Tell us about the early design brief
The organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games had a vision to create the most sustainable Games in history. This led to a central idea across all the new London 2012 venues to design and construct structures for long-term legacy after the Games which would be temporarily adapted for use during the Olympics. This is key to the sustainability of all Olympic development – and is very important for London since the city cannot afford to be left with many expensive, oversized and under-used venues.
What inspired your design concept?
The architectural concept of the London Aquatic Centre was inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a wave, enclosing the pools of the Centre with its unifying gesture of fluidity, whilst also describing the volume of the swimming and diving pools. The Centre was designed to have the flexibility to accommodate the size and capacity of the Games and also provide the optimum size and capacity after the Games.
What design challenges did you face along the way?
It was a complex project in a very restricted site. The challenge was to design and construct a 17,500 seat venue which would be altered to a 3,500 seat venue with very different access and orientations from one mode to the other. One of the biggest challenges to the design was maintaining its simplicity whilst incorporating a lot of technical requirements in its performance and construction.
The technical requirements for the roof, for example, didn’t just include the structural design but service and access routes. It housed a lot of lighting, which was required to make the venue capable of being filmed and a lot of work was done to incorporate the lighting and other services without sacrificing the simplicity of the roof form.
We put in a lot of hours selecting a sustainable timber to clad the underside of the roof too. As the most visible expression of the roof and the venue, we wanted to clad it in timber strips or slats. Timber was chosen for its tactile qualities and for its ability to be applied in strips which could describe the fluidity of the form. We did extensive research into sustainable timbers, looking for one which would not only have high durability and quality of finish but be FSC certified. In the end we opted for a tropical hardwood called Red Louro which satisfied all of the criteria.
Two temporary stands left us with a challenge when it came the roof: the stands cover part of the ceiling, leaving the uncovered part to weather. We decided to apply a one-off finish to the whole ceiling which gives the timber the silvery appearance that normally comes with weathering. When the temporary stands are dismantled this will hopefully mean there will be no tan line.