Fri, September 20, 2013

Olympic stadium gets gold medal of its own

By BOB MACKIN, Special to QMI Agency

The Olympic Stadium reopens Friday night for the world’s best runners, jumpers and throwers to write new chapters in Olympic history.

According to its chief architect, the $782 million building, where the Games began a week ago, is more about function than form.

Populous senior principal Rod Sheard said the goal was to minimize the use of materials and use less energy to build. All the steel, he says, weighs 10,000 tonnes -- a typical stadium uses 40,000 to 100,000 tonnes. It includes an unused gas pipe from a North Sea oil project and 40 percent of the concrete is of recycled aggregate. The building is surrounded on three sides by water, so instead of trucking materials, boats and trains were employed. It was even designed in components.

“It’s possible that if you had a helicopter big enough you could lift that entire roof off on its little diagonal legs and put it in Hyde Park and it would stand up on its own and it wouldn’t touch anything underneath it,” Sheard said Wednesday. “Equally you could leave the building and you could take the entire upper tier off, you wouldn’t affect the roof or anything.”

The design grew from initial sketches of people linked together with their hands held high and another sketch of triangles.

“Triangles are amazing things,” Sheard said. “They are, from an engineering point of view, from an architectural point of view, very strong. You cannot get a stronger form than a triangle. I don’t know whether any of you know this but the British flag is made of a series of triangles, so one day in the office we dissected a British flag and started using triangles and people linked together and there was a form that started to evolve out of that.”

Sheard said the building was finished two months early and it was brought in under budget.

“It was just that simply clarity of being able to focus on each of those components as we went along,” he said.

Populous (formerly HOK Sport), the world’s leading stadium and arena designer, was involved in the bid stage and won the contract in 2007. The stadium was built so that it could be scaled down from its 80,000-seat Olympic configuration to as little as 25,000 and retain the running track.

“Olympic Stadiums tend to evolve after an Olympic Games and track and field, that is the focal point of the second week and the main purpose of the stadium, effectively gets tossed out and then another sport comes to take its place,” Sheard said.

Last November, the International Association of Athletics Federations awarded London the 2017 world track and field championships. Several other tenants want in on a permanent basis.

The Premier League’s West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur were bidding in 2010 to become the post-Games tenants. West Ham’s lease, however, fell through. A proposal to make it part of a Formula 1 auto racing track is on the table. West Ham has tendered a new proposal, as has Leyton Orient FC. UCFB, a Burnley-based soccer business school, is the other bidder.

First, it will host 10 days of athletics, including the Games’ most anticipated event: the 100 metre dash featuring reigning Olympic champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica.

“It is, in a way, a three-dimensional blank canvas,” Sheard said. “It is ready for other people to write their masterpieces.”