Mon, September 23, 2013

From rubbish to rebuild, Olympic Park rises

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Landscape gardener Jan Oliver waters wildflower turf squares at the Olympic Park in Stratford in east London July 26, 2012. (REUTERS)


LONDON - The river meanders along between two sloping banks bursting with wild flowers, white willows and black poplars.

Ducks poke their way through tall grasses in the middle of the current and adjacent to the river there are frog ponds.

A path meanders beside the river and when you lift your eyes from the peaceful setting it’s hard to take in the fact you are only a short walk from the Olympic Stadium which, come from Friday night, will be brimming with 80,000 spectators for the opening ceremony of these Summer Games.

The River Lea, its once steep banks carved back into gentle slopes, flows through the Olympic Park, creating a contrast between the futuristic-looking Games venues and a pastoral setting.

The site of the Olympic Park -- with eight venues, it is the hub for many of the events -- was reclaimed after centuries of being a dumping ground in East London.

After the 2.5 sq-km site (about 350 soccer fields side-by-side) was secured in 2007, crews busied themselves removing 52 power towers and then excavating years of accumulated waste and garbage.

Crews dug down and, 30 feet later, under years of accumulated refuse, found a Victorian street.

“Since the Industrial Revolution, this has been a degraded place,” said David Stubbs, the head of sustainability for LOCOG, the Games organizer.

Stubbs led a group of journalists on a walking tour of the park under brilliantly sunny skies. “Back then, it was on the edge of town and it became a dumping ground. There was a century and a half of rubbish here. Now we’ve brought it back (to normal).” The site was excavated with those towers -- pylons as they call them here -- dismantled and 200 buildings demolished. With sustainability the guiding premise of the development of the Olympic Park, 98% of the materials from those demolished buildings -- stone and bricks -- were reused or recycled on the site.

About 1.4 million cubic metres of soil were excavated and cleansed in five huge soil-washing machines on site. A laboratory was set up to test the toxicity of the soil before it was used to landscape the site.

The site is now home to eight venues, three of which are temporary structures -- the water polo venue, the basketball arena and the field hockey stadium -- while the Olympic Stadium and the aquatics centre will be reduced from their present size to community-level facilities. The Olympic Stadium, for instance, has a permanent lower tier that can seat 25,000 spectators.

The temporary steel and concrete upper structure can accommodate another

55,000 spectators and can be dismantled.

To reduce the amount of construction materials, the bowl of the stadium was sunk into the ground following the excavation of 800,000 tonnes of soil which were used elsewhere on site.

The Velodrome has the appearance, as Stubbs put it, of a Pringles chip -- think of the Saddledome in Calgary. The shape reduces the amount of air that has to be cooled inside while a mesh ceiling lessened the need for steel.

The rain is harvested off the roof and used for the facility’s toilets.

As we paused during a walk near the river’s edge, Stubbs looked off in the direction of the Athletes Village, a 2,800-unit facility that will house about 17,000 athletes during the Games.

“You’ll be able to hear the cheers from the hockey stadium and from the balconies of Team GB (Great Britain),” Stubbs said with a smile as he contemplated the medals to be won by the hosts. “But here it feels like the countryside.” After the Games, half of the units in the Athletes Village will be used for social housing and will be situated adjacent to some remarkable green space in sight of downtown London, about five kilometres away.

Paul Deighton, LOCOG’s CEO, said the group changed the blueprint for Olympics facilities, showing it was possible to use existing venues without leaving white elephants behind.

“One of my predictions is that our venue portfolio, both the new venues we have built here in the Olympic Park, but also our temporary venues and how we have adapted our existing venues, they are going to be some of the stars of the Games.”

OLYMPIC PARK BY THE NUMBERS

8: The number of competition venues within the park.

2.5: The size of the park in square kilometres.

4: The number of zones into which the park has been divided: The Street Market, Britannia Row, World Square and Orbit Circus.

115: The height, in metres, of the Orbit, the tallest art structure in Britain which helps define the skyline of the park. The spiralling red structure is reflective of the five Olympic rings. It also doubles as a viewing tower.

20,000: The size, in square metres, of the white PVC fabric used to cover the basketball arena, a temporary facility. The PVC is recyclable. It also will serve as the canvas for light shows during the Games.

180,000: The number of tiles it took to build the three pools in the Aquatic Centre. There¹s a 50-metre competition pool, a 250-metre diving pool and a 50-metre warmup pool.

14,000: The amount, in cubic metres, of soil that was required to build the BMX track. The soil was excavated from the Olympic Park site, cleaned and used to build the 450-metre course, which features an eight-metre ramp at the start.

88: The number of ³light pipes² that allow natural light into the Copper Box, the venue for handball and modern pentathlon. The pipes allow light into the facility and reduce by 40% the need for electric lighting.

17,000: The number of athletes with accommodation at the Athletes Village at the park, within walking distance of the venues. The village has 11 residential plots, each with five to seven blocks built around squares or courtyards. There are water features to highlight the proximity of the River Lea. After the Games, partitions in the units will be torn down and 2,818 new homes will be available.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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