The hoo haa surrounding the unveiling of HOK's 'compelling bowl' at the Olympic site left Building's reporter feeling strangely umoved
Stratford in November is a dark and grimy place. It doesn’t get much better when you reach the Olympic site. Travelling there by bus with the world’s media yesterday, I saw a Nuttalls excavator pushing soil around the site like a child playing with its food. For a site that will be a hive of activity in less than a year’s time, there didn’t seem to be an awful lot going on.
But all that is about to change. An excited press officer at the front of the bus started pointing at piles of silt. “That’s where the Aquatics Centre will be,” he said. “And there’ll be a fantastic bridge here.”
If those Nuttalls excavators ever stop working, Armitt could probably dig the foundations himself with his king-size mitts.
We eventually pulled up outside an even bigger mound of earth, where the ODA had positioned one of their draughty, modern tents. This is where the eyes of the world would be introduced to the Olympic Stadium. We piled in, all of us, waiting for Coe, Armitt, Jowell et al to pull the collective sheets off what we were promised would be the “heart of the Olympic site”.
This was the first time I’d seen ODA chairman John Armitt perform in the flesh, and he strikes rather a more authoritative figure than David Higgins. He’s also quite straightforward, which is a welcome change from the other, obsessively media-managed directors. Furthermore, he has the most enormous hands I’ve ever seen. If those Nuttalls excavators ever stop working, Armitt could probably dig the foundations himself with his king-size mitts.
Rod Sheard, HOK Sport’s principal architect, stood to introduce us to his “compelling bowl” – his words, not mine.
Seb Coe, whose hands are rather more dainty, told the press corps we were sitting on the exact point where, in five years time, the 100m runners would be reaching the finishing line. No-one quite knew how to react. It was certainly the closest any of us corpulent columnists would come to Olympic glory.
Seconds later, the first image of the stadium flashed up on the screen. It was greeted by a religious hush. Were we supposed to applaud? No-one did. Rod Sheard, HOK Sport’s principal architect, stood to introduce us to his “compelling bowl” – his words, not mine. Sheard had dressed down for the occasion, favouring a blue polo shirt and pink jumper over the suits everyone else had turned up in. A quiet, genial Australian, he wasn’t quite prepared for the onslaught of questioning from the hacks in the front row. Where’s the roof, Rod? Was it too expensive? Someone asked if he could tell us what the build cost was going to be? Sheard bit his lip. Armitt shook his head curtly. “I’ve no idea,” smiled Sheard. I imagine several sets of feet were stamping on his at that moment. And if Armitt’s feet are the size of his hands, that’s one hell of a message.
Finally, we were shown a video presentation of the constituent parts of the stadium flying past London landmarks, twirling up the river and connecting themselves in the green fields of Stratford. If only it was going to be as easy to construct as that, I thought. In general, the whole thing left me strangely unmoved. Here it was, the heart of the Olympic site, but my pulse-rate stayed exactly the same.
“I am heartened to see how this design has developed over the last few months. It is an intelligent response that meets both the large scale needs of the games and the legacy needs of having a stadium of the right size and atmosphere. It is the first time this approach has been taken and this something to celebrate. It is an excellent design and still evolving. We hope it will continue to develop in the way that the illustrations promise and not be compromised by ‘value engineering’."
"It’s obviously a great shame we’ve lost the magic (of the foreign office design), and ended up with this. It’s very standard, there’s no architecture in it. That’s the problem with these bids, you get so excited by the imagery and then end up with something far less interesting. If you ran these pictures side by side that’d be funny."
Chris Wilkinson, Wilkinson Eyre
“I think it’s ok for a low-budget stadium. Considering it’s only going to be used for a short period of time, I think it’s appropriate they made it look simple. It’s going to be small in the legacy bit. I think it’s quite clever they used fabric, it’s much easier to take down and reuse afterwards”