Sunday, 13 May 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games

I thought I would start this post with the above photograph.  I took it inside the Olympic Stadium last Saturday at another of the "London Prepares" events.  This one was called 2012 Hours to Go and 40,000 of us entered the stadium in time to see the final stages of some athletics events, organised to test the many facilities.  In this set-up the stadium is an impressive bowl, with all the features one had imagined.   The press was also in attendance, and there is a report here.

The upper part of the seating, holding 55,000, is temporary, and will be removed after the games, bringing the capacity down to 25,000.   These colourful staircases lead to that upper level so you won't see any of this upper structure post-Games.

The only Men's 100 metres I'll see this year was won by James Ellington in lane 4 in 10.30 secs.  Usian Bolt's world record stands at 9.58 seconds. James Ellington became famous for putting himself up on eBay to attract sponsorship.

But to go back to the beginning.  
My first sight of London's interest in staging the Games was this modest branding, wrapped around the ground floor windows of City Hall in March 2005, when the bid was being prepared.  On July 6, in Singapore, the IOC awarded the 2012 games to.....London. 

In the years since London was awarded the Games I have made a series of trips to see what I could of the site.  These photos are from September 2006 and give some idea of the type of terrain and conditions facing the design and construction teams at the 500 acre site. 

By the time of my July 2009 visit, the whole site had been fenced-off by the notorious 11 mile 'blue fence', and the many miles of footpath and cycleway were now out-of-bounds.
To get a sense of the antagonism this caused, and the effects of the closing of the site on the thousands of residents and users, read this 2008 article in the London Review of Books, The Olympics Scam, by author and Hackney esident Ian Sinclair.

Meanwhile, inside the fence, work was progressing at pace.  This is the Velodrome, seen from the adjacent A12, designed by Hopkins Architects (with advice from gold-medallist Sir Chris Hoy), which was later nicknamed The Pringle.  It will seat 6,000, and is a permanent addition to the east London skyline. Many have hailed it the best of the new Olympic buildings and it was shortlisted for the 2011 RIBA Stirling Prize.

By July 2010 work was progressing on the Athlete's Village, accommodation for 17,000 athlete's and officials.  After the Games, and some additional fit-out work inside each apartment, they will be made available as private and social housing.

As we got nearer to Games time, the "London Prepares" series of events kicked-off in August 2011, and I made my first visit inside the Park.  This is the facade and interior of the Basketball Arena by Wilkinson Eyre Architects.  The building will be home to basketball, the Handball finals, Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair Rugby, and will become a holding area for athletes for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.   The capacity is 12,000, it is a temporary venue, and the cost is reported as £41 million. I have seen reports that it may be reused for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but also that the 2016 Rio Olympic organisers have an interest in it. 

Also in August 2011 I went to the test event for the Beach Volleyball, staged rather incongruously on Horse Guards Parade.  The arena here will seat 15,000, on another temporary structure, as the Parade is better known as the location of the Trooping the Colour ceremony.  The building in the background right, is 10 Downing Street.  I'm sure we can expect to see the PM at the volleyball.  These army officers had walked across from the MoD to follow the action, only to be picked out by the tv commentator.

By December 2011 shoppers at the new John Lewis store, part of the adjacent new Westfield shopping centre, could visit the sports department on the 3rd floor and through the windows view the developing Olympic Park.  That was when I snapped this sunset (at 14:55 hours) over the Stadium, with the water polo arena in front of it.  Another temporary structure, this has 5,000 seats, and was designed by David Morley Architects.

There seems to have been much interest in the Orbit, or to give it the correct name, the Arcelor Mittal Orbit.  Again, I've watched this go up over the last 12 months, and even now I'm not at all sure if I like it.  It was designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond (and I really did enjoy Kapoor's major exhibition at the RA in 2009 - see here).  Many speak of it as London's Eiffel Tower (unloved and unwanted at first, it went on to become a much loved symbol of Paris).  Time will tell, but Tim Adams had a good piece about it in the Observer: The Mother of All Helter Skelters.  Read it here.

In February 2012 there was a series test events in the Aquatics Centre, the much-commented on building designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, which I was really looking forward to seeing.  Of all the permanent structures, this is the most difficult to judge and enjoy, simply becuse it is two-in-one.  As currently viewed, it is a 17,500 seat venue, with two swimming pools and a seperate diving pool.  After the games it has to reduce to 2,500 seats.  To meet this 'two-in-one' design brief the architects have had to add two very large and ugly wings to either side of their original concept.  These will be removed after the Games and it is only then that we'll really appreciate what I think will be a very special building.  It is reported as costing £260 million.

The Aquatics Centre, showing the wavy permanent structure to the right, and one of the angular temporary wings to the left.

Beautiful, sinuous shapes  (on an unusually sunny day in February)

The Aquatics Centre, showing the swimming lanes. The green/yellow seating upper right is in the temporary area and will be removed after the 2012 Games.

The diving boards, cast in concrete, look very beautiful, like tongues. They'll look even better when not covered in sponsor's slogans.

In May 2012 I returned to Stratford for the "London Prepares" event in the main stadium, which you see at the top of this post.  There is no dispute that London's transport infrastructure will be stretched this summer, and this photo shows the conjunction of rail lines at Stratford, already a very busy interchange.  I wonder how it will cope.  

Of course between leaving the train station and getting to your seat, you will have to walk some distance on the public highway before entering the site.  On my two visits this entrance has been nothing more than a gate in the security fence.  I had rather assumed there would be a more impressive entrance, an Olympic Gateway even, for the hundreds of thousands of visitors, ideally carrying the motto Citius, Altius, Fortius  (FasterHigher,Stronger).  So, a hole in the fence is what we had before queuing to pass through the ticketing and security process.  On my visits these have worked well, with much effort by the staff involved to be both swift and welcoming.   What is disappointing is that the physical arrangements are such a poor collection of temporary crowd control barriers, scanners, tent-like awnings, and chemical toilets. A really poor impression on arrival at the London Games.


After all that queuing, you can head over to this, the world's largest McDonald's.  It is temporary, but quite a good looking building. 

There is some uncertainty about the final cost of the 2012 Games.  Sky News is reporting a figure of £12 billion, with the possibility of "associated costs" pushing that up to £24 billion; the Daily Mail has been reporting the second of those two figures.  For that sort of money I had expected better than chemical toilets.

To return to the Olympic Stadium: it was designed by architects Populous (formerly HOK Sport), with engineers Buro Happold. Several other firms were involved at concept stage, including Peter Cook and Foreign Office architects.  I moved to sit in several places during my time there and was really impressed with the view from all seats.

The Dutchman with this bag told me his country was considering a bid for the Games in 2028: perhaps we can sell them some of our temporary venues and recoup some of the costs.

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