Open-access content 13th November 2008
20 November 2008
by David Arminas
A successful strategy for developing the facilities for the games is not about creating another Beijing-style grand performance where big is beautiful. The heart of the strategy is what happens after the games, and not just three or four years down the line but 20. This raises a big question for architects and for future owners of the buildings. What should the balance be between Olympic venue design and design that will aid urban regeneration, asked architect Mario Kaiser, principle design advisor for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). Kaiser must ensure that the Olympics is also an opportunity to transform the lower Lee Valley, one of London's most undeveloped areas, into a benchmark urban regeneration scheme.
The ODA will stay in place only until 2014, ensuring the landscape and buildings are altered when handed over to their new owners, Lee Valley Park. In this respect, the games are as much about deconstruction as construction. A lot of the large concreted pedestrian areas will not be left to become "lifeless open space" after the games. Concrete will be ripped up and the land taken back to grass and trees with paths for cycling and walking.
Indeed, some buildings, such as the basketball venue, will be designed as temporary structures, ready to be taken down not in two or three years time but directly after the games have finished. There will not be the legacy, as has happened in Athens, of disused structures surrounded by wire fence and acres of pedestrian concrete. Guard dogs now roam around while the city, sports clubs and politicians argue over what is to be done with the former martial arts complex.
In London, the main Olympic stadium will lose top-tier seating, dropping from an 80,000 to 25,000 capacity. As architect Megan Ashfield put it in her presentation, there will be "for sale, 50,000 tier seating, one careful owner, can be delivered". It may sound sad - even brutal - to downgrade what many will consider an icon. But Ashfield, associate principle with HOK Sports who worked on interior design at the Sydney Olympics stadium, said it is about satisfying the client. Lee Valley gets a manageable structure based on estimates of what it can economically do. To this end, HOK believes in bringing the client into the design right from the beginning, as they did for design of the cathedral of football, Wembley Stadium. They literally seconded the head FM for the old Wembley stadium over to HOK at the design stage. They had meetings with him every week for eight years. This allowed for the installation of sufficient numbers of turnstiles with open and airy concourses for quick dispersal of fans into the interior. Small things, such as having at least two section boards on the concourses visible to fans at all times are immensely important; when looking for their seats, fans immediately see if they are going in the right direction towards their section.
In any leisure facility, good communication between client and architect helps to ensure that no small details get left out. These details can make or break a venue financially, said Mike Taylor, a director of Hopkins Architects who is working on the Olympics velodrome. For example, a 60,000 cricket stadium in Mumbai will have parking for 20,000 scooters because the client knows that that is a main transportation for fans. Even very successful venues, such as Manchester's velodrome - a 3,000-seat, 250-metre track venue - provide dos and don'ts for designers, said Taylor. The Olympic velodrome will probably not have the hospitality area in the track's centre, where VIPs "can smell the embrocation of the riders" as they whizz by. Velodrome heating has to be very responsive, he added. Manchester will turn up the temperature to 26ºC just before a race because athletes believe the warmer air improves their lap time by a tenth of a second. In this respect the FM at London's velodrome will have to be on their guard, beef up security and do their bit for the nation's Olympic effort. It was rumoured that when the British were racing in the latest World Track championships in Manchester the Australian cyclists would sneak around to the back doors and open them to let in cooler air.
A toe in the water
Swimming pools are a special FM case, said Mark Sesnan, managing director of Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), a co-operative not-for-profit firm that took over Greenwich Council's leisure centres in 1993. GLL now employs 3,000 people and operates 68 facilities in 14 London boroughs. Sesnan said swimming pools across the UK will close in the next year because of rising energy costs. In GLL pools, admission is on average £2.50 for a swim, but it costs GLL £9 to £14 per person to provide the facility and service. Many councils shy away from putting in a moveable bottom to a swimming pool, horrified by the £150,000 expense. But that allows the depth to be increased by two metres, essential for holding revenue-generating competitions. The message is not getting to those who budget and build new pools.