London 2012: Sustainable Vs. Recyclable

With the passing of this summer's 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, it is evident that the Olympics have become more than a series of athletic competitions. The games have become a symbol of worldwide unity and human progression. Every aspect of the Olympics is scrutinized, from the host city down to the participating athletes. With such a mixture of international cultures and perspectives, controversy can only be expected. London's 2012 Olympic Games are no exception. A worldwide energy crisis and an increasingly green lifestyle have set the bar extremely high for the message that the next Olympic Games will send. This message is being convoluted by the (literally) largest icon of the games, the Olympic stadium.

When the design for the stadium was initially unveiled, the project boasted one of the most progressive designs in terms of sustainability (see rendering above left). In fact, the concept is based entirely on sustainability and the ability to reuse the stadium after the Olympics. HoK Sport, the chief architecture firm of the project, is attempting to create an entirely recyclable structure. 80,000 seats will be installed for the 2012 games, but 55,000 of them are temporary. The post-Olympic plan is to remove these extra seats and create a 25,000 seat venue for community use. Additionally, the accepted design includes fabric stadium walls, another first in this building typology. HoK believes that the fabric walls will be reusable and will ensure that the stadium is in fact a sustainable structure. Specifically, the firm envisions creating souvenir tote bags out of the fabric to help earn funds for the structure. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, goes so far to say that it "must be the most environmentally sustainable stadium ever constructed anywhere on the face of the planet".

The problem is there is nothing sustainable about a building that costs 525 million British pounds. For the sake of simplicity, that converts just over 900 million U.S. dollars. This cost estimation is more than twice in initial budget proposed by the London's Olympic Committee, and all costs have not been accounted for. Surprise costs will be added to the budget as construction progresses. Additionally, this prediction does not take into account the cost of the twenty-two buildings and the 600,000 tons of soil which had to be removed in order to make room for the stadium. In comparison, the Bird's Nest, which was constructed for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is estimated to have cost 500 million U.S. dollars and has a maximum capacity of 91,000 seats (see photo below). This is just over half of London's current budget and can hold more people. This cost also included the state of the art Solar VP system produced by Suntech Powers. Arguably, the 2008 stadium is more sustainable than 2012's seems to be. It must be noted that even though London's stadium is recyclable, that does not make it sustainable. The difference being that any building can be stripped and salvaged to some extent, but truly sustainable architecture will reap benefits in its present. Without proclaiming, the Bird's Nest has sustainable qualities that make it constantly efficient. Additionally, it has become an international icon as a well-balanced blend between aesthetic design and green development, a quality that many of London's critics will notice absent in 2012.

The extent to which the stadium is reusable is also in question. First, additional structures on the immediate property, such as food and concession stands, have not been given final approval by the London Development Agency (L.D.A.). The current proposal will make these smaller structures temporary and removable, but officials are hesitant to expand the projects budget in order to accommodate this consistency. Developers are faced with a lose/lose situation; choosing between spending more money to create a truly recyclable project, and saving money, which in itself is a sustainable quality, but inconsistent with the thesis of the project. If the cost to renovate the surrounding area post-Olympics is substantial, it will take away from the project's ability to be easily reused. Second, the final design for the post-game stadium has not been resolved beyond the fact that the 55,000 extra seats and tarps will be removed. There is still the issue of what will be done with the steel beams that support the tarp walls. Steel is easily and cheaply recycled, but the post-game plan questions removing the beams at all. Since the beams will have no purpose after the tarps are removed, recycling them would add to the projects legitimacy. Finally, there is no long-term guarantee that future events will be held at the stadium. This will ultimately label the project as a failure in terms of sustainability. The entire idea is to recycle the stadium, but the city of London has yet to lease it to a sports team or event committee. The stadium has been found unsuitable for any specific sport because of the permanent track and field fixations. The L.D.A. recently admitted that the stadium might not have a future in athletics. According to L.D.A., the proposed design is specific to the Olympics, where versatility is required. Consequently, if there is no lease after the games, there will be no revenue to pay off the structures massive debt. The L.D.A. has even publicly suggested demolishing the stadium after the Olympics to prevent it from becoming a "white elephant". The very same day this was reported, an advocate for the mayor stated, "[London envisions] a long term future for the Olympic stadium. Expensive facilities should not be built unless they have a viable future". Livingstone continues to argue for the longevity of the project, saying that once potential leasers see the finished project, the offers will pour in.

It is obvious that the L.D.A. has lost sight of the true mission for this project. An honest sustainable structure is cost efficient, easily maintained, and long lasting- none of which are definite in London's 2012 Olympic Stadium. Despite the failures that are present with London's main stadium, the Olympic Delivery Authority (O.D.A.) has set new standards in construction and sustainability which they hope will continue in future Olympic development projects. Some of the key components to these new guidelines include: creating renewable energy which is partially generated on site, using design to advantageously reduce waste, recycling water, and designing for the pedestrian. But by excluding the most prominent structure from these guidelines, the message is simply not as strong. It would seemingly be beneficial to exploit them in a permanent and sustainable stadium. Instead, the L.D.A. has left it up to the discretion of the individual to determine whether or not the pursuit of sustainability is important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Upon reading your blog, the first thing that became apparent to me is how well you must understand the complicated nature of designing and constructing an Olympic stadium. I would venture to say that a good majority of people that do not support the plan for the London 2012 stadium would not have any valid reasoning to support their claim outside of the fact that the stadium will cost a lot of money. What you have done effectively here is take that first obvious qualm ($900 million does sure seem superfluous when comparing the new stadium to China’s Bird’s Nest) and put it nicely into context with other factors: sustainability, future use and recyclability. You did this particularly well in identifying “that even though London's stadium is recyclable, that does not make it sustainable.” I find that Olympic organizers often can throw out big words such as “sustainable,” whether their plans actually fit the term or not. You succeed in not getting caught up in these persuasion attempts and get down to the core of the issue. Further, I feel like you could not have made a better choice in your selection of visuals. Your primary point of comparison for the new London stadium is China’s Bird’s Nest and having an image of both allows the reader to put a visual with the information they are being given.

While I feel that you did very well capture the essence of the issue, I offer a couple points of constructive criticism: one thing that I think might be nice to see is a more extensive historical context of the construction of Olympic stadiums. Perhaps it would not be necessary to even further analyze past stadiums in the blog, but it would be nice to have a link with cost figures on the 2004 Athens, 2000 Sydney and 1996 Atlanta Olympic games. I say this simply because of the amazing technological advances that have surrounded China in recent years; it might simply be that London is on par with the general Olympic real estate plans of other countries and China is ahead of the curve. Overall though, I applaud you on a high quality analysis of a very pertinent issue. Spending $900 million on a stadium that will eventually host no teams and seat 25,000 does seem quite excessive.

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