Tell us about the early design brief
The brief was for a residential-led project fronting onto Victory Park in the centre of the Athletes’ Village. It was to be a development inspired by the great London mansion blocks and would provide generous apartments, with good levels of daylight and habitable external spaces.
Did you know…
- Plot N07 was chosen as host to Team GB for London 2012
What challenges did you face along the way?
Design thinking is critical to every decision in our practice. As the timescales in architecture are so long, it is critical to ensure that the origin of the concept is maintained even if some details are still being worked up years after the initial sketches were formed.
This project had two critical elements – the London 2012 date was fixed in stone and the immediate context was non-existent. Therefore we worked at many scales in parallel, working up designs for detailed elements of the construction whilst refining the nature of the buildings within an evolving context through regular workshops with clients, planners and architects from adjacent plots.
What about specific design challenges?
The Athletes’ Village is interesting in that, in essence, it simply comprises a vast number of new homes, with some retail units at ground floor. But having the buildings evolve concurrently alongside one another by numerous architects, for a multi-headed client body, with the Olympics as its first real deadline… suddenly this scenario created a particularly fascinating project.
As the majority of the plots are similar in scale, the individual architects were not there to out-do each other, rather to add variety in design, approach and detail. It was inevitable therefore that everything from a façade to a bathroom or balcony would be treated differently on each plot. This led to many searching questions for both architects and the client as the designs evolved, in striving to allow variety yet coherence within the overall Athletes’ Village.
To the client’s credit, there was a complete determination to avoid a situation where vast numbers of apartments were simply repeated across the Village. There was a shared belief in the need to make a development of differing character and apartments that provide long-term variation in their accommodation.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
Much pride, tinged with apprehension that the expectations from so many quarters would be hard to meet. Few projects have such attention from local interest groups, national media and ultimately a global audience.
What would you highlight as the best features or lasting benefits of your design work?
The design of our element of the Athletes’ Village has a number of features which are unusual within the project context. In particular, we were very keen to avoid the appearance of many identical units stacked up that could become very impersonal. Instead, we worked closely with the client and trade contractors to use a double-storey façade that exploits the efficiencies of off-site pre-cast construction whilst enabling an enriched aesthetic on our elevations.
We were also determined from the outset to utilise brick on our facades. Brick is a material familiar to everyone in the UK and adds a pre-determined sense of scale and variety, even on large buildings and as part of a pre-cast concrete construction.
We encouraged the client to rethink the brief we had been given to incorporate retail units onto the park frontage and to use three buildings on our plot rather than two. This allowed almost 90 per cent of apartments to be dual or triple aspect, providing greatly enhanced quality of light. And rather than adopt balconies clipped onto the elevations, we are delighted that the client and trade contractors actively engaged with us to design external spaces that are integral to the facades – we strongly believe that spaces such as these, located on the corners of buildings, provide well-lit and semi-private external amenity as an extension of the living space.
Working alongside Gross Max Landscape Architects, we designed a courtyard that is both simple in concept but rich in variation. Inexpensive materials were used creatively to provide an elegant and attractive environment for adults and playful space for children.
What are you most proud of regarding your design work for London 2012?
Despite the extensive complexities of the scheme, the end result very closely resembles the initial concept sketches we produced in 2008 and the development is of remarkable quality, from the landscaped public realm right through to the apartment interiors.