The London Olympic Legacy: Comparing Bold Claims to Reality
The field of architecture has tended to remember the spaces of contemporary Olympic games in terms of individual canonical buildings, such as Frei Otto and Gunter Behnisch’s stadium for the Munich 1972 games or the spectacular Birds’ Nest stadium by Herzog and de Meuron for 2008’s Beijing Games.
While it is too soon to tell, London’s 2012 Olympic Games may have also contributed objects to the architectural canon: Zaha Hadid Architects’ striking Aquatics Centre, perhaps, or, more quietly, Hopkins’ Architects effective and economical velodrome. But such a limited view, favouring Olympic architectural trophies, is to neglect the broader possibilities for employing Games expenditure in service of urban regeneration.
The Barcelona Olympics of 1992 demonstrated the regenerative potential of an Olympic Games. The new Port Olimpic district was reclaimed from industrial tips, burying urban obstacles such as railway lines to connect the city more strongly to the sea. The success of Barcelona’s Olympic Legacy, and the inflated language necessitated by the bidding process for the Games, have resulted in numerous bold claims about the transformative potential of London’s Olympic legacy for communities, for architecture, and for urban design. The resulting rhetoric of the bid demands scrutiny in the cool light of day in order to test outcomes against promises, and two years on, while the dust on numerous construction sites continues to settle both literally and metaphorically, seems like a good time to begin taking stock..
This special issue of arq: architectural research quarterly, curated by Cardiff University’s Juliet Davis who played a crucial role in the creation of the special issue, aims to bring together a set of critical perspectives on London’s Olympic legacy, paying special attention to the Stratford and Lea Valley site.
Davis’ introductory ‘perspective’ establishes the context for the papers included in the issue. They deal with: portrayals of the Olympic site (William Mann’s paper and Oliver Froome-Lewis on ‘Lea Valley Drift’); the promises articulated to people and places (Andrew Smith on the re-framing of the idea of a park and Graeme Evans writing about a ‘hands on cultural framework’); and questions of the future (Andrew Hoolachan on sustainability, Juliet Davis on designing futures, and Issac Marrero-Guillamón on temporary urbanism).
As Davis reflects, the papers deal with ‘relationships between designed outcomes and legacy governance’, ‘modes of looking and seeing’ and ‘questions of time [and] stories of urban change’. Many of those stories are still in flux with respect to London but we hope this issue of arq will make an important contribution to the study of Olympic legacy, both internationally and with respect to London 2012.
– arq Editors, Adam Sharr and Richard Weston.
The special issue is now available and can be accessed on Cambridge Journals Online, with Juliet Davis’ introductory perspective available for free until 31 March 2015. If you would like to keep up with the latest arq news, click here to register for content alerts straight to your inbox.