A person – who wishes to remain anonymous – had the fortune of being shown around the 2012 Olympic site the other day. I asked if she would take a photo of Zaha Hadid Architects Aquatics Centre while she was there. She said she would ask. She asked, and they said it was fine. So that’s good.
While the photo captures London at its most grey (Cool Grey 10 C = London Sky according to Pantone!), and blustery best, the Aquatics centre looks like it has grown wings. These wings come, not in the Red Bull shape, but more in the sanitary towel way. You can make your own conclusions to what I am trying to say there, but this is what the centre is meant to look like from renderings of the site. What a huge shame for one and all involved in the project, anyone interested in architecture, and those who are looking forward to enjoying watching the events themselves.
The architectural concept of the London Aquatic Centre is inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a wave – enclosing the pools of the Centre with its unifying gesture of fluidity, whilst also describing the volume of the swimming and diving pools.
The London Aquatic Centre is designed to have the flexibility to accommodate the size and capacity of the London 2012 Olympic Games whilst also providing the optimum size and capacity for use in Legacy mode after the 2012 Games – that’s where the wings come into play. They are necessary to increase the Games-time capacity of the aquatics centre to 17,500, but will be removed to leave a permanent facility with just 2,500 seats after the Olympics.
From most angles however the temporary wings, angular grandstands coated in white canvas, overshadow the grey “stingray” wave of the main roof, meaning the ‘iconic’ design will not be seen on television during the Games and will not emerge until the athletes have long departed.
David Higgins, the former chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority recently conceded that the temporary stands were “pretty ugly”, a view increasingly shared in the architectural community, but insisted that the compromise was necessary to keep costs down on the arena.
Despite the fact that they are a little on the ugly side, the inside of the Aquatics Centre is going to look magnificent for the games. I can’t wait to watch a few of the events from the stands, while dreaming of the day when I actually get the chance to swim in the pool itself. Happy days.