From the Bird’s Nest to the Buried Boat: Olympic Design, 2012

Although the auspicious day of 08.08.08 seems like, well, just last month, in the world of Olympic design, the Beijing games were over before you even knew they’d started. As Beijing packs up its fireworks, its floating sphere and its giant, Fuwa beach toys, we’ll fast-forward to London time, where the 2012 Summer Olympics will be taking place – and perhaps only a mundane few will be getting married.

Our beloved Alain de Botton once described imagination like this: a “curious phenomenon, whereby valuable elements may be easier to experience in art and in anticipation than in reality.” How fleetingly Proustian, how temporally Flaubert – how simply Olympian. For the two main organizational committees behind London 2012, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), imagining the Olympic experience in its full-fleshed form is akin to handling de Botton’s ethereal, double-edged sword. A smooth Olympic execution is about the design of artful infrastructure. It’s also about simultaneously envisioning the inevitable End. (What to do with the face of the city once the swelling’s gone down, once the global population has been drained?) These are pressing concerns already posed for economists and city planners.

In the nebulous stages of formation, then, the Olympics pose an existential quandary for any city and its planners. In this spirit, here’s a quick London overview – a cruise through the looking glass at the year 2012, with our favorite existentialist, de Botton, at the helm.

The Curious Phenomenon of (Olympic) Imagination
Or, Experience in Three Forms

  1. Art of Design
    a. Recently on the London riverbanks, there has been spotted a “distinctive lower bowl” of the Aquatics Center taking shape. That puts ODA’s construction an impressive three months ahead of schedule. Zaha Hadid is behind the behind the over-budget bowl-shaped growth.
    b. The architects of Stanton Williams are designing the Olympic’s other key venues and facilities, which have an expected capacity of 18,000 spectators. A currently unresolved issue is whether there will be wood cladding in the main hall.
  2. Anticipation of the End
    a. Or shall we say, “Beginning of the Legacy
    b. After the Games, ODA expects to convert the Olympic site into “the largest urban park created in Europe for more than 150 years.”
    c. In the converted site, sustainable design will enrich the local ecology. ODA’s plan includes restoring wetland habitats, replanting native species, and creating a “new home for wildlife in the middle of the city.”
  3. Reality of Construction (Alas, A Messy Thing.)
    a. There’s a grim reality, and then there’s a green one.
    b. The Grim
    i. While digging the Olympic pool, construction workers unearthed four 3,000 year-old skeletons, buried in separate graves during Britain’s Iron Age. An exciting assortment of morbidities ensued: one Roman coin, some Roman river walls, a few WWII gun emplacements, and a 19th century boat – a modern fowl-hunter’s dream!
    ii. In response to said archaeological facts, the ODA has launched a ‘Discovery Project‘, which includes a traveling roadshow and school visits, much to the delight of schoolchildren nationwide.
    c. Finally, the Green
    i. The ODA has promised to recycle or reuse 90% of waste from the ‘big build’ phase of the project. Aw, shucks, ODA. You know how to make us blush.
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