Transforming for Legacy: Celebrating the Future of London’s Former Olympic Stadium
January 7, 2016
By Populous’ Richard Breslin and Nicholas Reynolds
2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the awarding of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to London, an incredible moment in British sporting history. Within a decade, an amazing amount has happened, both in sporting terms and in the development of a huge area of east London.
My colleague Nicholas Reynolds was at the former London Olympic Stadium to watch a Rugby World Cup game a few months ago, and earlier in the year the stadium saw Diamond League athletics, as well as the annual Race of Champions take place there. Nick takes up the story.
Of course, the centre-piece of any major event is its main stadium. In this role, the London 2012 Olympic Stadium was a resounding success, drawing people together from all around the world, and becoming the venue for some of the greatest sporting moments the world has ever seen.
Populous’ involvement in the world’s biggest sporting event began at least 2 years before the awarding of the Games, as part of the team involved in creating the initial ‘Bid Book’. With the bid team, we were able to design the masterplan for everything from the travel experience of fans to the flow of the crowds and the installation of temporary overlay in London’s most iconic and historic sites.
By being involved in the bidding process at such an early stage, we were also able to start discussions on the transformation of the stadium before the 2012 Games had even begun. And from 2012, this transformation is exactly what we’ve been doing in Stratford, east London.
Today, the word on everyone’s lips is legacy. A massive event, with all of its economic and social repercussions, needs to have an effect for the local community, as well as the host country as a whole. The chance to transform a Stirling-prize shortlisted stadium is a unique opportunity, but also a huge responsibility.
Seemingly small changes to the aesthetic and functional design of the stadium have, in reality, been the result of years of careful drafting and planning.
The transformed stadium, sitting within the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will be the only venue in the country specifically designed to host football, athletics, rugby, motorsport, baseball and concerts, seamlessly transitioning between each mode.
As well as the rugby, athletics and motor racing it has hosted this year, it is also due to host the 2017 IAAF & IPC World Athletics Championships, will become the home ground of Premier League football club West Ham United from the 2016-17 season, and will be the National Competition Centre for UK Athletics in the same year.
The differences between a venue for a major one-off event, and one used every week for professional sport are endless and complex, but do afford us unique design opportunities. Some required changes are bigger and more obvious than others.
In line with Premier League guidelines, the fabric roof that covered the stadium during the Games has been recycled and replaced; the new solid roof is the largest single-span cable net stadium roof structure in the world and covers every seat in the stadium. It has been specifically designed to improve acoustics and heighten the spectator experience, focusing the sound and projecting it towards the pitch, while protecting the surrounding residential areas.
Changes to the main stadium can also have ripple effects, which benefit the general public and local community, not just fans and spectators. As modern football clubs rely on the income generated by corporate hospitality facilities, as well as the more sophisticated concessions that are now a common feature in general admission areas, a ‘halo’ of spectator facilities has been created, encircling and securing the stadium.
Whilst necessary as a safety precaution, this addition also makes it possible to open Stadium Island to the public throughout the year, vastly improving the quality of the public realm within Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Right from the start of the Olympic design journey, our philosophy was to ‘embrace the temporary’; making the process of legacy planning as simple as possible, whilst utilising every feature that the city had to offer, often in unexpected and creative ways. Other venues designed by our team included equestrian events in Greenwich Park, and Beach Volleyball in Horse Guards Parade; incredible backdrops to amazing events.
I hope that we will see more of this considered approach in the years to come. We saw in 2014, with the unanimous approval of Olympic Agenda 2020, that the Olympic Movement is fully behind the use of existing and temporary venues wherever possible. This will help to reduce costs and to open the possibility of hosting major events to an ever wider audience.
In November of 2015, we were delighted to win a World Architecture Festival Award in the leisure-led development category; underlining the positive effect that a major events venue can have, well into the future.
The real test of all design, of course, is in delivery and legacy. The overriding reaction to the transformed Olympic Stadium has been very positive, with a fantastic atmosphere reported during the last year’s Rugby World Cup matches. It has been a privilege to see it transform over 12 years, and I look forward to many outstanding events, and a great future for Stratford and east London.
Nicholas is a Senior Principal and a Director of the London office of Populous. He has worked on a diverse portfolio of innovative designs around the world, including sensitive refurbishments of Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis Club, new performance venues in Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and Copenhagen, and large sports masterplans in the Middle East.
Nicholas was Design Principal for the O2 Arena, a revolutionary scheme involving the construction of a 26,000 capacity arena within the Millennium Dome in London, which was also the first major commission undertaken by Populous Activate, the design studio responsible for the Brand Activation of Populous projects and their sponsors. Nicholas founded Activate to seamlessly integrate partner brands into the design of stadia.
Richard Breslin is a Senior Principal at Populous and a Director of the Asian/Pacific office headquartered in Brisbane. Richard also sits on the worldwide strategic Board of Populous and is responsible for all of the firm’s projects in New Zealand and Australia.
Richard is currently leading the Populous team on the Darling Harbour Live project in Sydney in a HASSELL+ Populous joint venture. The $1B project includes the design of a convention centre, exhibition centre and theatre. He was Director in charge of the redevelopment of Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne.
In 1997, Richard began work with the team on the design of Stadium Australia (now ANZ Stadium), the main venue for the Sydney 2000 Olympics before moving to London where he worked on Wembley Stadium, and the design of the Soccer City Stadium in South Africa, for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He was also project leader for Populous’ successful master plan for the London 2012 Olympic Park.
In 2007, Richard headed home and led the teams on Eden Park redevelopment in Auckland and Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.