Olympic 2012 Park landscape and architecture

In 2005 I made my predictions and stated an intent to monitor the progress of the 2012 London Olympic Park. I took 500+ photographs of the site and hoped to follow the changes. This did not work, because they had to close off public access to the site, but I was kindly invited to view progress on 22.7.2011. The first point to strike me, on the jaw, was the total inability of the architects to work together. There is no relationship of any kind between the sports buildings. What, one might ask, can one expect of Zaha Hadid (Aquatics Centre), Michael Hopkins (Velopark), Populous (Olympic Stadium) or MAKE (Handball Arena)? This is an easy question to answer: I expected them to TALK to each other and to create a whole which is more than the sum of its parts, more than a bag of Liquorice Allsorts. I also expected the client to ensure that this conversation took place and had a fruitful outcome. But they didn’t. The landscape architects could have done the design co-ordination, had they been asked. Instead, they have designed a swathe of greenspace which can be expected to help in unifying the outdoor landscape. The underlying principles are ‘Bauhaus’: the outdoor form of the buildings reflects their internal function. The buildings have an outdoor setting which is more nature than garden (like the Meisterhäuser in Dessau). Someone, as yet unidentified, had the excellent idea of having acres and acres of wildflower meadow flowing around the buildings and along the river. It will be colourspace instead of greenspace and it will help distinguish the 2012 Olympic park from a 1980s British Garden Festival.
A very disappointing aspect of the Olympic 2012 Park is that the general public will have NO ACCESS in 2012. We Londoners have paid for many of the facilities. We will have our city greatly disrupted during the games. But there are no plans to let us see our park. Only the ticket holders will have this privilege – and a great many more people applied for tickets than have received tickets. A friend bid for £3000 of tickets and got none. After the Olympic Games end the plan is to keep the park closed and set about the task of transforming it for public access some time in 2013. I urge a re-consideration. They should open the park to FREE PUBLIC ACCESS FOR AT LEAST TEN DAYS AFTER THE END OF THE GAMES.
My 2005 comment on the prospects for the 2012 Olympic Park gave reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism. In July 2011 the site looked like a road widening scheme near an airport, so I can’t say. My guesses are (1) the wildflowers will be wonderful (2) the buildings, as individual objects, will be handsome (3) there is a risk of the end product resembling a collision between an airport and garden festival. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
The below photograph, also taken from outsidethe park, shows what might have been achieved inside the park if more of the vernacular Lea Valley could have been retained. My belief is that it could have been done and that it has not been done.

21 thoughts on “Olympic 2012 Park landscape and architecture

  1. Jerry

    It is easy for me to remember the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. It is the same that people who do not have tickets can not access to the park and the whole city was disturbed during the game. But people are still happy with it, students enjoy becoming volunteers and a great number of elders studied English very hard. It seems that Chinese may be more firendly at this point.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The London Olympic Games are being organised by Locog and their website states that: “LOCOG is responsible for staging a memorable Games in 2012. We will deliver the best possible Olympic and Paralympic Games experience for everyone involved, ensuring a real legacy and inspiring people to join in and truly make these ‘everyone’s Games… funding for LOCOG …. comes mainly from the private sector”. This statement needs to be read carefully: (1) ‘memorable’ could mean lots of things. One thing they are sure to be remembered for is the absurd way in which the tickets were allocated [eg1 a friend bid for £3000 of tickets and got nothing eg2 another friend bid £1000 and got 3 tickets but all for wrestling] (2) the phrase ‘everyone involved‘ means that they care nothing about anyone who is not involved but merely lives in London and pays for the games. (3) because the funding for LOCOG comes from the private sector they care a lot about making money from the games.

  2. Christine

    Tom I agree, the bottom photograph does suggest what could have been achieved at London’s Olympic Park. Though, a variety of spaces are necessary: so the quiet spaces (in the photograph) need to be joined with the spectacular spaces.

    China did spectacular architecture well with the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest. [ http://images.beijing2008.cn/20070516/Img214078157.jpg ]. The forecourt to the Water Cube is interesting…but I am not sure if the connecting landscape spaces, fully complemented what was achieved with the architecture. The harmony between the two (landscape and architecture) needs to be as good as in the photograph you show above.

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    The master planning of the 2012 London Olympic Park was led by landscape architects (EDAW, now part of AECOM) so it MAY be that it really was not possible to keep more of the old vernacular landscape. But I do not believe it. I think they could and should have put red lines, and then big red fences, round certain parts of the old landscape and kept them. It is easy to see that the exigencies of a major construction project were always providing reasons for using extra bits of land and cost savings may have resulted from using them. But they should not have done it. They should have remembered Edmund Burke’s dictum that “Society is a contract between the past, the present and those yet unborn.” and then proved that a major development can reflect this principle (which I also recommend to China’s Ministry of Planning).

  4. Jerry

    Hope China’s Ministry could hear it. The Haihe River side project is also done by EDAW. I think they have made lots of landscape works which fit the description: ‘interenational’.

  5. Jerry

    I got the news about the olympic ticket: it will be sold from 9th September to 31st Septembet. And I am still waiting to buy online. But why Tom’s friends could buy first and pay that much?
    It is amazing!

  6. Christine

    Cities are very different entities when viewed from different perspectives. It is interesting to see how the city of Sydney is portrayed as overcrowded, alienating and consumerist in this theatre piece about a ‘real plaza’. [ http://www.urbantheatre.com.au/downloads/Plaza%20Real.pdf ] This is one Sydney: it would be interesting to view a theatre experience on the Olympics in China as something of a post-event evaluation!

  7. Christine

    Gosh, it really seems the space was badly designed, underutilised and perhaps badly maintained (if we are to take the plastic bags literally!) Or perhaps this bleak performance response is much more sociological?

    By contrast this experience of city is quite beautiful. [ http://vimeo.com/26492449 ].

  8. Tom Turner Post author

    Gosh. Gosh. Liverpool does not have the best reputation among British cities – and I would not have thought it was possible, even with good video editing, to make the city look beautiful. I have however been told that Liverpool has changed a lot since I was last there and I have been thinking about a visit. I remember going there with a coachload of Americans c1984. We got out of the coach in Sefton Park and the local lads quickly went through and emptied it of all their luggage. In the evening we went to a mayor’s recpetion and he waxed lyrical on how much the people enjoyed ‘having’ foreign visitors!

  9. Jerry

    I have given up tp buy any tickets in London. Will Olympic be held as planned next year in London? It is a question. Too scared!

  10. Christine

    I wonder when they will be read the Riot Act? [ http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/read-the-riot-act.html ]

    It was very sad to see looting in Lousiana after Hurricane Katrina when governance structures were disrupted by the natural disaster, but even sadder to see it in London where the similar unexpected nature of the events has overwhelmed the civil response mechanisms.

    It seems apart from the devastating impact on the populous much heritage is also being lost.

    As to causes? [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_London_riots ] Something similar in its genesis occurred on Palm Island in 2004. [ http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/dec2004/palm-d03.shtml ].

    It would be a shame if fear prevented Jerry from going to the Olympics next year.

  11. Tom Turner Post author

    I agree about the Riot Act – see blog post http://www.gardenvisit.com/blog/2011/08/10/london-recreational-looting-in-august-2011/
    But I do not think anyone need fear about the safety of visitors to the 2012 Olympics (1) the police will be crawling everywhere (2) the police are good at dealing with the expected and bad at dealing with the unexpected (3) the August 2011 ‘events’ are not a political protest or an attack with any other purpose than looting – so you do not need to worry if you do not own a shop and are not a policeman.

  12. Christine

    Unfortuneately (3) “you need not worry if you do not own a shop and are not a policeman” does not seem to be universally true. [ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-10/man-helped-to-feet-then-robbed-during-london-riots/2832942 ]

    However (1) and (2) are most probably correct. The police force undoubtably could be supplemented with security personnel and defence personnel. Another possibility would be to strengthen the police presence with personnel from other countries such as Australia who have recent Olympic experience. The experience of such international exchanges (common during the aftermath of natural disasters) seems to benefit all involved.
    [ http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/secondment ]

    Alternatively, and ironically it seems that demand in policing positions have been created almost overnight.

  13. Tom Turner Post author

    Once a ‘crime wave’ starts many people are drawn in, reminding me of the joke about an Irishman who came across a brawl in a pub and asked ‘is this a private fight – or can anyone join in?’

    All offers of police help from Australia, in dealing with the Olympics, and from France, in dealing with car-burning, will be most gratefully accepted by me at least.

    But ‘when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do’ so perhaps visitors to London should learn, from an illustration in the Bodleian, how to break a shop window with an umbrella and here is some more recent advice on how to set a car alight:




  14. Christine

    Do you know what there motivation for wanting to break a window with an umbrella was in these prints? Is it the Victoria equivalent of road rage due to traffic congestion?

  15. Tom Turner Post author

    Christine, it is just a humorous print by Thomas Rowlandson and he explained “Should it be a rainy day, and you use an umbrella, pay no regard to breaking a few shop-windows in your passage’.
    Yuan, I follow an old tradition in trying to make jokes in bad circumstances. An example is the famous cartoon by Bruce Bairnsfather ‘if you know a better hole – go to it‘.

  16. Pingback: George Hargreaves as landscape architect for the 2012 London Olympic Park | Garden Design And Landscape Architecture Blog – Gardenvisit.com

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