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The Olympic Stadium – The Story of The Most Talked About Venue In The UK

Everyone remembers watching the glorious events of the summer of 2012, when the world’s eyes were on London’s Olympic Games.

Stories of ‘super Saturday’ and the heroics of competitors like Jess Ennis and Sir Chris Hoy have been recounted over and over since and will be told for years to come, but there is one story which is oft-overlooked. That is the story of the venue in which those tales were played out; the Olympic Stadium, and it is an interesting story to tell.

The design and the designers

It was on the 13th October 2006, less than six years before the Olympic opening ceremony, that London’s Olympic organising committee announced that it would enter discussions with only Sir Robert McAlpine and Populous as regards the design of the Olympic Stadium. That team had previously delivered Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium and the architects Populous had worked on projects as diverse as the Millennium Stadium, the O2 Arena, and Ascot Racecourse.

The stadium design was launched on 7th November 2007 as a traditional bowl shaped amphitheatre with a roof covering approximately two thirds of the seating and a focus placed on ‘sustainable development’. This focus was reflected by the use of surplus North Sea Gas pipelines within its structure and also the ease with which the roofing structure could be assembled and disassembled.

Critical response to the design

The response to the announced design of the Olympic Stadium was by all measures a mixed bag. Many people lauded the stadium’s focus on sustainability but when it came to the aesthetics and architectural impact of the venue, response ranged from hugely positive to a famously negative description which likened the stadium to a ‘bowl of blancmange’.

Many of these criticisms were framed around comparisons with Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest Stadium’ from the 2008 Olympics, with people claiming that London’s stadium did not produce the same kind of iconic image.

The construction process

If the design of the Olympic Stadium split opinion, its construction left people largely in agreement that it had been completed in a remarkably successful manner. Preparations ahead of construction, which included the digging out of the bowl of the stadium and clearance of the area, began in April 2008 with a proposed construction commencement date of August that year.

Construction did in fact begin however, in May of 2008 a full three months ahead of schedule and this was a good omen for the rest of the construction process. The construction process included the creation of 25,000 seats surrounding the track and field ‘bowl’ of the stadium; using concrete ‘rakers’ and the addition of four tiers of varying construction above that base tier to add an extra 55,000 seats.

This construction process used a fraction of the steel and other expensive materials which had been used in Beijing’s stadium and led to the construction being completed on time and under budget by March of 2011. The finishing touches were then added and the athletics track laid in October of that year.

All in all a very successful project. The Stadium is now being redeveloped to house West Ham United after their long, and sometimes bitter, battle with Tottenham Hotspurs to win the right to call the stadium home.