How do you begin designing this site for the Olympics? Where does the design process start from?
Running at the heart of the design is the amazing opportunity that the river provides and a lot of the heritage of this area. There is this incredible network of canals and the character of the location. That is the bedrock of the design. But our overall strategy was to have a park in the middle, the venues around it and then further development around the edge of the park. When you look around what you see is the benefit of bringing in designers and creative people early, and then telling them to get on with it.
For a project like the Olympics or the Olympic Park, how important is the idea of design?
Design is incredibly important. I think there are a lot of people who think that design is adding a layer of gloss on the top. That is not it at all. The design team is not just creating cost—by adding gloss—but giving you solutions. How to move people, how to keep the site useful after the event and things like that. We are thinking of how to use resources best. And in this case that resources are not just money, but location and time. It is that kind of creative thinking that creates something spectacular. It is not just about how everything looks. It has been incredibly complicated.
There are a lot of people living near this massive construction site. How do you engage with them, if at all?
Community engagement is very important. Especially in a situation like this where there is so much construction and we’ve had to divert roads and traffic. They’ve suffered this for a long time, and will continue to suffer disruptions for the next couple of years. We constantly communicate with them, and whenever we can, we try to bring them here, show them around and tell them what is happening, and what will happen once the event is over and the site is open to the public. Also they need to know how we’re spending funds in such a way that will make sense for the locals afterwards.
People come in every day to see the site. Hundreds of schoolchildren visit the site. It gets them excited and give them a sense of ownership of what is going on.
A lot of people will, eventually, compare you to Beijing. How would you compare your design approach to that of Beijing?
Our approach is completely different. It cannot be more different. You should remember that their design aims were very different from ours. It was something of a coming out party and they wanted to dazzle the world. They built and designed a lot of things that were exclusively for the Games. Our approach is in many ways the opposite. We want to reduce wastes and costs as much as possible.
It is just two very, very different approaches to solving the same problem.
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