While I’m qualified enough to assert that Horse Guards Parade is the best scene at these Olympics, I lack the expertise to review the London 2012 venues from an architectural standpoint. I do, however, have a friend and former Central Park baseball teammate who was a senior architect for New York’s Olympic Bid Committee (NYC2012), a games advisor for London’s organizing committee and currently works as a sports architect in New York. He is Scott Schiamberg, and this is his first guest post: an Olympic architect’s assessment of the medal-worthy venues in London.
GOLD MEDAL: Aquatics Centre
Designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, this is perhaps the iconic new venue of the London Olympics and was a central feature of London’s bid to host the 2012 Games. Hadid is a world-famous architect whose recent designs — including buildings, furniture, cars and even shoes — seem to emerge from quicksilver. While Zaha is not known for her projects coming in on time or under budget (the Aquatics Centre was designed before London won the rights to host the Games, yet it was the last venue to be completed and its original budget of $116 million escalated to over $400 million), the Centre’s swooping, fluid and wave-like forms makes it one of the most impressive Olympic and legacy venues for London. It’s an elegant, sculptural design and should be considered with some of the all-time recognizable Olympic venues such as the Beijing Water Cube and Bird’s Nest and Athens’ Olympic Stadium.
SILVER MEDAL: Velodrome
(John W. McDonough/SI)
The London Velodrome by Hopkins Architects is an elegant, crisp design inspired by the program and efficiency of cycling and the bicycle (and unfortunately, or not, it is called the “Pringle” due to its roof’s resemblance to the popular potato chip). Its distinctive saddle shape and sustainable achievements are well-integrated in a creative and innovative venue. Despite the unique interior feature of a 250-meter wooden, banked track, most velodromes — with the exception of Athens’ in 2004 — have been uninspiring and less conceptually integrated.
The London Velodrome form, material and concept come together to provide a timeless and speed-record-breaking facility for track cycling. That the double-curved roof wasn’t lost in transition during the building process — a point when most architectural design is modified for cost savings and/or ease of construction — was a major victory. Inside the Velodrome, the engineering systems allow for passive convective cooling and the presence of natural light, which work together with the net of cables supporting the roof to let the building beautifully articulate itself.
BRONZE MEDAL: Coca-Cola Beatbox
This isn’t actually a venue, but it was too striking to ignore. Asif Khan and Pernill Ohrstedt’s “Beatbox” is a pavilion in Olympic Park made up of 200 interlocked translucent air cushions that visitors can “play” as an instrument utilizing innovative audio, lighting and responsive sensor technologies. The architects created a crystalline pavilion that fuses design, sport, music and technology in a multi-sensory experience as one ascends its exterior ramp. This will inevitably be one of the most photographed structures at the London Games, and it follows in the footsteps of the UK Seed Pavilion at the Shanghai 2012 World Expo by another British designer, Thomas Heatherwick.