Hoping for a vibrant London 2012 legacy

February 4, 2010

Mud and concrete do not make an inspiring sight on a grey February day. We are told the London 2012 Olympics will be a great colourful event as well as the biggest sporting show on earth, but perhaps its construction site is best seen on a sunny afternoon. 

Entering from the north, the first thing that comes into view is the concrete carpark put aside for the 20,000 reporters and broadcasters who are expected to be covering the Games. You then see the warehouse where they will work – a giant grey shed. Apparently it will be so big you could fit five jumbo jets side-by-side. That’s a lot of grey.

Last year, the Olympic panel of the government’s design advisers CABE initially refused to support the proposed designs for the International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre (IBC/MPC) complaining about  a “paucity of imagination” and a “large monolithic block”.

Work then followed on the external appearance, and bright blocks of colour will go up on part of the building. 

Across the Park, on the east side, you can make out the apartment blocks for the athletes village – three of the 11 have now been structurally completed.

Then comes the area where the handball arena will be – a square building. After that, the temporary box-shaped basketball centre.

The handball arena will be multi-coloured inside, with light streaming through the roof, while the basketball arena will have a white squidgy “marshmallow” look once completed we were told.

The only building to stand out architecturally in the north of the Park on a cold February day was the “pringle-shaped” roof of the Velodrome.

Most of the flair has been reserved for the south of the Park – which, to be fair, is where the bulk of the sports fans will enter.

That’s were the iconic stadia will be – the main stadium and the Zaha Hadid-designed aquatics centre. The aquatics sting-ray designed roof dominates the Park, while the main stadium stands proud.

And let’s face it, how many buildings can you remember from the Beijing extravaganza beyond the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube?

But for an area of the east end of London that has such a colourful history, I hope some of that vibrancy remains in legacy.

Its industrial past has left polluted rivers and contaminated land. But its rugged past has generated a lively history.

Its slaughter houses once provided some of the ingredients to make soap and other products at the nearby Yardley cosmetics factory, while  Stratford once made thousands of train locomotives, our guide told us.

On the site used to be Eton Manor Boys’ Club, a sports and social club for local youngsters sponsored by former Etonians, which  included the London 1948 Olympics athletics track, transplanted from Wembley.

But some of its less appealing history includes a Victorian rubbish tip, now the site of the Velodrome, and the route for North London’s sewage.

The area is also much in need of investment, and the billions of pounds of regeneration money will hopefully raise its standing from its current status as one of the most deprived areas in Britain with high crime and unemployment rates.

I’m sure the Games will bring the Park to life. I hope the legacy will give it soul.

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