A decade in the making

A decade in the making: how global design practice Populous has helped in the creation of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

When, as a host city, you first start thinking about an Olympic masterplan, the numbers are staggering: 26 Olympic sports and 21 Paralympic sports across 33 venues in 27 days – the equivalent of 451 concurrent days of sports competition. Add 10,500 athletes, 4,200 Paralympic athletes, 8.8 million ticketed spectators, 4.3 billion TV viewers, 20,000 media and 70,000 volunteers and it’s clear that the challenge is a complex one, to say the least.

So where do you start? For the London 2012 organisers, the decade leading up to the games has been a series of steps, from the first plans for the bid to the completed Olympic stadium, in all of which Populous has been proud to assist.

Developing a winning bid
Nine cities set out to become the host city for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In London, Populous joined a consortium of designers and other experts to work with the London 2012 Bid Company to meet the challenge of coming up with a bid that would persuade the IOC to select it ahead of those other competing cities, by delivering a proposal that had vision, but was also technically robust.

A key initial requirement was to outline all the proposed venues for the Games. The site for the Olympic Park itself – the Lower Lee Valley – had been identified some years before by the British Olympic Association. For the remaining venues, it was a question of analysing what already existed, what needed to be built and what could be purely temporary. The organisers were also keen to use the city of London as a backdrop for the event. “We thought about the symbols of the city that could be brought into play,” says Populous Principal Jeff Keas. “Places like Horse Guards Parade and Greenwich Park are internationally-recognised locations, so in order to mark these Games as belonging to London, they needed to be incorporated into the plans.”

Alongside physical locations, a key consideration in the planning stages for any major event is the people involved. For the Olympic Games, there are numerous user groups including broadcasters, the media and spectators, but the most important is of course the athletes themselves. They spend years in training, reaching their peak for this one event, so the conditions and facilities need to be at optimum level. This was key to decisions such as how the venues might be clustered and Populous helped to develop a masterplan that ensured that no athlete should have to travel for more than an hour to reach his or her event.

After the announcement in May 2004 that London had made the shortlist, Populous was part of the all-important evaluation process, taking part both in evaluation visits and in the presentation to the IOC, where Senior Principal Jerry Anderson helped convince the IOC Evaluation Committee that the London bid had the right approach to create a memorable event.
In July 2005, the nation held its breath to see if London would be awarded the Games.

Turning the vision into reality

After the euphoria of being announced as the host city, the hard work really began. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) was set up and the concepts and plans outlined in the Bid Book had to be developed into master plans and venue plans that would allow ideas to be transformed into reality.

Populous worked with LOCOG to review the venue plans in detail and found that some of the venue proposals within the bid could be adjusted to enhance their staging of the event. For example, at Lords Cricket Ground, we worked with the International Archery Federation to realign the Archery course along the axis between the main pavilion and media centre, which has actually enhanced the venue for both athletes and spectators, while remaining true to the original concept of using the historic setting as a backdrop to the event.

At this stage, LOCOG also had to prepare design briefs for each venue, prior to awarding the development to the competing contractors. Populous was able to draw upon the experience it has gained from working on many previous Olympic Games to help with this, as well as with design and operational reviews.

Much like the hours that an athlete spends in training, relying on that core work to let them achieve their best in the competition itself, the detailed plans worked on during these 18 months are the foundation on which the 27 days of the Games themselves rely.

Designing the venues
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was then established to develop and build many of the key venues and infrastructure and in any Olympic Games, the focal point of the event is the Olympic Stadium. It’s here that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies take place and that some of the most eagerly anticipated Athletics events, such as the 100m, take place. In January 2007, Populous was delighted to be appointed as architects for the main stadium, as part of the Team Stadium consortium. “We were very aware of its significance to the London 2012 Games as a whole” explains Populous Associate Principal Tom Jones, “so we went out and consulted with the public through talks in town halls, open stakeholder sessions and technical fora. These meetings were a very useful way to get feedback on the design that we were developing.” From a technical perspective, the brief’s main challenge was to create a structure that could be both temporary and permanent – capable of holding 80,000 spectators during the Games themselves but becoming a more manageable 25,000 seat stadium after the Olympics. “This scale of reconfiguration had never been attempted before,” says Populous Senior Principal, Rod Sheard, “and so we had to ‘embrace the temporary’ and re-think the way we design a Stadium, exploring materials, structure and operational systems in a completely different way.”

After 130,000 architect hours spent on the project, the completed stadium was handed back to the ODA in March 2011, ahead of schedule and reflecting a wonderful team effort from all involved in the project.

Getting ready for the show

As the ODA started the handover of the main venues to LOCOG, the focus then shifted to getting these venues ready to host Olympic and Paralympic events. Populous was appointed by LOCOG to lead the Team Populous consortium, which had responsibility for designing all of the overlay works for the Games.

Often, overlay design is the unsung hero in major events, with the focus being on the main projects. But for these Games, Populous Senior Principal John Barrow was keen to develop the overlay in such a way that the temporary venues provided as many of the showcases as the permanent venues.

There are many advantages to overlay. Firstly – most obviously – it means that you avoid being left with any ‘white elephants’, permanent structures that have no use once the Games are over. Secondly, it gives freedom: it’s thanks to overlay that we’re able to stage equestrian events at a world heritage site in Greenwich Park. Thirdly, it adds flexibility to permanent structures, as with the Stadium itself. A venue can be expanded to meet the Games’ requirements, then revert to a more manageable size thereafter.

Overall, London 2012 will have temporary structures equivalent to the number of permanent structures built for the last three summer Games, including 250,000 modular seats, 165,000m2 of tents, 140km of fencing, 250 km of crowd barriers and 100,000m2 of temporary sports surfaces.

As part of our appointment as official Architectural and Overlay Design Services Provider, Populous has also helped LOCOG to design the test event configurations. These crucial events are conducted a year before the Games and test, venue by venue, issues such as whether the field of play is right for the athletes, the movement of spectators and the sequencing for building a venue. The test events allow any final adjustments in design and operations to be made in good time.

Delivering a lasting legacy

In August 2013, the new Royal Park will be reopened to the public, a permanent legacy of London hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. The Games will be a catalyst for urban regeneration in East London, fast tracking 25-30 years of planned work into just a decade and creating a vibrant, thriving place to live and work.

For people like Populous Associate Principal Chris Jopson, it will also represent a decade of work, starting with initial site explorations in 2003 and running through to the opening of the park in 2013.

Populous is proud to have worked with the London 2012 organisers on so many of the steps in this Olympic journey, drawing on a broad base of skills to assist them in delivering what we feel confident will be a truly memorable Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Developing a winning bid
Nine cities set out to become the host city for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In London, Populous joined a consortium of designers and other experts to work with the London 2012 Bid Company to meet the challenge of coming up with a bid that would persuade the IOC to select it ahead of those other competing cities, by delivering a proposal that had vision, but was also technically robust.

A key initial requirement was to outline all the proposed venues for the Games. The site for the Olympic Park itself – the Lower Lee Valley – had been identified some years before by the British Olympic Association. For the remaining venues, it was a question of analysing what already existed, what needed to be built and what could be purely temporary. The organisers were also keen to use the city of London as a backdrop for the event. “We thought about the symbols of the city that could be brought into play,” says Populous Principal Jeff Keas. “Places like Horse Guards Parade and Greenwich Park are internationally-recognised locations, so in order to mark these Games as belonging to London, they needed to be incorporated into the plans.”

Alongside physical locations, a key consideration in the planning stages for any major event is the people involved. For the Olympic Games, there are numerous user groups including broadcasters, the media and spectators, but the most important is of course the athletes themselves. They spend years in training, reaching their peak for this one event, so the conditions and facilities need to be at optimum level. This was key to decisions such as how the venues might be clustered and Populous helped to develop a masterplan that ensured that no athlete should have to travel for more than an hour to reach his or her event.

After the announcement in May 2004 that London had made the shortlist, Populous was part of the all-important evaluation process, taking part both in evaluation visits and in the presentation to the IOC, where Senior Principal Jerry Anderson helped convince the IOC Evaluation Committee that the London bid had the right approach to create a memorable event. In July 2005, the nation held its breath to see if London would be awarded the Games.

Turning the vision into reality

After the euphoria of being announced as the host city, the hard work really began. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) was set up and the concepts and plans outlined in the Bid Book had to be developed into master plans and venue plans that would allow ideas to be transformed into reality.

Populous worked with LOCOG to review the venue plans in detail and found that some of the venue proposals within the bid could be adjusted to enhance their staging of the event. For example, at Lords Cricket Ground, we worked with the International Archery Federation to realign the Archery course along the axis between the main pavilion and media centre, which has actually enhanced the venue for both athletes and spectators, while remaining true to the original concept of using the historic setting as a backdrop to the event.

At this stage, LOCOG also had to prepare design briefs for each venue, prior to awarding the development to the competing contractors. Populous was able to draw upon the experience it has gained from working on many previous Olympic Games to help with this, as well as with design and operational reviews.

Much like the hours that an athlete spends in training, relying on that core work to let them achieve their best in the competition itself, the detailed plans worked on during these 18 months are the foundation on which the 27 days of the Games themselves rely.

Designing the venues
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was then established to develop and build many of the key venues and infrastructure and in any Olympic Games, the focal point of the event is the Olympic Stadium. It’s here that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies take place and that some of the most eagerly anticipated Athletics events, such as the 100m, take place. In January 2007, Populous was delighted to be appointed as architects for the main stadium, as part of the Team Stadium consortium. “We were very aware of its significance to the London 2012 Games as a whole” explains Populous Associate Principal Tom Jones, “so we went out and consulted with the public through talks in town halls, open stakeholder sessions and technical fora. These meetings were a very useful way to get feedback on the design that we were developing.” From a technical perspective, the brief’s main challenge was to create a structure that could be both temporary and permanent – capable of holding 80,000 spectators during the Games themselves but becoming a more manageable 25,000 seat stadium after the Olympics. “This scale of reconfiguration had never been attempted before,” says Populous Senior Principal, Rod Sheard, “and so we had to ‘embrace the temporary’ and re-think the way we design a Stadium, exploring materials, structure and operational systems in a completely different way.”

After 130,000 architect hours spent on the project, the completed stadium was handed back to the ODA in March 2011, ahead of schedule and reflecting a wonderful team effort from all involved in the project.

Getting ready for the show

As the ODA started the handover of the main venues to LOCOG, the focus then shifted to getting these venues ready to host Olympic and Paralympic events. Populous was appointed by LOCOG to lead the Team Populous consortium, which had responsibility for designing all of the overlay works for the Games.

Often, overlay design is the unsung hero in major events, with the focus being on the main projects. But for these Games, Populous Senior Principal John Barrow was keen to develop the overlay in such a way that the temporary venues provided as many of the showcases as the permanent venues.

There are many advantages to overlay. Firstly – most obviously – it means that you avoid being left with any ‘white elephants’, permanent structures that have no use once the Games are over. Secondly, it gives freedom: it’s thanks to overlay that we’re able to stage equestrian events at a world heritage site in Greenwich Park. Thirdly, it adds flexibility to permanent structures, as with the Stadium itself. A venue can be expanded to meet the Games’ requirements, then revert to a more manageable size thereafter.

Overall, London 2012 will have temporary structures equivalent to the number of permanent structures built for the last three summer Games, including 250,000 modular seats, 165,000m2 of tents, 140km of fencing, 250 km of crowd barriers and 100,000m2 of temporary sports surfaces.

As part of our appointment as official Architectural and Overlay Design Services Provider, Populous has also helped LOCOG to design the test event configurations. These crucial events are conducted a year before the Games and test, venue by venue, issues such as whether the field of play is right for the athletes, the movement of spectators and the sequencing for building a venue. The test events allow any final adjustments in design and operations to be made in good time.

Delivering a lasting legacy

In August 2013, the new Royal Park will be reopened to the public, a permanent legacy of London hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. The Games will be a catalyst for urban regeneration in East London, fast tracking 25-30 years of planned work into just a decade and creating a vibrant, thriving place to live and work.

For people like Populous Associate Principal Chris Jopson, it will also represent a decade of work, starting with initial site explorations in 2003 and running through to the opening of the park in 2013.

Populous is proud to have worked with the London 2012 organisers on so many of the steps in this Olympic journey, drawing on a broad base of skills to assist them in delivering what we feel confident will be a truly memorable Olympic and Paralympic Games.