Tell us about the early design brief
The brief aspired to create an exemplary model of urban regeneration, a global destination and a masterplan which would guide future development and provide neighbourhoods inspired and informed by London’s heritage.
The legacy masterplan included 7,000 new dwellings and associated streets and public realm, three new schools, community facilities such as a neighbourhood day-care and nursery, four new bridges and dozens of permanent upgrades to existing and Games-related bridges.
What inspired your design concept?
We were charged with “looking at and understanding London’s unique DNA” and using it to inform the masterplan for this new quarter of London. Just as the great estates of London provided neighbourhoods of high quality and distinction by enabling the gradual evolution of whole new parts of London, the aim was to make the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park the 21st century model of this great tradition. The scale of the site, coupled with the critical fact that the majority of the site is under public ownership made this unique project of development, land management, long-term value creation and design aspiration possible.
Five distinctive new neighbourhoods were planned for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and active public places were planned as focal points for each neighbourhood. Nurseries, schools, community centres, convenience retail and major sporting venues provide amenities for residents. We planned the facilities and amenities to be located at the edges of the site to bring together existing and new communities.
London’s great tradition of family housing based on the terraced house provided inspiration for the new housing in the Park, with three of the five residential neighbourhoods in the Park based on interpretations of the terraced housing type.
What design challenges did you face along the way?
The masterplan overcame a number of challenges and helped to unlock the potential of a unique and complex site.
Existing rivers and canals created myriad technical challenges for the site construction. Major existing infrastructure, including railways, the A12 dual carriageway and the northern outfall sewer also criss-crossed the site, which increased the technical challenges of integrating the area into its urban context.
The design team worked under the maxim “Overlay for Games, Design for Legacy”, and designed a masterplan which could accept the ‘overlay’ (the temporary elements brought into the Park in order to stage the Games) whilst focusing on the Park’s legacy as a new area of London. Working simultaneously on the masterplans for the Park during the Games and for the legacy, as well as the transformation phase, we were able to integrate all phases of work and to keep one eye on the future.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
The sheer scale of this site in central London, which more or less lay empty, proposed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The opportunity to convert what for 200 years has been London’s backyard – home to fridge mountains, dumps and contamination – and turn it into a new district in inner London embodying the best in sustainable design was very appealing. However we always felt the awesome responsibility of designing such an enormous project which was funded by the public purse, and we were keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of previous Olympics.
As many past Games have shown, winning the bid to stage the Olympic Games does not guarantee the successful regeneration of a piece of city.