waterways, transforming the topography. It built the utilities to anticipate future development, delivered the roads, bridges, landscape, venues and renewed and upgraded the site for legacy with temporary enhancements for Games mode. The focus was to spend on legacy requirements. Buildings or bridges that had no justified future demand were delivered as temporary elements.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is now clearing away the Games show-time overlay and this month the site passes to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).
LLDC will take the next steps towards delivering the site for a July 2013 opening. Games-time temporary elements will be removed, roads will be re-connected into the local district network, venues will be converted for legacy use and eventually the fences will come down.
The removal of temporary structures will release platforms for 5,000 to 8,000 new homes. ‘Fringe’ projects developed initially by Design for London and now the LLDC will anchor the project into its hinterland.
The ongoing journey will need to contend not only with public expectation but also with the practical realities of undertaking a development that is under considerable public scrutiny. In practice, the fences will come down in some areas, only to go up in others, as the next phases of development occur.
The challenge will be to satisfy public curiosity by opening up the Queen Elizabeth II Park as a local resource and public venue for events and temporary uses while mitigating the visual effect of ongoing construction and undeveloped sites.
The project has been well served by the Edaw Consortium legacy vision, set early in the project, which has maintained credibility throughout.
It has also been supported by Allies and Morrison in its masterplanning role, where the practice showed a maturity and ability to work flexibly, imaginatively and collaboratively with a growing number of successive client organisations and consultant bodies. This long-term commitment is, I suspect, hard to sustain, but has served various Olympic client bodies well and is something many practices could learn from.
As the site continues to develop over the next 20 or so years, this big new piece of London will evolve, layer by layer. There will be an ongoing need for design imagination opening up opportunities for creative talent on large or smaller design interventions, such as the AOC phone boxes or Surface architects signage designed for the Games.
It is important that practices keep an eye open for future opportunities as they emerge.
For me personally, the legacy will always be about what is not there. The things that don’t get noticed. For example the absence of pylons, fridge mountains and dusty, dirty, worn industrial streets that were dangerous to cycle on. The sport took centre stage and that is because so much of the site worked well.
If the success of an urban project is the satisfaction of its citizens, we have all done well and the LLDC now has the exciting and challenging task of taking the project to the next level.
Kay Hughes is director of Khaa and former head of design at the Olympic Delivery Authority