Architect hits back at claims Olympic venue is unsustainable for using 3,000 tonnes of steel

Zaha Hadid Architects has vigorously defended the green credentials of its aquatics centre at the Olympic park against the criticism that it used far too much unsustainable material in its construction.

The aquatics centre, which cost £253m, has been criticised by the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 for using 3,000 tonnes of steel in its roof, which the commission said was “not necessary” and was too much “just to cover a swimming pool”, especially given that the velodrome, which is a similar size, used only around 300 tonnes.

Steel is often avoided when trying to make a building more sustainable because its production requires a lot of energy.

But Jim Heverin, associate director and design team lead at Zaha Hadid Architects, said he would not change anything about the final design of the centre, the roof of which is supported on only two columns at one end and a wall at the other.

Speaking at a UK Green Building Council Olympic legacy event this week, Heverin said: “I’m annoyed at the reductive argument that talks about this project as only about the roof when it’s more than that.”

Heverin said the constrained site dictated the orientation of the building, which he said had no choice but to run parallel to the river. From that, he said, it flowed that the removable stands had to be at the sides of the building and because they are removable that necessitated the roof only being supported at both ends to avoid columns obstructing views of the pool.

Therefore, he concluded the only material capable of supporting the structure was steel.

However, he added that the roof only accounted for 13% of the embodied energy in the structure, with most of the embodied energy in the building in the concrete podium it sits on.

“We were in the front of the industry in terms of the [sustainability of the] concrete,” said Haverin, pointing to the use of a concrete mix in which 76% of the aggregates were recycled.