Tell us about the early design brief
Located on the former industrial complex of buildings at King’s Yard, the aim for the Olympic Energy Centre was to create a new building to supply energy for both the Olympic Park facilities and the future legacy buildings.
The design had to create a new model for power generation: a sustainable, cleaner and more efficient system that would provide electricity, heating and cooling to the new evolving community which would surround it. The brief cited the need for flexibility and adaptability to allow for inevitable changes in technology during the lifetime of the building.
What inspired your design concept?
In the 20th century, London’s monumental temples of power – such as those at Bankside and Battersea – consumed mountains of coal and countless oil tankers to keep the capital’s buildings warm and well lit. But their apparent modernity was false and environmentally calamitous. The Olympic Energy Centre signals an entirely new and transparent approach to energy generation, driven by technical and architectural innovations that will change the way Londoners live, breathe and value their environment.
Our inspiration was prompted by the history of power generation in the capital. The heroic structures of Bankside and Battersea were all associated with heavy engineering, coal and oil. But we liked the fact that they were bold sculptural buildings with character derived from scale and use of materials.
We felt our building should be seen as the second generation of power building which draws upon sustainability and efficiency of the processes involved in creating electricity, hot water and chilled water through gas and biomass. It also needed to be flexible to respond to the inevitable changes in technology over the 40-year concession period.
What design challenges did you face along the way?
To meet the sustainability needs of the brief, we selected materials with a high recyclable content and with reduced embodied energy. We also looked at walling systems used for residential buildings and applied these to large-scale industrial usage. The external wall for the Olympic Energy Centre utilises SIPS panels supported off the slab edge at the base and restrained to a secondary steel fixed to the primary steel frame of the building. The secondary steel also supports the extensive areas of louvres required to meet the ventilation requirements of the plant equipment housed in the building.
The SIPS panels were used because of their ability to span significant distances, the high level of recycled content used in their production and to maximise the speed of installation. The outer surfaces of the panel utilises OSB board, manufactured from waste timber, with a central core of rigid PIR insulation.
The Cor-ten expanded metal mesh screen, located over the surface of the panels, provides a unifying element. The screen is held off from the EPDM sheet with a bespoke stainless steel bracket, which is in turn screw-fixed into the surface of the SIPS panel. Plastic washers separate the Cor-ten mesh from the stainless steel bracket to prevent bimetallic corrosion.
The construction methods used will allow the facade to be dismantled to allow the retro-fitting of large elements of plant equipment in the future.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
The Olympic Delivery Authority placed a great deal of importance on the design of the infrastructure for the site, raising its status to that of the main venues, and we were very enthusiastic about a brief that championed power generation as integral both to the Games and the local community beyond the Games. As vital pieces of utilities infrastructure for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the ensuing legacy, the Olympic Energy Centre is distinct both in form and function and displays a strong 21st-century industrial aesthetic.