We want to tip our hat to the Brits for planning an Olympics’ that integrates environmental stewardship, urban revitalization along with sport venues that plan for the “legacy” use of the structures after the games. Unlike China who built an Olympic park with venues based on the monumental urban design consistent with that of a planned society, Great Britain’s Olympic Park has been created with a light footprint that will act as a catalyst for future development in one of the poorest areas of London. The Olympic master plan for the east end of London integrates mass transit links, reclaimed waterfront and massive infrastructure improvements to revitalize this area of London. Olympic planners wanted to make the 270 acre Queen Elizabeth park the legacy of the games and not starchitect buildings which would become underutilized “White Elephants” like Beijing’s Birds Nest which stands eerily empty amid barren plazas.
All of the eighty venues of the 2012 Olympics have been planned for day eighteen when the competition is over and the legacy of the games begins. With an eye toward economy and sustainability the Olympic organizing committee and master planning firms modeled the 2012 Olympics after the World’s Fairs of the nineteenth century which built mainly temporary venues. For instance London’s Olympic stadium is built for 80,000 spectators during the games and will be downsized to a 25,000 seat arena and leased to one of UK’s soccer teams. With stewardship and sustainability in mind Populous designed the arena with 11,000 tons of steel whereas the Bird’s Nest was constructed with 111,000 tons of structural steel-neither light nor flexible. The Basketball venue, designed by Wilkinson Eyre & KSS Design Group, is constructed of white recycled PVC panels, will be disassembled after the games and reused by the Olympic Committee possibly as a venue in the 2016 Rio Games. This makes sense since the Brits don’t play basketball in the numbers required to justify the support and upkeep of the facility. While temporary structures are not necessarily the money savers most would expect costing up to 85% of the cost of permanent construction, the savings really comes from the flexibility of the venues themselves and the ability to re-plan the spaces around the venues which can respond to changing market conditions and future site adaptability.
Bottom Line: We have written many times about white elephant buildings and the curse of inappropriate starchitect buildings. But 2012 Olympics committee addressed the rising importance of environmental considerations and consequences of unsustainable design. Queen Elizabeth Park, the largest European park built-in the last 150 years is just the legacy the London needed now and in the future.