Tell us about the early design brief
The initial brief called for a structure capable of supporting double-sided screens and a live stage in the newly created biodiverse wetland bowl standing in the River Lea. The screens formed part of LOCOG’s crowd management strategy and were devised to draw crowds away from busy concourses into the park. In terms of size and scale, the screens had to be visible to spectators regardless of where they were in relation to the wetland bowl.
Sustainability and environmental considerations led the project – for example, we had to be mindful not to annoy the local bats when designing the screen! We were also not allowed to construct on land, and there was nowhere to launch into the water other than from a bridge.
What inspired your design concept?
Our inspiration was to create a sympathetic and dynamic fan experience. The sponsor vision and brand combined with economy and simplicity of form was delivered in collaboration with Richards Partington Architects, who helped to adapt the initial sponsor-approved design from M-is to make the realisation appropriate to the Olympic Park and ensure it fulfilled its role as a brand experience.
Bonding with feathered friends
- The semi-permanent structure not only had to look dynamic but also consider the flight path of local bats and nesting birds. The crew grew fond of the neighbouring wildlife, particularly the local birdlife, so when the site flood levels rose one day due to unusually high levels of rain during construction, the nesting birds fled to more remote parts of the site – leaving behind one very sad team!
What challenges did you face along the way?
The wetland bowl was designed to hold rainwater, and as such we had to consider ourselves subject to flooding. David Palmer and Andrew Best from Buro Happold were instrumental in helping find a fluvial and structural design solution to crucial issues such as what height to set the structure.
We conducted surveys in the river to analyse the riverbed, the landscape and local wildlife with concern for species and fauna, and created a structure that was as sustainable as possible with most elements returning to the rental market. In order to reduce impact on the establishing environment, we were also challenged to minimise the timescale of build and de-rig processes for the structure.
We also worried about leftover WWII bombs!
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
Everyone went the extra mile: this was a highly visual project with unique challenges, including some new to the table. We consulted at great length with relevant authorities such as the Environmental Agency and British Waterways, while ensuring British Airways were part of the development process.