Prudence park

Prudence park

After London won the rights in 2005 to hold the 2012 Olympics Games, it spent the next two years not building a single thing. Instead, from July 2005 to July 2007, a team of designers, planners, project managers and money managers sat down and figured out, in as much detail as possible, what would go where, when and how. The site chosen for the Games was a 2.5 sq. km piece of run-down, polluted, semi-industrial land in the lower valley of the river Lea that had once housed factories that made bone products, soap and chemicals.

Converting the land into a huge, modern complex comprising stadiums, accommodation and media facilities would take years. But instead of hitting the road running, explains Selina Mason, deputy head of design, Olympic Delivery Authority, they decided to plan. “It may seem odd that we did nothing for two whole years," says Mason, “but with a project of this size and under the budget constraints we were operating under, there was no room for error. There was a lot to be done. Right from cleaning the river and river channels to building the actual buildings. We had to be sure before we started."

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Today, with just around a year to go for the big event, that process of intense thought followed by frenzied activity seems to have worked.

The London Olympics have, so far, not been without controversies. There have been issues with one massive budget expansion and, most recently, with a complicated, opaque ticketing system.

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But embarrassing delays in site development or construction is so far not one of them. Last month, when Mason took a group of international journalists on a guided tour of the Olympic Park in Stratford, the Olympic Park was still a vast construction site, albeit one expected to be completed well within schedule. In February, the Velodrome, nicknamed the Giant Pringle, became the first venue to be completed and handed over to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (this was several months ahead of schedule, despite the fact that late last year it was discovered that someone had forgotten to order the Siberian pine boards for the cycle track).

Mason told Lounge that the overwhelming strategy has been to avoid white elephants as much as possible. “Wherever we can build a temporary or mobile structure, we have. If there isn’t enough local interest in a particular sport, there is no point in wasting money on a stadium."

This strategy has been implemented in some smart, effi-cient ways.

So the BMX off-road bicycling circuit will get landscaped back into the park’s greenery. The hockey stadium will get dismantled and the pitches will be moved to the Eton Manor swimming training location, which will then be converted into a multi-sport facility. The massive HD-ready TV and media centre will become office blocks. The “knock-down" basketball—completed and handed over earlier this month—and water polo venues are expected to be relocated and reused for other events. Mason says the basketball venue is in the reckoning to be used in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Some of the venues that will remain on site will scale down capacities drastically to lower costs of usage and maintenance. The main Olympic Stadium, for instance, is by no means a Bird’s Nest. But it is sensible. The “bowl of blancmange" will hold 80,000 during the Olympics but will get chopped to a capacity of 25,000 afterwards.

The athletes village and massive athletes kitchen are an example of thoughtful planning. After the Olympics, thousands of flats in the village will be refitted for family housing and will be released to buyers around September 2013. At the same time the athletes kitchen is designed to be converted into a school for the children staying in the village.

The lasting legacy of the London Olympics, however, will be regeneration of this corner of the city into a vast, green, sustainable complex with a river-centric park, housing and world-class sporting facilities.

Visitors to London are welcome to participate in one of the free, guided bus tours of the Olympic park site on weekdays and some weekends. For details, call 0300-2012-001. There are strict security regulations on site, which include X-rays and airport-style pat-downs.

Graphic : Courtesy 2011 Olympic Delivery Authority

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