This summer’s London Games will involve 26 Olympic and 21 Paralympic sports, almost 20,000 athletes, 9.2 million ticketed spectators, 20,000 media and 70,000 volunteers. With these numbers comes a demand for venues and facilities on an enormous scale – not only spectacular competition venues that provide the best possible sporting and viewing conditions but centres for the media, offices, stores, laboratories for drug testing, temporary start and finish lines, pedestrian bridges, plants in pots and thousands and thousands of signs.

Making all this happen is overlay- the logistical, technical and architectural feat that makes permanent venues, whether existing buildings or landscape, fit for Olympic purpose.

The design team behind the overlay for London 2012 is Team Populous, made up of award-winning design practices Populous, Allies and Morrison and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. Over the years, more than 150 architects have worked on this vast project, with around 80 architects working on it at its peak.

In its standard format, overlay is used to create the hundreds of temporary structures needed to house the various user groups – Olympic Family, media, workforce etc – that support a major sporting event, as well as things like cabins, tents, generators, toilets, and so on. At London 2012, overlay has been taken even further, thanks to a strategy of ‘embrace the temporary’.

This strategy was adopted both to showcase the city itself – overlay gives the freedom and flexibility to do things like stage beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade, archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground and equestrian events at Greenwich Park – and to leave a sustainable legacy for London, with no architectural ‘white elephants’.

Within the Olympic Park, overlay has been used to add vital flexibility to venues like the Stadium. It’s also how the unique One to One Ceremonies Rehearsal Space – two full size replicas of the Stadium’s footprint – was created, allowing the ‘cast of thousands’ to rehearse for the dazzling opening and closing ceremonies while vital installation work carries on within the Stadium.
Weaving through every element of the overlay, from spectator seating to wayfinding signage, is a consistent and holistic design approach, with a joyful but low key feel that takes inspiration from the vernacular of British festivals with arrays of peaked white tents, flags and bunting.

By using this carefully thought-out mix of permanent and temporary architecture in every venue, we have been able to use the city as a backdrop, creating what will be a memorable experience not just for the athletes, but for the spectators at the event and, perhaps even more importantly, for over 4 billion television viewers worldwide.

We will also leave the right legacy for the Games and for London. Environmentally, economically and socially, London 2012 is the most sustainable Olympic Games of the modern era.

Team Populous are proud to have designed the overlay for London 2012 in partnership with LOCOG.

Together, the complementary skills of our three practices mean that the athletes, media, spectators and on screen viewers will experience something quite extraordinary this summer, seeing London as they’ve never seen it before.