Tell us about the early design brief
Eton Manor was a unique venue as the only dedicated Paralympics venue within the London 2012 Olympic Park. It also had to fulfill three different functions: providing aquatics training facilities during the London 2012 Olympics, hosting the wheelchair tennis event for the Paralympics, and subsequently becoming a permanent hockey and indoor/outdoor leisure centre for Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.
As part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Legacy sports venues, the site also needed to accommodate associated changing and support facilities as well as a mountain bike trail, zone for a five-a-side football centre and public allotments.
What inspired your design concept?
We considered the use of the building after London 2012 as the starting point of our design, with the Games facilities seen as a temporary overlay that would be easily removed after the London Olympics with minimal transformation.
We also drew inspiration from Eton Manor’s connection to its surroundings – the site itself had long been associated with community sport, having been originally set up in the early 20th century by Old Etonians for the benefit of young East End residents.
What challenges did you face along the way?
A particular concern was the site’s relationship with its context. In recent years, Eton Manor had become somewhat cut off from its surroundings, so particular emphasis was given to re-connect Eton Manor with its locality and to bring the language of the Olympic Park to the surrounding community.
The site’s topography was significantly re-shaped with over 40,000 tonnes of reclaimed soil to aid legibility and accessibility, creating better visual and physical links with the streets to the north and the bridges, which connect Eton Manor to the Olympic Park and Hackney Marshes.
To appear integral with the landscape, the design for the main hockey pitch was conceived as a bowl carved into the ground, its concrete form extending to create the base of the accommodation building and seating terrace. A boardmarked finish added a further layer of detail and texture and forms a relationship with the Western Red Cedar rainscreen cladding of the interlocking rectangular tennis hall and new planted trees to the south of the building.
Sustainability was at the heart of London 2012 and Eton Manor achieved a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating and improves upon Part L requirements by over 20% and water consumption by 40%. These targets were achieved by incorporating a number of energy efficient measures including natural ventilation, passive cooling, using exposed concrete soffits to maximise thermal mass properties for internal environmental conditions, high levels of natural daylight and high efficiency fittings.
We also promoted biodiversity with biodiverse planting, brown roof and bird boxes and selected construction materials based on their sustainable properties. We used timber as a structural and cladding material extensively due to its low embodied energy properties, and we selected structural concrete with a high recycled content.
What about specific design challenges?
Eton Manor could have been a utilitarian building type – simply a series of temporary, generic sports facilities within the Olympic Park. Instead, our design concentrated on giving each facility a distinct architectural identity.
Due to the intricacies and potential obstacles of the design and build procurement process, the design was developed to reduce the complexity of interfaces. We focused on five key details to ensure the contractor could develop the scheme in line with the design intent.
The procurement strategy also posed challenges in terms of the quality of certain materials, particularly concrete. We needed to source a viable sustainable concrete mix, which raised issues around colour, appearance and standards of workmanship. Our design proposed a boardmarked and grit-blasted finish as an appropriate and achievable solution for the contractor.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
We feel privileged to have been involved in the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and, more importantly, to have contributed to a lasting legacy with a state-of-the-art sporting venue for Lee Valley Regional Park.
Eton Manor will re-open as the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, with England Hockey and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) as key tenants. Scheduled to host the 2015 European Hockey Championships, the venue’s main stadium capacity has been designed to allow expansion to 15,000 spectators. The LTA is developing a programme to ensure the facility acts as a ‘beacon’ site to encourage and develop junior players in the East End while still holding regular tennis tournaments.