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.