London's Olympic Village gardens: an appreciation

QE Park Olympic Village: the charming lane with its rustic cottages

QE Park Olympic Village: the charming lane with its rustic cottages

Making an Olympic Village in the Lea Valley’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was a delightful idea. I love to stroll along a village high street. At dawn one hears the cocks crow and sees the milkmaids setting off for work. The crooked old streets have banks of wild flowers. On a summer’s eve the children play and God, one thinks, must have been in a very good mood when he made this place. Poetry fills one’s heart as one rushes to put down a deposit.
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

[Rupert Brooke]
Nestling amid the trees we see the manor-house, the
abode of the squire, an ancient dwelling-place of Tudor or
Jacobean design, surrounded by a moat, with a good terrace-
walk in front, and a formal garden with fountain and sun-
dial and beds in arabesque. It seems to look down upon
the village with a sort of protecting air. Near at hand are
some old farm-houses, nobly built, with no vain pretension
about them. Carefully thatched ricks and barns and stables
and cow-sheds stand around them
[Peter Hampson Ditchfield]
Sweet Olympic! loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheer’d the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delay’d:
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loiter’d o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endear’d each scene!
How often have I paus’d on every charm,
The shelter’d cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whisp’ring lovers made!

[Oliver Goldsmith]
The Village Life, and every care that reigns
O’er youthful peasants and declining swains;
What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
What form the real Picture of the Poor,
Demand a song–the Muse can give no more.

[George Crabbe]
Wonderful too that our present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable George Osborne MP, wants to give us our first Garden City for a hundred years at Ebbsfleet in Kent – so long famed as The Garden of England. I expect it will be just as wonderful as the Olympic Village – and maybe even as wonderful as the Ajman Garden City itself.
The British government loves villages so much that it wants to expand them all into towns and then into cities. The reason for this is that ‘expanding existing settlements’ is seen as better than ‘building new towns’.

22 thoughts on “London's Olympic Village gardens: an appreciation

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Because it is politically less controversial. The local people are of one mind about Not In My Back Yard – except, of course, slipping in a few small houses for their children and aging parents. I would like to see whole villages and their surrounding countryside recognized as entities which should be protected and conserved.

  1. Christine

    So why is it less controversial to have a new suburb than a new town? (I am assuming here that a new suburb is more substantial than “slipping in a few small houses”?

    Yes, to conserving villages and the curtilage of the countryside. Under what conditions would whole villages merit this degree of conservation effort? Something similar operated for a while in Queensland under Iconic Places legislation which aimed to preserve the place making values of iconic towns.

  2. Christine

    Perhaps it might be useful to understand the character of ‘places’ which the community/public value and the legislation is sought to preserve?

    There have been criticisms of the legislation which was implemented in part to smooth the way for council amalgamations. However, the aims are certainly worth revisiting.

    Noosa and Port Douglas are two examples of the areas the legislation sought to protect.[ ] and [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      There is scope for a continued series of books and conferences on ‘what to protect’ and this is how it has to be. One generation will never agree with another generation, let alone within itself. It is hard to believe that the ‘Nash terraces’ in London were scheduled for demolition. It seemed a logical policy after the Nash buildings on Regent’s Street were demolished in the 1920s.

  3. Christine

    Yes. The most dangerous period of a building and perhaps a town is the ‘white elephant’ phase.

    This is when the development has lost its ‘newness’ but has not yet acquired the patina of ‘history’. In the UK the period between ‘newness’ and ‘oldness’ is longer than it is in Australia – because of our relatively short colonial and post-colonial history.

    In the 1920’s the Crystal Palace was the height of modernity [ ] and the car was beginning to make its presence felt. [ ].

    Travel overland had reached dizzying speeds of 24mph.[ ] No wonder Nash looked old hat!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I am not too well informed about London’s Crystal Palace but suspect that after the move from Hyde Park to Sydenham it was always a bit of a white elephant’. The whole park has had this character since the tragic fire of 1936 and when looking at the Olympic Park my fear was that it follow in the footsteps of the Crystal Palace. The things which might save it are (1) if it is surrounded with high rise buildings like Central Park NY (2) if the owners are successful it attracting a stream of events (3) if the central ‘footpath’ were converted to a runway (in the manner of City Airport – I will do a blog post about this).

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Sad loss. There are definitely some good things about fire regulations. It might be worth sending an email to Mr Wong’s brother-in-law, a Mr Ni, who is going to rebuild London’s Crystal Palace. He could rebuild both of them. You may also suggest to Mr Ni that he reads about the history of the Crystal Palace. As I recall Paxton dreamed of making money out of exhibitions and it did not work out. He was a most energetic man and even arranged for a railway to be built connecting the site to Central London. I can almost hear his northern accent murmuring ‘Ye’ve got Ni-thing on me’.

  4. christine

    I am in favor of Mr Ni’s plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace and would welcome his interest in also rebuilding the Garden Palace. The alternative use of the Palace as an art gallery would be welcomed. But if it were possible for the Gallery to special in say landscape painting it would be even more appropriate.

    A precedent at a much smaller scale is Brisbane’s Powerhouse Museum contains the [ ] and is described as “contemporary multi-arts, dining and conference venue.” It is located by the river in New Farm Park.

    If a boutique hotel was incorporated sensitively this could also potentially work well. [ ] I am not saying it needs to be ‘Ye olde worlde’ but rather should not upstage its venue/location (ie the Harbour Bridge and Opera House).

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      There are many commercial art galleries in London. They appear to be profitable enterprises but the profit comes from sales, not from entry fees. There are also a number of large art fairs (eg Frieze ) which get their profit partly from entry fees and partly from exhibitor fees. I can’t see this working for the New Crystal Palace and if this is the idea recommend the alternative of setting up a charitable foundation to honour the name Ni for generations to come – as the founder of a sugar company did with his Tate Gallery.
      Conferences seem to be a good business model but the venue needs to be in a part of town with good hotel provision. Wealthy delegates will be happy to stay in rooms on which the conference organiser is taking a profit but many other will want to stay in cheaper hotels.
      Ni is an old Chinese family name (dating at least from the Zhou dynasty (1122–221 BC) but is not nearly as well-known as Wang, Zhang and Li. So this could be a golden opportunity to put Ni on the world map, especially if there were Ni Crystal Palaces in four corners of the globe. We could have a book on Ni Crystal Palaces to See Before You Die.

  5. Christine

    It seemed that Mr Ni wanted to exhibit his own private collection – much like [ ] but probably not as controversial. He could of course establish a very wealthy landscape art prize with the gallery purchasing the winning entry and this would definitely establish his name on the global art scene. With Sootheby’s and Christie’s close by he could easily also trade astutely in art to make this a financial enterprise.

    I am sure there are no shortage of alternative accommodation options for less wealthy conference delegates in London, and perhaps nearby in Crystal Palace?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      MONA is an amazing project, though my initial sympathies are with the critic quoted on the Wiki entry ‘Michael Connor of the conservative literary and cultural magazine Quadrant said that “MONA is the art of the exhausted, of a decaying civilisation. Display lights and taste and stunning effects illuminate moral bankruptcy. What is highlighted melds perfectly with contemporary high fashion, design, architecture, cinema. It is expensive and tense decay.”‘ I listened to a discussion about the finances of UK football teams recently: the big teams are all vanity trips for zillionaires. I suppose a free society needs to let people become so-rich but, if it does, those societies should help the ‘poor things’ put their money into good projects eg space telescopes.
      Re the Crystal Palace (which, I think, has a football team in need of a zillionaire) it does not have very good road links or rail links or tourist attractions so it is not a prime area for the conference trade.

  6. Christine

    Apparently trains go directly from Crystal Palace to Victoria four times an hour and to London Bridge twice hourly and more frequently in rush hour. The East London Line Extension can now take commuters overground to Canary Wharf, via the Underground network, in only 24 minutes.

    Crystal Palace also has 11 National Rail Stations: Crystal Palace, Anerley, East Croydon, Gipsy Hill, Norwood Junction, Penge East, Penge West, Selhurst, Sydenham, Thornton Heath and West Norwood. Also there are many buses to and from Crystal Palace bus station. Bus numbers: 3, 122, 157, 202, 227, 249, 322, 358, 363, 410, 417, 432, 450, 931.

    Crystal Palace also has a unique parklife boasting “the National Sports Centre, concert bowl, old car race track, boating lake, maze and Grade I listed Victorian dinosaur sculptures. The
    South Norwood Lake and Grounds contain tennis courts, a bowling green, a children’s playground and a lake which is the home of Croydon Sailing Club.

    So it may be that the Conference facility might be targeted to particular types of conferences where there recreational values of the area are seen as an asset.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Conferences do seem to be a big business and you are right about the Crystal Palace area being well-served by public transport. The sports facilities were built in 1964. They damaged Paxton’s design for the park and now look run-down. I suppose they could host sports-related conferences but staff from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee seem to have a ‘best of everything’ mentality. When the Games came to London in 2012 they demanded, and got, dedicated traffic lanes in which all the lights were green. I think they would prefer conferences in North London – around the QE Olympic Park.

  7. christine

    [ ] Yes the facilities at the Lodge are looking a little run down. But this one is pretty interesting for circa London 1964. A good interior designer could probably do wonders and turn it into quirky double rooms with ensuites.

    It is also possible to do sports psychology, sports medicine and sport administration conferences. If a centre of excellence was established – perhaps even the FIFA and IOC people might be drawn to staying at the Crystal Palace boutique hotel.

    How much of the grounds survive? [ ] and [ ].

    As an architect it would be amazing to be able gain these views again…[ ] and [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Mr Ni has an ambitious vision and would, I believe, do a better job at re-creating these inspiring photos than anyone else who has put together plans for the site. I just wish he would proceed as quickly as possible – before the Chinese property bubble follows the pattern of its Japanese predecessor.
      If the sports centre was of high quality, like the cathedral in the Metzquita, then I suppose I would want to keep it. But the buildings are trashy and should therefore be trashed in order to restore a much-more-important landscape design. Very full details of the landscape design survive and, given the money, the whole project could be restored.

  8. Christine

    Yes, perhaps it would be better to rethink the sports facilities and the Lodge. What is the history of the landscape design of crystal palace? Who was the designer and what were they hoping to achieve with the design?


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