Tell us about the early design brief
The brief was to design an outstanding and distinctive parkland and create a memorable setting for the festival of the Games from one of the most contaminated sites in the capital.
From the outset, the vision was to create a sustainable legacy for London and the UK by designing a world-class landscape. It was to be a parkland with multiple aims: one that would excite and generate a sense of anticipation for the Games; act as a dramatic setting for the London 2012 venues; become a memorable place that would change perceptions of our country and encourage people to visit the UK; and be a sustainable landscape with an adaptable framework after the Games in legacy.
What inspired your design concept?
The North and South Parks were connected by over five kilometres of improved and widened riverbanks, which was key to the overall park design. The previously canalised River Lea was transformed into a three-dimensional mosaic of wetland, swales, wet woodland, dry woodland and meadow, together forming an absorbent flood-control measure.
Approximately 102 hectares of open space was also designed to reduce the risk of flooding in the river valley and enrich the biodiversity of the area. As a consequence, some 5,500 homes were removed from the ‘At Risk’ Register for potential flooding.
Did you know…
- There are over 150,000 wetland plants in the River Lea.
- The Park features kingfisher walls, swift hotels and even a secret des-res otter holt!
What challenges did you face along the way?
It is the largest urban park development in the UK in the last 150 years. The main challenge was delivering the project on time for London 2012, which was fit for purpose, and in a way that maximised the delivery of a sustainable legacy within the available budget.
The heavily contaminated, derelict site needed a substantial cleansing and restorative programme before construction of the design could begin. Once construction was underway, 98 per cent of existing site material was recycled within the Park in order to minimise waste at every stage.
The procurement of trees and plants was also challenging – the landscape needed as much time as possible to mature ready for the start of the Games. The dramatic backdrop of unique wildflower meadows required extensive trials too, in order to produce special seed mixes which flowered on site, in time, and on a scale not seen before.
On the original site back in 2005 there were 45 hectares of designated wildlife habitat, and an equivalent area needed to be restored as part of the development. It was no mean feat for the ecologists we worked with to ensure that the ten different habitat types we created were capable of Grade 1 importance in London, including the UK’s largest wet woodland. Biodiversity action plans for 28 species were implemented, including reptiles, otters, kingfishers and bats.
What about specific design challenges?
The design and construction of the Olympic Park ensured that the Games were the most sustainable to date. Over 90% of demolition materials were recycled or re-used within the Park to minimise waste at every stage of the project.
Our design opened up and ‘softened’ the Channel Sea Gorge, by reducing culverts and canalisation, creating a green wetland bowl to reduce the risk of flooding in the river valley and also enrich the biodiversity of the area.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work on Europe’s most significant landscape in 150 years. The project demonstrated that landscape architects in the central role as masterplanners could lead the process, and how green infrastructure in a world city like London could be the principal driver for place creation, value creation and meeting low carbon targets.