Tell us about the early design brief
The brief for the Velodrome was for a 6,000 seat venue that would provide top-class cycling facilities both for the Games and in legacy and would be a venue to inspire generations today and in the future. At the heart of the delivery of the project, the Olympic Delivery Authority was looking for a team of designers that would work in partnership to deliver the highest quality in design, innovation and sustainability – ‘a team, not a scheme’. This led to a truly collaborative effort.
What inspired your design?
The Velodrome is a really simple building, the embodiment of Vitruvius’ ‘firmitias, utilitas, venustas.’ These three words are usually translated as firmness; commodity; delight, but ‘venustas’ actually has a much more sensual meaning, coming from love, beauty and fertility. In this context, especially for a sporting venue that is designed to heighten performance and passion, our aim was to put ourselves in the minds of users as far as possible. It was relatively easy to imagine being in the crowd, watching the cycling on TV at home or taking our families up to the park in years to come to try out a track bike and have a coffee.
The design concept was inspired by the building’s future role as a hub for all forms of cycling within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The conceptual challenge was how to form a symbolic and visual link between the indoor track and the range of external forms of cycling that would be on offer after the Games including BMX, mountain bike, cyclo-cross and road cycling. We wanted to break down the barriers between the various disciplines and to make the activities be immediately visible from the park.
The formal response was very simple – we split the 6,000 seats in the brief horizontally so that half were around the perimeter of the track and the other half were raised into the roof space. By creating this separation we were able to introduce a band of glazing around the spectator concourse forming a continuous ‘picture window’ between the internal environment of the 250m track and the external cycle circuits within the park. The resulting concourse is a viewing gallery where it is possible to watch over all the activities at the same time.
The building is made up of three distinct structural regions; the roof, the upper bowl and the concourse and lower levels. The three elements perform significantly different functions and have different structural responses. The track – the raison d’etre of the building – is 250m long and is constructed of FSC Siberian Pine track. Seven metres wide, it has a 4m wide inner safety zone and the banking varies between 42 at the ends and 12 along the straights. The overall architectural look for the exterior is a result of shrink-wrapping a skin onto the skeleton of accommodation within.
The design was built around optimal spectator and performance volumes, and every element was reduced to an absolute minimum so the structure and environmental services were as light as possible. The innovative design included a lightweight cable-net roof that reduced the embodied carbon dioxide content by 45% compared with a traditional steel structure and cut the construction period by five months. The energy performance of the building is also maximised by natural ventilation and use of daylight.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
The building would have been very different had it not been designed and built by a truly collaborative team. Everyone involved, from designers to contractors, offered suggestions and solutions to the hurdles we encountered on the project. For the structure, the relationship between architect and engineer was never so strong or so blurred – a bit like Sir Chris Hoy appeared on his final approach to the finish line in London 2012!
- Testing – both physical and computational – provides confidence to the wider team when working in areas with little precedent
- Where appropriate, bring in specialists not normally on the design and construction team, and do not expect to be able to answer all design questions with the same attention to detail
- The time and effort involved in writing bespoke software can be easily justified