Rachel and I had the privilege this week of a tour of the London 2012 Olympic Park, and were both blown away by the experience. With just over a year to go and the Torch Relay details just announced, all the main venues are nearly finished and the Park is really starting to take shape.
Even our high expectations, fuelled by those fantastic shots of the aquatic centre and velodrome in particular, were well and truly left standing in the blocks. As the 2012 branded bus circled slowly round the site, wonderful building after wonderful building came into view, generating great excitement amongst our fellow guests.
The main stadium came first, with its steep sides and angular floodlight stantions. I hadn’t realised that only 25,000 seats are permanent and the other 55,000 are temporary fittings. The other thing that strikes you is how much the field of play is sunken below ground level, which must make for a dramatic entrance when you first take your seats (apologies for the quality of the pics, but we were not allowed off the bus!)
The biggest of all the buildings, and most impressive in its own way, is the media centre. Its wide enough to take 5 jumbo jets wing-tip to wing-tip. It is colossal and will take over as the permanent home for many global broadcasters, for the duration of the Games. Some start to move in this year, needing 9 months to fit out their space. Just getting your head round the scale of the media event, the time scales and numbers involved and the worldwide thirst for coverage is difficult in itself.
Next up is the dedicated energy centre, one of two, designed to provide sustainable power for the entire Park. Then a new school for the community, post Games. Then the village (make that 17,000 apartments!) the athletes will live in. Then the temporary basketball building, with its cool white irregular cladding. Then the new shopping centre wrapped around Stratford station. Then the BMX course, tumbling over rocks and rivers. Then the hockey stadium. Then… well, you get the idea.
If anything, the aquatic centre is a shade disappointing, due to the temporary stands fixed either side of Zahir Hadid’s beautiful sweeping roof. Once these two additions are removed after the games, the building will be stunning, sweeping like a stingray, encapsulating two pools and a diving centre.
The outstanding building amongst all these gems though, in my opinion, is the velodrome. I know that the shape of the track is an architect’s dream, lending itself to the creation of wonderful shapes, but this building surpasses even our heightened expectations. The sharp roof, sitting snugly over the banked track, juts out over the adjoining A12 with utter confidence. It is an outstanding example of the best in British design and engineering and will no doubt form one of the iconic images of the Games.
What doesn’t quite come over yet is the extent of the gardens, waterways and park space between all the buildings. It surprised me how much the Park really will be a park. Once complete with the landscaping in place, it will form a stunning backdrop to the events and a superb place to circulate and chill.
And if that is not enough, the other venues for the Games include such icons as Wimbledon, Wembley, Lords, The Serpentine, The Mall and Horse Guards Parade. After all the hype and coverage, today has made it feel so real. My prediction is the biggest wow factor will come from one of my all time favourite views of London. For me, nothing beats sitting by the Royal Observatory at the top end of Greenwich Park, where the equestrian events will be held, looking down over the Naval Buildings on to the East End and Isle of Dogs to the Olympic stadium itself. This will be one of those truly breath-taking views of what should be a breath-taking Olympic Games.