The Stadium in the Queen Elizabeth Park – one year on

London 2012 opening ceremony

14/08/2013 Written by: Glyn Trippick

Just over a year ago on 27th July 2012 London came alive to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Those of us at BuroHappold who had spent so much time working towards this were delighted with the overwhelming success of the event and the Games that followed, and for our stadium to be the centre of the world’s attention for the next month.

For many who watched the expertly organised Olympic and Paralympic Games unfold in London last year the sporting events were the main deal. But for many of us involved in the design of the venues and infrastructure, the Games were only a means to an end; the regeneration of an extremely run-down part of London and the creation of new neighbourhoods around the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. You can see the London Legacy Development Corporation’s vision for the whole area here.

As far as the stadium and its future are concerned the last eighteen months (we started working on the transformation design before the Games had even taken place) have been a roller coaster ride for the design team. Our brief from the original client, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), was to design a stadium that had an 80,000 spectator capacity for the duration of the Games.

In 2005 a stadium with a dedicated athletics legacy had been promised as part of the original bid for the Games; the ODA was aware that athletics would only command spectator numbers of 80,000 at an Olympic Games or World Championships, and consequently many previous Olympic stadia had become expensive rarely used white elephants. At that time there was no other committed legacy use so the brief required the stadium to have the flexibility to be readily reduced after the Games to a capacity of 25,000. In summary this capability was achieved by designing a 25,000 capacity permanent lower tier and an upper tier for the remainder of the spectators, designed to be readily dismantled. So that was the project taken forward from design into construction for London 2012.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company or as it is now known, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), was formed in 2008 to drive forward the development of the whole area post-Games. It took a fresh look at the future of the stadium and concluded in 2010 that “…a larger, 60,000 spectator capacity, multi-use venue, with athletics at its heart, will provide a more flexible and viable future stadium and fully address the requirements of the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships....Other than athletics, potential events that could be accommodated will range from ball based sports, to entertainment events, such as rock concerts.” This was obviously too late to affect the design for the Games and going down this route would be ultimately dependent upon securing a commitment for the long term use outside of the brief summer athletics season; the aspiration was to attract a top level football club to make the stadium their home ground during the remainder of the year.

The LLDC decided to retain ownership and ran a prcess to secure a concessionaire to compliment UK Athletics' (UKA) use for the summer. A team led by Turner & Townsend and including architect Populous, BuroHappold and landscape architect LDA succeeded in winning the bid to provide full design services for the project.

LLDC instructed the design team to look at retractable/ re-locatable seating for the lower tier that could be retracted for athletics and move inwards toward the field of play for football. The system was to be designed so that the turnover from one mode to the other could be completed within seven days. Of course the consequence of this new brief was that the roof would need to extend further to cover the seating in its most forward position meaning it would need to be twice the area of the existing one. With the intention that as much of the existing structure as possible be retained, our structural engineering team has developed a sophisticated gravity stressed cable design which utilises the existing perimeter compression ring, strengthened as necessary. A revised RIBA Stage D design was completed in January 2013 and presented to WHUFC by LLDC.

WHUFC accepted the revised design and following further negotiations agreed in March 2013 to a 99 year concession agreement to play all their competitive fixtures at the stadium, announcing to the world that they would move into the stadium at the beginning of the 2016/17 football season. UKA also agreed a 50 year access agreement to use the Stadium in June and July each year.

The LLDC’s intention in January 2013 was that the whole project would be tendered on a design-and-build basis from the Stage D proposals. This could have potentially meant a hiatus in the design process of about six months until a d&b contractor was on board to take the project forward towards a completion date of June/July 2016; the final construction elements would be laying the football playing surface and its specialist build-up underneath.

At about the same time as this talks were taking place regarding the possibility of the stadium hosting some Rugby World Cup matches in October 2015; this was confirmed and announced in March 2013. Of course the one thing rugby teams need in a stadium is a playing surface, so the whole design and construction programme had to be re-configured to facilitate laying the playing surface a year early.
The major consequence of this was that the roof construction would need to be completed before the field of play works could be commenced and so the roof design would need to be taken forward without the design hiatus. Accordingly the LLDC instructed the design team to continue with the design. This has now been progressed and a roof contractor and an mep contractor have been appointed. The main d&b contract is currently out to tender; the successful contractor will take on board the roof and the mep contractors as sub-contractors.

This project has involved input by many of our disciplines. Thanks are due to all the individuals in those disciplines for their hard work and effort so far.

Disciplines involved:

  • Structural engineering
  • DPM
  • Building services engineering
  • Infrastructure and civil engineering
  • Ground engineering
  • Bridge engineering
  • Fire engineering (FEDRA)
  • Sustainability & BREEAM consultancy
  • COSA
  • Specialist lighting
  • Security (HS&S)
  • Geo-environmental
  • Inclusive design
  • Planning & EIA advice
  • Water environment
  • Microclimate
  • Air quality
  • Waste

Images: © LLDC and Populous

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