Tell us about the early design brief
Using the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to facilitate a successful social, physical and sporting legacy for the park was always the primary aim of the project. Without the Games, the area would probably have been developed in an ad-hoc manner, but they offered the opportunity for a united and thoughtful masterplan that would be a catalyst for the creation of infrastructure and facilities for long-term use.
The other key aims in the project were to create a compact and sustainable Games (these were the first Games to have their sustainability credentials qualified by an independent body) and an ecologically aware event. We also wanted to create an integrated park for London and to avoid any ‘white elephants’. With this in mind, it was decided very early on to build only permanent elements which we were confident would have a use after the Games.
What inspired your design concept?
Our vision of the park was as an informal, natural landscape exploiting the riverine topography – not something overly grand or axial. We divided the site by articulating three elements in the landscape: the river valleys, the concourse and the new city at its edge.
The concourse became a single ‘flat’ plane in our minds, which nevertheless rises and falls across the site to bridges, roads and railways, and on which the individual buildings, both the permanent and temporary, could be easily positioned. The bridges in the park were not to be designed as standalone set pieces, but as part of a continuing landscape. So the balustrades, for example, flow off the bridges into the landscape, like the white railings at a racecourse. And the balustrades themselves were not just safety barriers, but a place to stand, learn and watch.
A game of numbers…
- On the busiest days, the Olympic Park had to be able to accommodate upwards of 200,000 people, yet not look empty when lower numbers were in attendance. The solution was a design that includes a great variety of spaces which collectively accommodate many people but, individually, are rarely very large.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The site posed a number of challenges, the most considerable one being that of creating a single park in a physically fragmented area crossed by four separate waterways and constrained by major road and rail infrastructure. This park also had to be connected to its surrounding areas.
The security needs and special nature of the Games pointed towards a site that would be cordoned off from the rest of the city, yet our long-term objectives to create a new piece of city dictated the opposite approach, with connections between the site and its adjacent context. Finding a way to address these seemingly conflicting objectives was a constant challenge.
Obtaining planning permission for the various elements of the park was also extremely challenging. Despite the complexities created by the involvement of so many statutory bodies, and the risks that this presented to the programme, the UK planning environment was not relaxed for the Olympics and all proper legislation and regulation had to be adhered to.
What about specific design challenges?
The Games masterplan incorporated many very specific functions by designers with very specialised knowledge – sporting events and landscape architects, for example. The role of the masterplanners was to accommodate all of their needs and bring the resulting site design into an integrated whole.