Wednesday, July 25, 2012

London 2012 Olympic Overlay design

Outside the Olympic Park, London’s existing buildings are taking centre stage in creating a visual spectacle
The lithe, red-costumed body of an acrobatic diver floats effortlessly above the sprawling skyline of Barcelona, her back arched into a lean crescent above the knobbly spires of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, which seem perilously poised to impale her.
It is the iconic image of the 1992 Olympic Games, taken by veteran sports photographer, Bob Martin, who is now acting as chief photography adviser to London 2012.
“I am very keen on iconic images as it gives you a sense of place,” says Martin. “I don’t want any opportunities to be missed in London.”
With a global audience of four billion, the photographic and televised spectacle has become the key driver in determining how the 26 Olympic sports are played out, a piece of minutely choreographed theatre on an epic scale. Outside the Olympic Park, itself conceived as a 230ha stage set, the city of London has been mobilised as the backdrop to a host of events that don’t have their own permanent venues in the east London campus.
“Our strategy is all about showcasing the city,” says Kevin Owens, head of design at Locog. “We wanted to celebrate and capitalise on what is already there, with the minimum of intervention.”
Team Populous — made up of the sporting giant, assisted by Allies and Morrison and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands — has been working to turn key historic landmarks across the city into functioning Olympic venues with a limited kit of parts.
“It all comes down to the fourth elevation,” says Jeff Keas, principle at Populous, citing the Pittsburgh Baseball Stadium as a key precedent, a venue that employs the city’s skyline of towers as a backdrop to the action. At Greenwich Park and Horseguards Parade, stands of seating have been cleverly configured to turn the seventeenth century facades into the main players, essentially providing ready-made stadia by Inigo Jones and William Kent.
“Greenwich is possibly the most axial place in London,” says Eddie Taylor, director at Allies and Morrison. “It was a no-brainer to continue the powerful symmetry that had already been set up.”
Accordingly, the 21,000-seat equestrian arena is arranged in a horseshoe around Jones’ Queen’s House façade, with a raised field of play on a steel frame, which rests on timber plinths so as to leave no trace in the park. A 1.5km cable-suspended camera line stretches all the way from the top of Greenwich Hill to the other side of the River Thames, allowing swooping shots of the action — and making London the star of the show.
The architects were also forced to deal with the more prosaic back-of-house matters: “What do you do with a dead horse?” asks Taylor. “How much does a horse vomit? These were all things we had to consider.”
The beach volleyball arena
Visualisation of the beach volleyball arena with William Kent’s Horse Guards as its backdrop.
For the beach volleyball arena at Horseguards Parade, a 15,000-seat stadium (the size of Wimbledon Centre Court) has been erected in front of William Kent’s Palladian frontage, its rusticated bays forming a sober backdrop to the play of sand and bikinis. Built in only six weeks, a tight programme restricted by Jubilee events, the steeply raked seats bank up around the building, allowing never-before seen views over the rooftops.
At Lords Cricket Ground the challenge has been the reverse — fitting a 6,000-seat archery venue into a 30,000-seat stadium. Here, the power of the iconic architectural image has led to the intriguing situation of Future Systems’ media centre being used as the background focal point, rather than to house the actual work of commentators.
In all cases, the designs have been driven by the mottos of “embrace the temporary” and “communicate don’t decorate”, both of which seem to mean scaffolding is fine.” Rather than covering up the structures with expensive wraps, they are generally left exposed, in line with the stripped-back aesthetic of 2012 — in which 85% of the kit is sourced from, and will return to, the hire market.
“The challenge was to use this limited palette of components in an interesting way,” says Silvano Cranchi, director at LDS, responsible for many of the temporary back-of-house structures in the Park and across the city - which, in total, equal the temporary works of the last three Olympic Games combined.
CGI of Lords Cricket Ground during the Olympic Games
CGI of Lords Cricket Ground during the Olympic Games
The proliferation of white tents, variously space-frame, A-frame and peaked, lends many of the venues the look of an elaborate series of wedding marquees — and this was not far from the intention.
“We were aiming for a sense of ‘Britishness’”, says Keas. “We looked at Wimbledon, the Chelsea Flower Show, the tradition of garden parties. We always focused on the spectator experience, the party — not the architectural form.”
While this rather staid language of flags and bunting might seem underwhelming after the glitz of Beijing, London’s low-key approach looks set to foreground the city’s real architectural assets and provide an important precedent for future Games. If the IOC insists on holding the vast two-week spectacle in a different city each time, this lightweight, flat-pack strategy is an important model, suggesting a possible way to avoid leaving host cities blighted with barren landscapes of white elephants.

 Team Populous (Populous, Allies & Morrison, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands),
Client Locog, Engineer Atkins,
Principle contractor ISG