The capital may be lagging – according to the bookies – in its bid to win the 2012 Games, but it has a secret weapon in the powerful designs for its brand new Olympic venues

London is slightly behind in the race to win the 2012 Olympics, in that it has almost no existing Olympic-sized sports venues. Looked at from the opposite viewpoint, though, this omission could put London ahead of the race. Eight sports venues are proposed to be developed from scratch in the Lea Valley in east London, and this offers the unique opportunity to create a whole sports cluster that would be greater than the sum of the parts.

Known as the Olympic Park, the Lea Valley cluster has been masterplanned by EDAW, with Foreign Office Architects contributing “look and feel” exercises, or notional visualisations of proposed buildings. According to Foreign Office director, Alejandro Zaero-Pollo, the overall design concept grew out of an appreciation of the area’s distinctive existing topography.

“The Lea Valley is almost a heathen part of London,” says Zaero-Pollo.

“It has a geometry of meandering striations of the river, canal, drainage channels, roads and railway lines, which all run north to south. We wanted the buildings to grow out of this landscape, rather than stand as objects displayed on a platform. So we played around with the forms likes lenses or arcs left between the landscape curves. These also resemble the muscles and veins of the human body, and they communicate the idea of physical strength, sport and movement.”

These curving muscles and veins can be discerned in the wide many-stranded pedestrian courses that weave between the proposed sports venues. Similar curvilinear forms also appear in the 80,000-seater stadium, the proposed centrepiece of London’s whole Olympic venture. In Foreign Office’s notional design, the stadium is wrapped in a rippling series of translucent shells that likewise express living power and dynamism.

The other dominant building of the Olympic Park is the Aquatic Centre, which is planned to contain two 50 m pools and a diving pool along with 20,000 seats. Unlike the proposed stadium, the Aquatic Centre is to be built with government funding whether or not London wins the Olympic bid. Accordingly, its competition-winning design by Zaha Hadid Architects, with Arup as consulting engineer and S&P Architects as sports design consultant, is also for real.

The Aquatic Centre belongs to the same family of fluid, undulating forms as the rest of Olympic Park. For self-evident reasons, it is not so much muscular in character as fast flowing, like a cascade of waves. The two larger waves of the roof shell enclose the two main pools and are separated by a smaller wave above the central entrance lobby.

Much is made of the Olympics as a regeneration catalyst for east London. And even if London’s hopes of winning the games are dashed, Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre makes up one inspired vestige of the ambitious Olympic Park that should put east London on the international map regardless.

Backing the bid

Construction’s role in backing the bid will be the theme of this year’s Building Awards, held on 26 April at the Grosvenor House in Park Lane, London. Over the next few weeks, Building will examine what a successful bid will mean for the industry.

You can register your support for the London 2012 bid at or by texting the word “London” to 82012.