Construction Olympians

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

Okay, what did the 2012 Olympics ever do for us then? Well, in no particular order:

  • There’s the incredible array of award winning buildings, parks and open spaces.
  • It was the ultimate brown field development site and regenerated a huge toxic wasteland in east London into something quite remarkable.
  • It set new bench marks for construction health and safety.
  • It has put ‘sustainability’ front and centre of the construction industry.
  • It has provided the ultimate showcase for British architecture and engineering.
  • Whole buildings have been designed to be reused on other sites allowing best long term use of the original olympic site.
  • What was once a toxic wasteland, now incorporates a green ecology with huge bio-diversity.

The sceptics will continue to underline the fact that those award winning architects and engineers cannot trumpet their own successes because of the ridiculous olympic gagging orders on copyright. They will ask can anyone afford to buy the homes that have resulted from the athlete’s village, and are to come from further regeneration of the site, and they will bleat endlessly about the cost, not only in the amount of money lavished on the games, but the cost in loss of local businesses and homes that have been swallowed up by the development.

But with the paint barely dry on the exoskeleton of the Olympic stadium, Mo Farah has caught his breath, and the PA cooled down after the closing ceremony concert. It’s time to move on. Although in this case there is an argument to ‘look back’ and applaud not only the remarkable success of TeamGB, but that of the engineering triumphs of the games that have pioneered and pushed new technologies that have turned the 45 Ha site from a murky ‘Brown’ to ‘Green’ and ultimately into ‘Gold’. An unusual spectrum it must be said, but a most welcome transformation nonetheless.

Typically engineering triumphs are largely unseen. The seven year metamorphosis of the site from toxic wasteland into world sporting stage was one of true herculean  proportions that would award a gold medal to engineers – Civil, Electrical, Mechanical and Environmental, as well as the Archaeologists and Ecologists that carried out sensitive monitoring and ultimately balanced the view of the development in line with heritage and ecological values.

Of course there will be those who will argue ‘No pain, no gain’. But of course there is always the counter of ‘No pain, no pain’. The latter is the couch potato ‘get out clause’ that is glibly applied to any argument. The truth is that tens of thousands of people died building the pyramids – “Oh did they?” is the usual tourist response as they marvel at the engineering masterpiece. So perhaps we are fortunate in that the construction programme is inherently much safer – these days. Not that I am suggesting the Olympic Park will become the eighth wonder of the world, but the  gain of an incalculably greater sustainable urban regeneration over the rotting toxic landscape that preceded it, has got to be worthy of that pain.

The talk has always been about the ‘games legacy’. That significant ‘gain’ that must be made to justify the argument of the pain. Of course that ‘legacy’ will only become attestable in years to come. Greece have still to pay for their Games, and can we will have to demonstrate that we learned from the ‘white elephant’ mistakes of the other most recent events at Sidney and Beijing?

There was also a promise to inspire a generation. Any appreciation of sport should acknowledge that TeamGB played their part. The UK’s inspired legacy is an urban regeneration plan that has a core of low carbon and low waste design, with a thread of bio-diversity, and a promotion of environmental awareness to everyone. So there is a variance on the sustainable definition here, although we must always revert to the caveat of ‘More sustainable’, where the toxic wasteland that had no future has been transformed into an eco-friendly region which has potential, by comparison, that is off the scale.

Construction had a ‘zero waste’ remit, and the master-plan integrated the restoration of local rivers creating integrated wetlands that are the holding tanks for effective site drainage. Whilst we know that the only sustainable development is no development at all, we also knew, in this instance that a slide backwards was never an option. The resulting low impact, low carbon buildings making good use of renewable energy are a great start. There is an integrated public transport system which can benefit community development. The building blocks, in Lego terms, are well bonded. Someone just needs to buy a few boxes of those people and market stalls – that sort of thing, just to bring what has been the artificial olympic community into real life.

Under the oxygen contained within the current euphoric Olympic bubble I think the majority of the country would wish the area a bright and prosperous future. Once that bubble has burst and we are all breathing in the same globally warmed fumes again…… well, we will see.

So to the designers, contractors and all other businesses associated with the Olympic project, that have made hay while the sun has shone over the last seven years, you can have your gold medal – just one, mind. A few will have an on-going remit, most will have stopped to try and find the next job.

Congratulations to our Construction Olympians.

The following is an overview of the sustainable aspirations of the Olympic project –

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