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The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nicholas Howlett


Does Londons 2012 Stadium represent a model for future Olympic stadium design?

A research paper submitted by Nicholas Howlett towards the degree of Master

of Architecture at the University of Bath, Department of Architecture and Civil
Cover image:!/2012/07/london-2012-olympic-stadium-aerial-hq.html

Engineering. Session: 2012-13. Student number: 070221693

The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

Olympic Games are some of the largest events in the world, and as such generate a
huge amount of discussion, including debate over the architecture built to support
them. In recent years, host cities have tended to invest in large, extravagant stadia,
however with ever-growing global concerns over sustainability and the legacy the
Olympics leave behind, there is increasing worry about these huge structures and
how they equate with a sustainable future for the regions they are built in.
In the summer of 2012, the Olympics came to London, where the architects behind
the stadium decided to try something different, creating a scheme designed to be
almost 70% demountable post-Games. This paper aims to investigate whether the
principles behind the design create a model for future Olympic stadia. Drawing on
previous published research, the context is first set by analysing prior designs and
relevant debates. The principles behind Londons stadium are then explored and
analysed, based on primary research from Planning applications, assessment of
published written media and personal experience, which also allows comparison to
alternative approaches for the design of a main stadium.
The paper concludes that whilst it is not as simple as saying that one approach will
always be the right one, the analysis suggests that the principles behind Londons
stadium would seem the best choice, assuming that a new stadium is desired as part
of a wider agenda. However, the difficulties that London is currently experiencing
regarding the stadiums future show that whether or not the strategy can be
successfully achieved remains to be seen.

Stadium, London, 2012, Olympics, design, architecture, Populous, demountable,
temporary, legacy, sustainability, stadia


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

1. Introduction

2. Context for Study

2.1. Background

2.2. The Olympics and Urban Regeneration

2.3. The Olympics and Sustainability

2.4. Olympic Main Stadia

3. Architectural Strategy for London 2012

3.1. Overall Strategy

3.2. Stadium (Olympics mode)

3.3. Stadium (Original Future Plan)

3.4. Stadium (Current Future Plan)

4. Analysing Success

4.1. Architectural Design

4.2. Functionality

4.3. Sustainability

4.4. Cost



5. Conclusion


Endnotes & Citations




Figure & Table References




I would like to thank all those who have helped in the writing of this paper,
notably my tutor David Coley for his assistance, and Pauline and Andrew
Howlett for their proof-reading.


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett



2.1 Background

2.2. The Olympics and Urban Regeneration

entire cities. But they are also travelling circuses, lighting

Since the Olympics were revived by Baron de Coubertin

Although initially the Modern Olympics were held

up a city for a few weeks, before disappearing again, to

in 1896, they have grown in size immensely and are

alongside World Fairs and had little lasting impact on a

emerge four years later. Many host cities have invested

now the largest peacetime events in the world.

city, by the time of the 1960 Games in Rome organisers

in extravagant architecture, with the main stadium

Today, holding the Olympics represents, The ultimate

had begun to realise the potential such large events

no exception. However, with ever-growing concerns

accolade that a city can earn on the world stage , with

had for catalysing urban regeneration. By the time of

over sustainability and the legacy the Olympics leave

the event being of sufficient size to have a significant

Barcelona in 1992, only 17% of the total expenditure

behind, and with many previous facilities sitting under-

impact on national economies. However, it brings with

went on the sporting element of the Games, with the

used, there appears an increasing dichotomy between

it focussed media attention on an unparalleled scale,

remainder spent on urban improvement projects.5 As

building extravagant Olympic stadia with high iconic

and looking back over 100 years of history, benefits to

a result, the Barcelona Games are seen largely as a

value, and building facilities with a sustainable future.

the host city are not assured Simon Usborne sums up

success in urban planning terms, regenerating a large

its impacts: The best Olympics regenerate neglected

stretch of the waterfront and laying the foundations for

The design of the London 2012 Stadium is an ambitious

districts, inspire children to take up sport and leave

further plans delivered throughout the 1990s.6

departure from its predecessors, with originally 69%

a city furnished with world-class venues and rolling

of its 80,000-seat capacity and much of what gives it

in Olympic dollars The worst are poisoned chalices

Ken Livingstone, mayor of London at the time of the

its visual identity, designed to be demountable. The

that leave a nation in debt and a city overrun by white

London bid, has been quoted as saying, I didnt bid for

hypothesis of this paper is thus: the architectural

elephants. 4

the Olympics because I wanted three weeks of sport.

Olympic Games1 are some of the largest events in the

world, with the power to entertain, inspire and transform

I bid for the Olympics because its the only way to get

principles behind Londons Olympic Stadium represent

the model solution for future Olympic stadia. This will

As the scale of the event has grown, so too has the

billions of pounds out of the Government to develop

be assessed by first investigating previous stadia and

architectural endeavour behind it, and today every

the East End.

related thinking and debates, before analysing Londons

Olympic bid involves promises of considerable

highlights one of the key benefits of the Olympics in

stadium in depth. Based on personal experience of

investment in new facilities and infrastructure. The

the eyes of the organisers, and one that must not be

visiting it during the Games, primary research of Planning

main stadium has always been the centrepiece of any

forgotten when considering the stadium.

applications and via the analysis of the written media of

Games, generally hosting the opening and closing

others, its success or otherwise will be explored.

ceremonies, as well as athletics and occasionally other

As well as the physical aspects of regeneration (for

sports. This however creates a difficult challenge for

example improved an transport infrastructure) the

the architects involved the Olympics only last for a

potential of the Olympics in place promotion has also

few weeks, and this sits very uncomfortably with the

been highlighted - in other words portraying a certain

normal permanence of architecture.

positive image of the host city or country to the world,

Although perhaps rather cynical, this

generally in order to encourage increased tourism or


Perhaps the most pertinent examples

The Future of Olympic Architecture?

are the 1936 Games held in Nazi Berlin and the 2008
Beijing Games, both of which served as strong political
advertisements for their countries and regimes.

Nick Howlett

Table 1: Previous Olympic main stadia of note









2.3. The Olympics and Sustainability

Although the event itself is inherently unsustainable,
involving as it does a massive construction programme


68,000 seat capacity stadium multi-use stadium, with running

track, cycle track around the outside, and swimming pool in the


middle. Became increasingly neglected post-Games, and was

demolished in the 1980s


and countless international flights9, within the current





as part of grand architectural scheme promoted by the Nazi


government. Still in use today (in modified form) for football

climate of environmental awareness the promotion of

sustainable development has become one of the key

% of seats Description


aims of the Olympic Movement.10 As a result, a detailed






decided on lavish, iconic facilities. The stadiums design was so


complicated that it was not finished on time and went far over

strategy for the environmental impact and legacy of the


Monumental 110,000 seat stadium built in neo-classical style,

Like most of the Games during the 1970s, the organisers

event is an important part of all recent bids, although it

budget. The city spent over 30 years paying off debts accrued

has been noted that there have been no huge successes

from hosting the Games

in this area to date.11







Following Montreal, in general just upgraded existing facilities,

including the main stadium (at the time holding 103,000

2.4. Olympic Main Stadia


As Jacques Rogge, current president of the International

Olympic Committee, has said, Olympic Stadia are the
visual icons of any edition of the Olympic Games12 and






Games as a whole made a healthy profit, the lasting impacts


certainly in the last few years, the postcard image

have been negligible






The main stadium was an extensively renovated existing facility.

Good legacy planning of the Games in general meant that
stadium was used regularly (until recently) by Espanyol Football

of any Games has been of their main stadium. By


extension, in the context of the role of the Olympics

in urban regeneration and sustainable development

Again decided on renovating an existing venue. Although the


explored above, the main stadium is perhaps the


New semi-




post-Games to turn it into a 47,000 seat stadium for a local


most important asset in terms of place promotion,

Built to seat 85,000, the main Stadium was partially demolished

baseball team. Still in regular use today (although almost

promotion of sustainable values and for catalysing

unrecognisable from the original stadium). Olympics overall

urban regeneration.

were an economic success


Table 1 summarises Olympic main stadia of note in

the context of this paper (with London 2012 added for


New semi-


Main Stadium held 110,000 during the Games, with one stand



removed post-Games, becoming an 80,000 seat venue, primarily


for rugby and Australian Rules football. However, legacy planning

was only developed post-Games as a result the stadium
continues to struggle to attract enough events to be profitable,
largely because of competition from better located venues

The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

Table 1 continued:

Looking at the historical precedent, there are numerous

instances where poor legacy planning or bad stadium










New mostly



% of seats Description




New semi-



the Olympics have finished, the host city is left with

75,000 seat stadium dramatically renovated by Santiago

facilities that dont find sufficient use to be economically

Calatrava into an architecturally striking design. However, it

successful, leaving only Monuments to vanity16. This

is poorly used today (as is much of the Olympic park) and the

can naturally damage rather than enhance the citys

Olympics overall have greatly exacerbated Greeces economic

reputation.17 The strongest example is perhaps Athens,


where 21 out of 22 venues now lie almost abandoned

91,000 seat iconic stadium designed by Herzog & De Meuron,

figure 3 shows some signature Calatrava architecture

11,000 of which were temporary and removed post-Games

left vandalised.18

(without any exterior visual change). However, not well-used

today, instead functions primarily as a tourist attraction


design (such as in Montreal) have meant that after


Figure 2: Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Stadium

That is not to say, however, that all new-build Olympic

stadia are consigned to this fate. The future life of

80,000 seat lightweight stadium, with 55000 on a demountable

Atlantas stadium (figure 4) was planned from the

structure allowing potential removal post-Games

start, and it remains in frequent use today. However,


the transformation required substantial building work

(the temporary parts could certainly not be described
as demountable19) and the design was dismissed as
architecturally very uninspiring.20 Sydneys design also

As can be seen, architectural strategies for Olympic main

featured temporary elements in order to improve its

stadia have varied widely, although in general they have

future legacy, however these were built from in-situ

fluctuated between simply renovating existing venues

concrete (thus stretching the notion of temporary)

and building large, extravagant buildings. The reasons

and this strategy alone was not sufficient to ensure the

Figure 3: Vandalised architecture at the Athens 2004
Olympic Complex

behind the chosen strategies are often political for

example, Beijings decision to build an architecturally

economic sustainability of the venue.21

iconic stadium (figure 1) that could be recognised across

These precedents set the backdrop against which

the globe was part of a conscious decision to show that

Londons stadium was designed, with the organisers

the Modern China could compete on the world stage.13

facing the problem of how to create a stadium that

Los Angeles adopted perhaps the opposite approach, in

positively promotes the city, is effective during the

general only using or updating existing facilities (figure

Games, and has a sustainable future. They faced a

2), and not worrying about trying to raise the global

particular challenge in following Beijing it has been

visibility of the city or prove a political point. Although

noted that following such extravagance, a more

this approach saw their Olympic Games make a healthy

functional and economical scheme would seem

profit, several commentators bemoaned the lack of

lacklustre and thus could be counterproductive to aims

intimacy and atmosphere caused by using existing

regarding place promotion.22

facilities that were scattered all over the city.14,15


Figure 1: Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium

Figure 4: Atlanta 1996 Olympic Stadium


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett



3.1. Overall Strategy

before, London took it much further in terms of seats,

London had almost the same amount of temporary

More than any other previous Olympics, the organisers

construction as the last three Olympics put together.24

of London 2012 were keen to promote sustainable

Figure 5 shows London in comparison to other recent

values, using the Games as a catalyst for the large-scale

Olympics (see appendix 1 for detailed breakdown of

regeneration of the Lea Valley area, in East London

2012 venues) it is worth noting too that seven of

as Hattie Hartman puts it, It [was] about much more

Londons new builds included substantial post-Games

than an Olympic Park full of new sporting venues. It

changes, such as the removal of temporary seating.

[was] about the creation of a sustainable urban quarter

with an ecological park at its heart.23 Central to this

In terms of the image London was trying to portray to the

was the principle of only building permanent new

world, it appears the organisers were keen to promote

venues when the long-term use could be justified with

functionality and efficiency through the architectural

a viable business plan. This led to the widespread use

schemes chosen suitable for the tough economic

of temporary buildings, as well as facilities which could

climate the country found itself in, and intrinsically

down-size following the Games and the use of existing

linked to the pursuit of sustainability.

arenas (such as Earls Court) where possible. Although

During the bidding phase, the notion of legacy was a

temporary venues have been used for the Olympics

key message for selling the Games. This incorporated

Figure 5: Comparison of total

numbers of different types of

New permanent /
extensive renovations



The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

not only the built legacy (in terms of facilities that

history and potential future can be found in appendix

bowl, and the surrounding steel structure with

could be used by amateurs and professionals alike and

two. The key principles behind the Olympic-mode

roof were structurally independent, with the

the housing created by adapting the Athletes Village),

design were as follows:

demountable parts generally prefabricated and

but also the impact on social and economic factors

bolted (rather than welded) together. This would

such as promoting healthy living through access to

The headline strategy was of a partially demountable

sport, improving job prospects for local residents and

building - of the 80000 seats, 25000 were located

promoting volunteering.25

in a permanent concrete bowl, with the additional

It was designed to be as compact and lightweight as

55000 on a lightweight, steel and precast concrete

possible, to minimise the embodied energy, and to

structure above. This equated to 69% of seats

bring spectators close to the field of play. This meant


a fully open concourse almost all the way around the

3.2. Stadium (Olympics Mode)

make for easier future dismantling.

stadium, and putting most of the ancillary functions

Londons Olympic Stadium was designed by sports

The key elements (shown in figure 6) permanent

(for example, toilets and concession stands) into

facility specialists Populous - a timeline of the stadiums

lower seating bowl, upper demountable seating

temporary pods located either beneath the raked

seating or outside the building (see figure 7). In
Londons case, this was greatly aided by the buildings
island location, which allowed security measures to
be placed on bridges, away from the actual building.
Its permeable design is also an important factor in
Figure 7: Toilet pod beneath the raked seating, with
coloured wrap on the left

creating a very accessible stadium, especially for

wheelchair users. However, to regulate wind levels
within the stadium, a colourful wrap made from
twisted strips of fabric was placed around the entire
The roof is an extremely lightweight tensile fabric
structure, covering two thirds of the seats. To further
reduce the stadiums environmental impact, much
of the structure which supports it is constructed
from surplus gas pipes rather than virgin steel.26
The permanent seating bowl is partially sunken
into the ground, to minimise concrete usage, and
to allow service functions to be hidden beneath
the main entrance level (see figure 8). Again, the
conditions of Londons site (which is slightly sloping)
greatly aided this.

Figure 6: Exploded visual of Londons stadium showing its key component parts


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

Figure 8: Sectional diagram of the stadium (Red denotes main public entrance level)

Figure 9:Visual showing how the stadium might look if all demountable parts are removed

Back of house

as athletics, football or even Formula 1 racing. The

conversion will entail some reconfiguration of seating
In general, the material palette was subdued and

bowl, field of play and a small amount of supporting

the architecture expressive of it efficiency, so that

facilities - figure 9 shows how it could look. However,

the stadium became a backdrop for the events

no clear strategies for the reuse of the demountable


elements were investigated at the time the original

areas (which is made simple by the demountable

design) but also, in order to comply with regulations for
international standard football stadia, the roof will need
to be completely rebuilt to cover all the seats.31

planning application only touches on legacy use in a

In addition, since all the demountable elements were

non-specific way.28 In practice, creating a new stadium

3.3. Stadium (Original Future Plan)

only designed for a five year lifespan, these will need to

(or several stadia) out of the removed parts would be a

be upgraded, and any temporary or hired infrastructure

difficult design challenge unless the sunken permanent

Although football was discussed as a likely legacy use

(such as security points) will need to be replaced.32 This

bowl was also recreated.

will leave a stadium that retains much of its Olympic-

when the stadium was first designed, no future user

mode visual appearance, although potentially minus

could commit before the time when decisions had to be

made to meet the strict programme.27 As a result, the

3.4. Stadium (Current Future Plan)

Figure 10:Distinctive triangular lighting paddles

the distinctive triangular lighting paddles (figure 10).

organisers decided that the best solution economically

was to design it so that it could downsize to a 25000-seat

Following the formation of the Olympic Park Legacy

stadium, which would primarily be used for athletics.

Company29 and the decision to grant the 2017 World

The demountable upper part of the stadium would be

Athletics Championships to the stadium, legacy plans

dismantled, then hopefully reused, either as a whole

were reviewed.30 The current proposal (December

or split into smaller sections. This would mean all the

2012) is to adapt the existing building into a 60000-

distinctive visual elements of the stadium would have

seat multi-sport venue with the potential for 80000

gone, leaving behind just the concrete sunken seating

people for concerts, which can host for sports as diverse



The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett


4.1. Architectural Design

away with them, and can become a tourist draw in its

own right (as has happened with Beijings stadium).35

The Olympic Stadium represents a sea change in

Although a lack of extravagance could arguably limit

Olympic Stadium Design33, and as with any ground-

the iconic value of a stadium, in the case of London, the

breaking design, opinions on the architectural merits

fact that it is so different from what has come before is

of the scheme have been varied. Table 2 presents a

perhaps enough to negate this. However, this may not

selection of journalistic opinions.

be the case with any future demountable designs.

It is interesting to note that most of the positives arise

The architectural merit of any legacy scheme of course

from the decision to make the stadium lightweight and

remains to be seen. However, since the original legacy

compact, which in turn was done to some degree to

plan to downsize to a 25000 seat venue would entail the

allow it to be partially demountable. This key decision

removal of most of what gives the stadium its unique

to focus on the practicalities meant paring back the

character, it could be assumed that it would lose any

design to its most basic structural elements the

iconic value it currently has, becoming a community-

Majestic exoskeleton which would arguably be true

scale venue with only the memory of what it once

for any demountable or temporary designs.

was (see figure 9). This would limit its impact on place
promotion (on a national or international scale) to

However, it is when the stadium is compared to previous

just the period of the Games. The 60000-seat option

schemes that most of the criticisms arise the stadia

however should mean most of the visual character of

of both Beijing and Athens are massively extravagant

the Olympic-mode stadium is retained.

architectural statements, which perhaps make Londons

stadium look rather cheap and simplistic. However, a

Obviously architectural merit is very subjective and

move away from extravagant architecture was definitely

most of the other criticisms have been specific to the

a conscious decision on the part of the architects, in

actual realisation of the design principles rather than

order to fit in with Londons vision for a sustainable

the principles themselves, however the stadiums

Games as Rob Sheard, the project architect, has said,

appearance on the 2012 Stirling Prize list suggests it

This is not a stadium thats going to scream from the

has certainly generated significant interest from the

rooftops that its bigger and more spectacular this is

architectural community. It also fits well with Tom

just a cleverer building, a cleverer solution.

Dyckhoffs reading of the underlying theme of this


years shortlist, that of a move towards the Anti-


Iconic architecture is one of the key elements in place

icon, architecture without bells and whistles, but with

promotion, as it gives visitors a clear image to take

sensitivity and intelligence.36


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

4.2. Functionality

Table 2: Journalistic opinion on the architectural merit

(which was also primarily to be for athletics). However,

by deciding to focus on the larger legacy design, several



Majestic exoskeleton - Oliver Wainwright in Building

Almost lacking the grandeur one would expect from


an Olympic epicentre - Oliver Wainwright in Building


Writing in the Architects Journal, Rory Olcayto sums up

issues arise. During the bid phase, Londons organisers

what appears to be the general opinion on the stadiums

made an absolute commitment to an athletics legacy40,

functionality during the games: In terms of serving its

but should this be combined with football (as is

users, the main stadium has proved a great success.

considered likely), many observers have suggested that

The athletes appeared to love it. Those who attended

the track will mean spectators are too far away from

When you emerge from the dark undercroft into

The intention to make the stadium truly sustainable is

the Games felt an impressive sense of enclosure. And

the field of play.41 This has led to recent studies into

the stadium proper, the lower tiers fall away and you

really welcome, but it does not excuse the low level at

few would deny it made a great stage for [the] Opening

the feasibility of installing retractable seating over the

are hit by the drama of the 80000-capacity arena. Its

which the bar of architectural ambition has been set

Ceremony. Whereas most modern stadia incorporate

athletics track.42

the only stadium Ive seen where the best view is from

Ellis Woodman, quoted in Sydney Morning Herald

a large amount of supporting functions and security

ground level Keiran Long in London Evening Standard

In a very British way, what is beautiful and radical

It doesnt compare architecturally to the Velodrome

about it is its very practicality Tom Dyckhoff on the

or Aquatics Centre Tom Dyckhoff on the Culture

Culture Show


Image of pared-back simplicity - Oliver Wainwright in

A cunning indicator of the decline of the West and

Building Design

the rise of the East Quoted by Rory Olcayto in

Architects Journal

What else is architecture for, if not to bring people

Where, oh where, is the sinuous swooping silhouette

together, to provide a setting for the expression of

that wowed the world in Athens and will do so again

common values, and make a dignified backdrop for the

in Beijing Marcus Binney, quoted in Sydney Morning

best of human activity Keiran Long in London Evening


Its a bowl of blancmange was my first reaction

simplicity: it looked good in 2D Rory Olcayto in

Marcus Binney, quoted in Sydney Morning Herald

Lithe all-rounder - Oliver Wainwright in Building


checks within the entrance area of the building,

The process of finding a future user for Londons stadium

Londons decision to build an easily demountable

has been fraught with delays and problems, although

structure, as well as the principle of partially sinking the

this is arguably more due to the politics surrounding it

building into the ground (thus hiding the back-of-house

than because of flawed design principles. It would seem

functions beneath the main public entrance level) led

that the specifics of how it could adapt were not suitably

directly to a very open concourse extending almost all

explored at the design phase, and so today the design is

the way round the stadiums perimeter. This is a very

being re-assessed as a necessity. As Oliver Wainwright

unusual concept for such a large stadium, and makes

has noted, West Ham [football club]s proposed list

it one of the most accessible stadia ever designed.

of generic requirements could easily have been built in


from the beginning, rather than be clumsily retrofitted

From personal experience the one functional issue with

to a temporary structure.43

the Olympic-mode stadium was the roof. In order to

keep it as lightweight as possible (thereby facilitating
its easy removal) it only covered two-thirds of the seats

4.3. Sustainability

this was fine when the sun was shining, but made

Those watching on telly were struck by its graphic

Architects Journal


the stadium an uncomfortable place for some during

One of the key drivers for the compact, lightweight design

inclement weather. The need to rebuild it in order to

was to reduce the stadiums embodied energy44 as much

meet international football regulations also begs the

as possible. A study by the stadiums civil engineers

question of why it was not designed for 100% seat

Buro Happold has suggested that the consideration of

coverage from the start.

embodied energy is particularly important for stadia,

due to their intermittent use pattern potentially up to

The key issues regarding functionality arise when the

60% of the buildings lifetime energy load.45 Figures 11

A modern celestial/chthonic division perfect for a

stadiums future use is considered. For the Olympics,

and 12 show how Londons stadium compares to two

festival with its roots in pre-Socratic Greece Keiran

it was designed principally for athletics, so it would

previous Olympic Stadia, as well as a recent new football

Long in London Evening Standard

presumably have continued to function effectively if the

stadium (built in Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup).

25000-seat transformation option had been pursued



The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

The graphs suggest that the strategy adopted has

Figure 11: Total embodied energy

been successful in creating a low embodied energy

Figure 13: Embodied energy per seat, comparing

Olympic mode and different potential future schemes

mode design (see figure 13). In addition, the transport

emissions of moving thousands of tonnes of stadium

stadium the organisers claim that it is one of the

to a new location would have to be factored into any

most energy efficient of its type. This is particularly

legacy schemes environmental impact.


noticeable when compared to Beijings design, where

the huge amount of steel used dramatically increased

Considering the current proposed 60000-seat legacy

its embodied carbon. Sydneys partially transformable

design, the upgrading of the building to a longer

stadium compares favourably per seat, although as it

lifespan will allow further energy efficiency measures

housed 35,000 more people than Londons, its overall

to be installed strategies such as a more efficient

embodied carbon is 21500 tonnes higher. Primarily

lighting system would mean that the legacy stadiums

because of the decision to naturally ventilate most of

operational carbon emissions would be even lower than

the stadium by not providing a solid faade, operational

the Olympic-mode stadium (predicted at a saving of

energy is also predicted to be very low in comparison to

around 146 tonnes of CO2 per year).50

similar venues. In addition, the permanent, indoor parts

of the building have been given a BREEAM Excellent

If an existing stadium had been used rather than building

rating, which has never been achieved before by a large

anew, then the environmental impact of hosting the

sporting venue.47

Games (in terms of carbon cost) would be lower. This

is because, in calculating the carbon footprint of the

However, the decision to create a partially demountable

building meant that more expensive environmental
technologies such as photovoltaics or rainwater

whole Olympics, the fraction of the embodied energy of

Figure 12: Embodied energy per seat

the stadium that can be attributed to the Games must

be calculated. For example, say a stadium with a 50-

harvesting were not financially or practically viable, and

year design life and total embodied energy of 200,000

would have to be retro-fitted to a permanent building

tonnes had been used. Assuming 100 usage days a

at a later date. For comparison, Beijings permanent

year (which is the amount the legacy 2012 stadium is

stadium features a 130kW photo-voltaic array to

predicted to have51), then the embodied carbon per

partially power itself.49

event is 40 tonnes. The stadium was in use for 22 days


during the Olympics and Paralympics52, so the overall

As with functionality, the sustainability story becomes

fraction of the stadiums embodied energy that can be

much more complicated when legacy issues are

added to the Games overall carbon footprint is just

considered. For example, the concept of embodied

880 tonnes, essentially negligible. Since a new stadium

carbon becomes difficult when demountable or

is built specifically for the Olympics, arguably all of its

temporary elements are considered if the stadium

embodied energy can be added to the Games overall

did downsize to the 25000 scheme and the removed

carbon footprint, which would mean 50,000 tonnes in

portion did not find a suitable future use, should that

the case of Londons stadium.

demountable part be included in the embodied carbon

value for the permanent stadium at the Olympic site?

In addition, social and economic sustainability must

If it is, then embodied carbon per seat for the venue

also be considered. If an existing stadium is used,

would be almost four times as much as the Olympic-

additional benefits for the surrounding community may



The Future of Olympic Architecture?

be limited to during the Olympics only. A new stadium

Nick Howlett

Figure 14: Total cost

Figure 14: Cost per seat

prohibitively expensive. This highlights an issue with

(demountable or not) can be the catalyst for urban

all transformable buildings that in general, clients are

regeneration, bringing jobs and increased footfall to

unwilling to invest in hypothetical futures.

an area, which is turn improves the economic prospect

and quality of life of the surrounding community.

Initial cost aside, one of the key reasons for building a

London has been keen to promote this aspect of the

design which could downsize following the Olympics

Games legacy, although only time will tell if it has been

was so that it would leave behind an economically


sustainable venue, in contrast to what has happened


in Athens, and also in Sydney (where the stadium

has operated consistently at a loss since it opened56).
4.4. Cost

Only time will tell whether or not Londons stadium

is an economic success, although the fact that the

Londons Olympic Stadium cost 428 million54 figures

organisers have changed their mind from a small 25000

14 and 15 compare this to other recent stadia within

seat athletics venue to a large 60000 multi-use arena

London, both in terms of actual cost, and by seat (note,

highlights the difficulties in predicting future use of

impact of inflation not included).

stadia, especially when a definite future user cannot

be found at the design phase. At the time of writing,

The Olympic stadium compares well when cost per

Londons stadium has still not found a future user,

seat is considered, although in terms of absolute cost

despite several deadlines passing.

it seems high considering how minimal the design is

in comparison to the other stadia. Information on past
Olympic Designs has not been included as it is impossible
to make useful comparisons given the wide variation in
local markets, particularly when comparing to China.
Although the estimated cost for the transformation of
the stadium varies widely, it could potentially add an
extra 180 million, which would make the cost per seat
extremely high.55
This high cost suggests that the design for disassembly
approach is more expensive than creating a comparable
permanent venue, perhaps due to the need for bolted
pre-cast concrete or steel elements rather than cheaper
in-situ concrete. The fact that the demountable
elements for Londons stadium were only designed
for a five year lifespan suggests that creating true
demountability (where the removed portion could
be reconstructed perhaps several times over) was


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett


Table 3: Comparison of London 2012 to main alternative approaches

New (mostly) permanent

London 2012

Renovate / use existing


More opportunities for an

The focus on demountability

Less opportunity for an iconic


iconic, extravagant design

led to a functional, stripped

design, with the opportunities

around which a new Olympic

back aesthetic. Not an icon

for place promotion it could

district or park can be centred.

in a show-off way, although

bring. The Olympics simply

Greatest impact on place

appropriate for the message

furthers any current urban


London was trying to convey.

regeneration schemes rather

Legacy scheme perhaps of

than catalysing something new.

limited architectural impact.



New build means it can be

Compact and open design

Compromises may be

perfectly suited to its function

functioned well during the

required regarding providing

and can meet the highest

Games, particularly regarding

functionality and accessibility

standards for accessibility.

accessibility. Potential issues

without massive changes to

Danger of it becoming poorly

however when the stadium

the existing fabric. Already

used post-Games because the

transforms post-Games,

functioning, so presumably

needs for the Olympics do

particularly because organisers

legacy issues avoided.

not match those of the local

have diverted from the initial



Allows the incorporation of

Lightweight, compact design

When considering just the

more expensive environmental creates a very low embodied

carbon footprint of the Games,

solutions to reduce operating

energy design, and minimal

it is much lower. Retrofitting of

energy (which would be vital

enclosed space means operating

environmental technologies to

for zero carbon), but potentially energy also low. Carbon cost

reduce operating energy may

high embodied energy.

be expensive and difficult.

massively compromised if
demountable parts dont find a
legacy use.



High initial cost, and

Relatively expensive in

By far the cheapest option, and

potential to be too big to be

order to create potential for

economic future much more

economically sustainable post-

demountability, but more likely

likely to be positive (assuming


to be economically sustainable

it was already operating well


before the Games).


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

Table 3 summarises how the architectural strategy for

quite difficult for London. However, if similar principles

Londons stadium compares to the two main alternative

were followed again in a different location by a different

approaches, either building a new, mostly permanent

team, perhaps these obstacles could be overcome.


venue (such as the Beijing 2008 Stadium) or simply

using or upgrading an existing facility (such as in Los

Although it could be argued that a semi-demountable

Angeles 1984).

venue can never be as architecturally iconic as the

permanent stadia seen in Beijing or Athens, London has

1. For the purposes of this paper, The Olympics is

those that can be deconstructed and reconstructed

The initial hypothesis of this paper, which must now

shown that you can still produce something provocative

used to refer to both the Olympic Games and the

again, allowing the facility to pop up in different

be tested, was that the architectural principles behind

by building minimally, even it is not to everyones taste.

Paralympic Games. The Paralympics began in 1960,

locations (in the same form).

Londons stadium represent the model solution for

Putting aside making a stadium demountable, even if

and since 1988 have been held in the same city

20. Oobject, n.d.

future Olympic stadia. Overall, it would appear that it is

there is a local demand for a new large stadium, the

using the same facilities as the Olympics, generally

21. Hartman, H., 2012b, p78

not as simple as saying that one strategy will always be

environmental benefits of following the principles seen

a few weeks after the Olympics have finished. The

22. Gold, J. & Gold, M., 2011, p53

the right solution it depends on what the organisers are

in London would make that choice the better solution,

term The Games is also used to mean the same

23. Hartman, H., 2012b, p13

trying to achieve. From an environmental or economic

as a lightweight, compact design greatly improves both


24. UK Green Building Council, 2012b

point of view, using or upgrading an existing stadium is

the embodied and operational energy of the building.

probably the best option, however opportunities for

2. BioRegional & WWF, 2005

25. Commission for a Sustainable London 2012

3. Gold, J. & Gold, M., 2011, p6

26. London Legacy Development Corporation, 2012c

27. Hartman, H., 2012b, p76

doing more with the Olympics than just hosting some

In conclusion, Londons approach to its stadium has

4. Usborne, S., 2008. White elephant in this context

exciting sport are limited. In Londons case, the desire

provided a viable third option for Olympic stadium

refers to a building whose cost greatly outweighs

to catalyse the regeneration of a large swathe of the city

design. For future stadia, assuming that a new stadium

its use and value, but cant be demolished

meant that using an existing stadium would not have

is desired as part of a wider regeneration agenda, the

5. Gold, J. & Gold, M., 2011, p3

worked. Since it was perceived at the design stage that

strategy behind Londons stadium would seem the

6. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 2011

in 2008. In 2012 it was superseded by a mayoral

there would be no real future demand in the area for

best way forward in principle, although whether it can

7. Livingstone, K. in Kendall, J, 2012, p19

commission, the London Legacy Development

such a large venue as the one required for the Games,

actually be successfully achieved remains to be seen.

8. Girginov, V., 2010, p271

Corporation, which is now in charge of the

adopting the idea of demountability would appear to

9. Hartman, H., 2012b, p30

redevelopment of the Olympic Park

have been the best decision. This in theory allowed

10. BioRegional & WWF, 2005

30. London Legacy Development Corporation, 2012b

London to have a large stadium as a focal point during

11. Girginov, V., 2010, p276

31. Ibib. It currently only covers two thirds

12. John, G., Sheard, R. & Vickery, B., 2007, pIX

32. Ibib

community-scale facility post-Games. However, the fact

13. Kendall, J, 2012, p18

33. Hartman, H., 2012b, p78

that the organisers are now pursuing a 60000 seat multi-

14. Usborne, S., 2008

34. Sheard, R., quoted in Olcayto, R., 2012

sport venue instead of the original 25000 seat athletics

15. Gold, J. & Gold, M., 2011,p 43

35. Hartman, H., 2012b, p27

venue, combined with the on-going difficulties that

16. ibib., p41

36. Dyckhoff, T., 2012b

they are having in securing a future tenant, suggests

17. Girginov, V., 2010, p272

37. Olcayto, R., 2012, p84

that although in principal the idea is a good one, in

18. Wergeland, E., 2012

38. London Legacy Development Corporation, 2012c

reality it is a very difficult strategy to pursue effectively.

19. It is important to make the distinction between

39. Wainwright, O., 2011a

the Games, and to have an economically successful,

Word count: 4927

28. Planning Application reference 08/90143/REMODA,

submitted by Olympic Delivery Authority, 2008
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temporary and demountable: temporary facilities

40. Olympic Park Legacy Company, 2011

Securing a future tenant would be necessary for any

are those that will only exist in their original form

41. Baillieu, A., 2012

new stadium, but securing one for a hypothetical future

for the duration of the event (although they may

42. Kelso, P., 2012

that has not been fully designed appears to have been

find other uses following it), demountable ones are

43. Wainwright, O., 2011a



The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett

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The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett


Appendix 1: London 2012 Venues
Note: Overlay in the table below refers to the addition of facilities for athletes and spectators, as well as Olympic


branding/security etc.
1. Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium.
2. Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Stadium. http://

Authors own presentation of data from Cullen, J




Aquatics Centre

New build



Bespoke temporary seating in large side wings for

Games, main building adapted for community and
elite sport use post-Games


New build



Off-the-shelf temporary seating within bespoke

structure. Potential to be reused for future large

BMX Track

External works
& back of house



Off-the-shelf temporary seating. Track retained (but

modified) post-Games

Box Hill

Overlay only


Brands Hatch

Overlay only



Overlay only



Existing venue

presentation of information from Royal Institute

City of Coventry

of Chartered Surveyors 2011, Gold, J. & Gold, M.,

Copper Box

New build



Retractable seating system ensures flexibility.

Adapted post-Games into community sport facility

Earls Court

Internal fit-out



Existing venue temporarily adapted for sports


External works
& back of house



Eton Dorney




Eton Manor

New build



Extensive remodelling post-Games for community

use. Olympic hockey pitch relocates to here in legacy

ExCeL Centre

Internal fit-out

(over 5


Temporary arenas constructed within exhibition hall

Hadleigh Farm

External works
& back of house



Off-the-shelf temporary seating removed post

Games, track remodelled for continued use

et al., & Econ Poyry, 2009

13. Comparison of embodied carbon of legacy designs.

Authors own presentation of data from London


Legacy Development Corporation, 2012b

3. Vandalised Athens Olympic Complex. http://assets.

14. Comparison of stadium cost. Authors own

presentation of data from Department for Culture,


media & Sport, 2012 & Bond, D., 2012

4. Atlanta 1996 Olympic Stadium. http://

15. Comparison of stadium cost per seat. Authors

own presentation of data from Department for


Culture, media & Sport, 2012 & Bond, D., 2012

5. Comparison to past Games architectural

strategies. Authors own presentation of


information from Hartman, H., 2012b, Beijing

Organising Committee, 2008, & Athens Organising
Committee, 2004
6. Exploded diagram of the stadium. Adapted from
7. Pod under seats and wrap. Authors own
8. Stadium sectional diagram. Authors own
9. Original legacy design.
10. Lighting paddles. http://www.

1. Summary of Olympic Stadia. Authors own

2011, John, G., Sheard, R. & Vickery, B., 2007, &

Wergeland, E., 2012
2. Journalistic opinion overview. Various (referenced
in text)
3. Comparison of stadium options. Authors own

% of seats Notes

11. Comparison of embodied carbon of stadia.
Authors own presentation of data from Cullen, J.
et al., 2012 & Econ Poyry, 2009
12. Comparison of embodied carbon per seat.


No seating provided

Off-the-shelf temporary seating


The Future of Olympic Architecture?

Nick Howlett




Hampden Park

Overlay only



Horse Guards

External works
& back of house



Off-the-shelf temporary seating, sand reused for

other facilities


Hyde Park

External works
& back of house



Off-the-shelf temporary seating

06.07.2005 London wins the right to stage the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

Lords Cricket




Permanent seats at Lords not used, off-the-shelf

temporary seating added in field of play


Overlay only



Existing venue



Existing venue temporarily adapted

North Greenwich Internal fit-out


% of seats Notes
Existing venue

Appendix 2: Stadium Timeline

15.07.2003 London bid submitted to International Olympic Committee. Conceptual design by Allies &

07.02.2007 Olympic Park masterplan submitted for outline planning permission. Approved 28.10.2007
30.11.2007 Stadium design submitted for First Stage reserved matters planning permission. Featured
80000 seat scheme (with future transformation down to 25000 seats). Approved 03.04.2008
09.05.2008 Stadium design submitted for Second Stage reserved matters planning permission. Approved

Old Trafford

Overlay only



Existing venue


New build



Bespoke demountable system built above permanent

venue (see main text for more information)


New build



Off-the-shelf temporary seating, pitch relocated to

Eton Manor post-Games

Royal Artillery

New build

Sailing Centre

External works
& back of house


No seating provided, venue becomes elite sailing

centre post Games

(not approved at time of writing)

St James Park

Overlay only



Existing venue

27.07.2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

The Mall

External works
& back of house



Seating system same as that used for London

Marathon and other events

December 2012 (time of writing) Debate on-going over future tenant despite various deadlines passing.

New build





Bespoke demountable system will be reused at

Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014

11.02.2011 West Ham Football Club chosen as preferred bidder to take over the stadium after the Games
11.10.2011 Deal to sell to West Ham collapses after legal challenge
19.07.2012 Planning application submitted for transformation to a 60000 seat legacy stadium instead

Stadium will now be let rather than sold.

Remains as community and elite sport facility postGames (as part of bigger Velo-park)

August 2015 Potential reopening (liable to change)

Off-the-shelf temporary seating system within

bespoke structure

2015 Potential to host Rugby World Cup matches

Water Polo

New build

Wembley Arena

Internal fit-out



Existing venue temporarily adapted


Overlay only



Existing venue

White Water

New build






22.05.2008 Construction officially begins

2017 Stadium will host Athletics World Championships and Paralympic Athletics World Championships

Off-the-shelf temporary seating around permanent

facility (some adaptations post Games)