Decoding Design

London's Olympic Stadium: larger than life but built to shrink

Posting in Architecture

The 80,000 seat London Olympic Stadium is a massive arena designed to morph into a much smaller community venue after the Olympic Games end. Here's why...and how.

Next month, all eyes will be on London as the Olympic Games begin on July 27. But after the closing ceremonies two weeks later, some of the main competitive arenas will morph into smaller, more practical community venues--by design. Part of the overall strategy of the London Olympics organizers was to help revive East London, an industrial and run-down area of the city. And that includes not burdening that community with the upkeep of massive structures.

Even the Olympic Stadium--the Games' crownlike main arena--will scale down to a more manageable size after the torch goes out.

The architectural firm Populous designed the stadium, which will seat 80,000 during the Games, to transform (via semi-deconstruction) into a building that will accommodate only 25,000. It may not look as visually striking or unique upon first glance as some of the flashier Olympic stadia of decades past--such as the eye-popping "Bird's Nest" of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But some of the innovative ideas that Populous came up with to create a shrinkable stadium also will pay off in improved energy and material usage, when compared to previous Olympic stadia.

Here's a quick overview of some of the London Olympic Stadium's most clever details:

  • The designers first considered creating a roofless stadium, but overhead coverage was needed to protect athletes and audience from the wind. So they came up with a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) awning that shelters 75% of the venue's seats.
  • The awning is supported by tubular-steel structures put together in a bicycle-wheel pattern above the stadium. The structures are made from salvaged parts from a gas-pipeline construction project.
  • Opting for a PVC awning means that the London Olympic Stadium is the "lightest" Olympic Stadium in history. Populous's design uses 11,000 tons of structural steel. For context: the 2008 "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, used nearly 42,000 tons.
  • Concession stands are located in pop-up "pods" on the rim of the Stadium, rather than embedded within it. This means there was no need to add mechanical ventilation systems for food preparation and fire prevention.

That the core concept of creating a large-scale arena that could easily become smaller led to money-saving construction and operational solutions illustrates how one inventive, focused design goal can often lead to others. While the Olympic Stadium designed by Populous won't be a permanent landmark in its full form, the creative ideas behind it will likely resonate and live on.

[Via Architectural Record]

Images: Populous; e-architect/Wikimedia Commons

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure