Visionary game changers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am


Riding a taxi on the Fourth Ring Road in Beijing and looking for the National Stadium, better known as Bird's Nest for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the magnificent structure emerges from the smog. Before I can ask the driver what activities have been held there lately, he points at the iconic stadium and says with great dismay: 'A load of scrap metal.'

Built at a cost of US$423 million, the 91,000-seat stadium wowed the world as the main venue for the athletics events, the soccer final and the opening and closing ceremonies of what IOC president Jacques Rogge described as a 'truly exceptional Games'.

But three years on, the marvel is more a monstrosity, standing quietly in the northern part of the city. Only sporadic shouts can be heard from visitors who pay 50 yuan for the privilege to enter the stadium.

With Olympic white elephants adorning many host cities, the 80,000-seat main stadium of the 2012 London Olympics has been built on a different concept and will be a shadow of itself after the Games have gone next August.

Located in Olympic Park in east London, the temporary lightweight steel and concrete upper tier holding 55,000 spectators will be removed permanently, leaving 25,000 permanent seats on the lower tier.

'In London, we have Wembley, we have Twickenham and many other famous stadiums. We don't need another landmark stadium,' says Chris Jopson, associate principle of Populous, one of the largest sports architecture firms in the world and the company that designed the London Olympic Stadium. The Hong Kong Stadium, opened in 1994, is also one of its projects.

'The Olympic Games is the biggest multi-sport event in the world but after the 15-day Games period, you will find it difficult to fill many of these venues again. That's why we have introduced so many temporary structures for the venues. We don't want to build things that don't have a long life.'

Jopson said the London Games would have the most temporary structures in Olympic history. 'We are of course not the first Olympic Games to use temporary structures,' he said. 'It has been done before but not on this scale. We are just moving the ideas on from the previous Games in Sydney and in Athens.

'Making the venues temporary also allows you to move some of the events into the heart of a historic city like London where we can have equestrian events and beach volleyball.'The equestrian events will take place at Greenwich Park, London's oldest Royal Park and a World Heritage Site since 1997. A temporary cross-country course and a main arena with a capacity for 23,000 spectators will be built within the grounds of the National Maritime Museum and will be dismantled after the Games.

Beach volleyball will be held at Horse Guards Parade, on the British prime minister's doorstep. It will be a temporary venue of 15,000 seats.'Of the 2012 Games venues, 25 per cent are built with temporary structures that will be removed afterwards. Another 25 per cent - like the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre - will have supplementary temporary structures. The remaining half will be facilities which are already there, such as Wembley Stadium and the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon,' Jopson said.

The different categories of venues are visual testament to London 2012's 'reuse, reduce, recycle' theme.

Temporary structures are particularly useful for staging one-off sports events such as the Olympic Games. They can be disassembled and reassembled elsewhere.

The basketball venue, completed four months ago at Olympic Park, has been built with a 1,000-tonne steel frame. One of the largest-ever temporary venues built for any Games, parts of it are expected to be reused or relocated elsewhere in the country.

The hockey centre, another temporary structure also located in Olympic Park, will join another group of facilities in the north of the park known as Eton Manor.

The Olympic Stadium is the most sustainable ever built. With steel a resource in short supply, the building was made 75 per cent lighter in terms of steel use than other stadiums. It also features low-carbon concrete, made from industrial waste and containing 40 per cent less embodied carbon than usual.

The top ring of the stadium was built using surplus gas pipes and steel and concrete use was further reduced by designing the lower section to sit within a bowl in the ground.

A permanent venue, the cycling velodrome in Olympic Park, is another good illustration of a sustainable venue in terms of design and construction. And its attractive design befits Britain's standing in world cycling - UK cyclists won seven of the 10 gold medals on offer in Beijing.

Sustainable choices have been made wherever possible at the velodrome which has a capacity of 6,000; from the sourcing of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to be used on the track and external cladding, to the installation of a 100 per cent naturally ventilated system, which creates a perfect track-level temperature, eliminating the need for air-conditioning.

The venue's design makes optimal use of natural light, reducing the need for electric lighting. It also has a low cable net roof system, creating an amazing atmosphere for spectators while reducing the amount of space to heat and ventilate.

The National Aquatics Centre in Beijing, built at a cost of 10 billion yuan, was one of the most recognisable venues at the 2008 Games due to its water bubbles-like outer wall, which earned it the 'Water Cube' moniker.

Designed by acclaimed international architect Zaha Hadid, the London Aquatics Centre lacks that visual element, but boasts a spectacular wave-like roof that is 160 metres long and up to 80m wide. And in accordance with the Games' recycle-and-reuse principles, the majority of spectators will be seated in two temporary wings. The capacity will then be reduced from 17,500 to 2,500 as 'outside the Olympics, swimming events never get more than two or three thousand people', says Zaha Hadid Architects associate director Jim Heverin.

'For an Olympic Games, you don't have to build everything unless you have a real need,' Jopson said. 'You only do things you need.'