Beyond 2012 - an integrated Design Story

Lee Valley White Water Centre
A built environment story

“Today the venue is used on a daily basis by elite athletes and the general public, which will have a lasting positive effect on British Athletics and the local economy.”

FaulknerBrowns Architects

Tell us about the early design brief

The project scope was to deliver a white-water slalom course, a warm-up course and flat-water pool to Olympic specification to host the canoe and kayak slalom events at the London 2012 Games. The long-term project was to provide a facility for Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) that would sit comfortably in a regional park setting, with a building and course designed together to create a great spectator and user experience.

What inspired your design concept?

The landscape masterplan developed the vision of creating a hybrid landscape which fully integrated the engineered sporting requirements of the Olympic venue and legacy plans, while strengthening the existing park’s ecology and range of landscape experiences. The new landscape encourages activities and interactions beyond the narrow functionality of a canoe course, welcoming everyone from elite canoeists and recreational rafters to general park users. The challenge of creating a ‘mountain stream on a flat plain’ was central to our design.

The engineering design was inspired by sustainability in terms of water resources, earthworks and minimising energy.

Did you know…

  • The water flow from the pumps can fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in two minutes
  • Lee Valley White Water Centre is the fastest Olympic venue opened to the public in the modern era after the Games, according to the International Society of Olympic Historians

What challenges did you face along the way?

Our main challenges included developing a site that was once a former landfill, developing a strategy for the water supply, and minimising the energy of the pumped system. The engineering design was to pump 25m3 per second around the courses with an effective hydraulic configuration and water containment system.

What about specific design challenges?

The civil engineering part of the project included the conceptual development of a self-contained artificial white-water canoe course. The main components were a lake to hold the course water, a water treatment system, Olympic and Intermediate white-water channels and their associated pumping stations. The pumping stations deliver a combined total flow of 25m3/s. Hydraulic design was a key aspect of the channels and pumping stations and HEC-RAS was used for the general hydraulic profile and Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modelling for more specific analysis of flow patterns such as the pumping station intakes. The CFD modelling allowed the design to be refined to avoid problems encountered on similar schemes.

With variable ground conditions and foundation solutions, other challenges we faced included the provision of water-retaining start pools, courses and a lake. This involved a comprehensive earthworks strategy, with ground modelling and a variety of structural forms. The site infrastructure included roads, car parking, bridges, a foul water pumping station and a flood bund.

Geo-technical and geo-environmental challenges included site remediation, ground improvements and earthworks. Key issues were the risks to controlled waters such as the adjacent surface water, including the river Lee, and the confined chalk aquifer below the site. By working closely with the Environment Agency we avoided major contaminated land and groundwater remediation measures, which led to extensive cost savings.

How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?

We are very proud to have worked on a London 2012 project. Overcoming engineering challenges to create a world-class venue was very rewarding and was a fantastic experience for the whole team.
The highlight for us though is the legacy part of the project; today the venue is used on a daily basis by elite athletes and the general public, which will have a lasting positive effect on British Athletics and the local economy.



Company name

Lee Valley White Water Centre


Project team

In collaboration with:

FaulknerBrowns Architects

Deloitte Real Estate

Whitewater Parks International

Michael van Valkenburgh Associate

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