Why sustainable temporary structures are one of the leading legacies of London 2012
Monday, 08 October 2012
Debate is now raging over whether London 2012 was the greatest Olympic Games ever. That, ultimately, will be a subjective judgment, to be debated endlessly but with little definitive proof. But what is certain is that this summer's Games used more temporary venues than any other major sporting event in history.
In total there were 25 temporary venues catering for the significant number of sports for which there was little prospect of a long term infrastructural legacy in Britain, meaning such facilities were not just at the heart of the sporting action, but were essential to the basic functioning of London 2012. From press offices to drugs testing, the athletes' village and warehousing, there was a total of 140 facilities required by London 2012 which were put up temporarily. But even these temporary structures had sustainability considerations - for example, roofing insulation materials from Dow helped provide energy efficiency and moisture resistance for the Main Press Centre and International Broadcasting Centre. After the Games, the facilities will create more than 80,000 square metres of business space with the potential to generate thousands of new jobs.
In all, some 95 per cent of the venue facilities were hired, underlining the huge importance of temporary structures. Another 200,000 temporary seats, 10,000 portable toilets and 230,000 square metres of tents laid the foundations for temporary structures on a scale unprecedented in Olympic history. Sustainability is equally key to the legacy of a Games and, along with "legacy", the key buzzword of the summer. Not every city, or more to the point hardly any city, will need permanent facilities for each of the 26 Olympic sports. So the balance really is key for a host city to achieve.
Whereas the Velodrome was an obvious target for a permanent facility, as it would see plenty of use after the Games, the Basketball Arena's future would have been less clear. When, after all, did the UK ever play basketball? Instead, the arena can now be packed away and sent off, possibly to Rio, for the next Olympics.
Midway between these two examples is that of the Aquatics Centre, which held 17,000 spectators during the Games this summer. But in the long term the venue would not need more than a couple of thousand, and so temporary wings were added to the venue to increase its capacity only for London 2012. Now it is being reduced to 2,500, making expert use of the mix of temporary and permanent structures.
London 2012 was billed as the most sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games in history, and to achieve this, improving the sustainability of temporary venues was essential. The Basketball Arena, Riverbank Arena and Eton Manor were among those temporary venues, and they helped to assuage fears over the legacy of the Games.
The sustainability drive was a success too, according to the Independent Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, who said recycling and regeneration had been a success. Dow resins were used in the design and production of 3,600 litter and recycling bins used at more than 30 Olympic venues throughout London. The Dow resins helped meet London 2012 standards for strong, durable plastics needed to withstand heavy usage and exposure to sunlight during the Games and the legacy requirements for future reuse across the United Kingdom. Coca-Cola supported the development of the three bin system that includes colourful black, orange and green hoods that made it easier for the general public to identify each category of recyclables.
Shaun McCarthy, the chairman of the commission, praised London as a model for future host cities, saying: "In the main, London's sustainable Games have been a massive success but like the best sports teams there is a need to continuously improve.
"I wish the IOC [International Olympics Committee] and future host cities success in proving they can do better."
London put on a Games it felt not only London could be proud of, but the whole world and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Never before had a host city gone to such lengths to ensure that they provided a tangible post Games legacy, with six of the main eight venues built for the Games having their long term futures ensured before London 2012 began.
The selection of so many temporary venues was an intrinsic part of the bid by London to host the Games in the first place. Although regenerating Stratford and providing a legacy for London's East End was at the heart of the plans, it was key that the city showed it would not leave behind the white elephants of past Games, notably Athens. And so a huge number of temporary facilities were proposed, which was a key factor when in July 2005, the IOC voted to give the Summer Games to London for a record third time.
Then of course comes the prestige aspect of the Games. If you have a city, like London, with such wonderful landmarks, such as Horse Guards Parade, Big Ben and The Mall, then it makes perfect sense to make as best use of them as possible. Cycling saw action from Hampton Court Palace, one of Henry VIII's palaces, all the way to The Mall and Buckingham Palace. The triathlon took in Hyde Park, beach volleyball was played on the banks of the Thames by Westminster and equestrian at Greenwich Park, the centre of the world in terms of time. To incorporate such magnificent landmarks into the Games, temporary structures were always going to play a prominent role.
This showcasing of London was part of what made this summer's Olympics such a widely heralded Games. And of course London has plenty of sports venues anyway, so why not use Wembley for the football, Wimbledon for tennis or Lord's for the archery?
Organisers went out of their way to make best use of these existing facilities. Wimbledon was a key venue, hosting the tennis, but across London in the Olympic Park is where the sport will have its most significant post-Games legacy. Eton Manor was the first ever purpose built venue for the Paralympic Games, hosting the wheelchair tennis. During the London 2012 Olympic Games, Eton Manor housed temporary training pools for participants in aquatics events. Dow helped design, manufacture and install a resin flooring system that utilised epoxy products with low volatile organic compounds (VOC) to help reduce health risks and improves environmental safety. It is now being relocated further south in the park, and will be used for a number of sports, with hockey and five-a-side football incorporated. This ensures that tennis, a preserve of south west London, will also enjoy top class facilities in the east. The resin flooring system will remain at Eton Manor after the Games as the center transforms into a unique mix of sporting facilities. In addition, the artificial turf pitches at Riverbank Arena– the venue that hosted the field hockey, with its now-famous London blue and pink pitch –will be moved to Eton Manor and enjoyed by the community for various sports and recreational activities.
This makes London a key model for future hosts of major events, including the next Olympic and Paralympic Games, in the winter of 2014 in Sochi, Russia, and following that in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. "London is being used as a blueprint and we're working with a number of Olympic and World Cup bidding cities or host cities to take a similar approach," says Christopher Lee, director at architecture firm Populous, who were heavily involved in construction on this summer's Games, including the iconic Olympic Stadium.
Now Rio de Janeiro intends to use just nine permanent venues, in contrast to previous hosts before London. Athens built and upgraded 36 venues, which cost them €12 billion (£10 billion/$16 billion), while now most of those buildings are in disrepair.
Beijing may have hosted one of the most lavish and spectacular Games, but it built a large number of venues for which they have struggled to make money from since. As Bernd Helmstadt, head of business for Swiss temporary structures and event company Nüssli, says: "People are no longer building permanent structures unless they know they will still be used two years down the road." Not just environmentally important, but also critical in this time of austerity, making the use of existing or temporary venues is of even more critical importance to future host cities.
It is that which may offer some hope to Madrid's bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, as they plan to utilise existing venues for the most part, with 72 per cent of proposed facilities in place already. This will help to offset the weakness of the Spanish economy, as well as offers them a powerful argument when lobbying to win the right to host the Games during the next year. Just six permanent venues will be built if they win their bid next year and a further three temporary. They are up against Tokyo, who have 15 existing venues already and 20 to be built, almost half of which will be temporary. By contrast, Istanbul has significantly more work to do in terms of constructing infrastructure, and will use more permanent venues, although in fairness the city is comparatively at an earlier stage of its development.
This trend is seen not only in the world of the Olympics but in football too. Oil rich Qatar stunned the world when it won the right to host the World Cup in 2022 two years ago. But whilst many allegations have been thrown at them since, what few people can argue with is the huge volume of temporary facilities they are planning to use was a significant factor for FIFA when they decided to award the Gulf state the tournament. Indeed one of the stadiums they are building is intended to be packed up and shipped off elsewhere, providing a legacy beyond their shores.
Whatever the legacy London 2012 provides for Britain, it can be certain that its impact will be felt far and wide beyond its borders. The British capital, in its sustainable approach summed up by the use of temporary venues, has set a standard which host cities and prospective bidding cities the world over are now battling to keep up with. That, perhaps, will be London's greatest legacy.
David Gold is a reporter for insidethegames
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