Sitting amongst the thousands of fortunate people that got to view the technical rehearsals of the opening ceremony last week was a magical experience. Despite my initial reservations over the design, Populous have successfully created a stadium that achieves beauty in its structure while placing emphasis on the spectator experience.
The approach to the stadium mirrors the original concept. Thousands of people walk across the bridges to be welcomed (once past the temporary and unattractive ticket gates) by the “wrap” and the sheer scale of the building in front of them. The stadium feels like it is the heart of the park sitting beautifully on the island surrounded by the River Lee with its landscaped edges.
However, the pods that house the catering outlets that are placed around the stadium are a bit of a disappointment. The tin sheds with the corporate “pink” on the rear walls lack the design flare compared to the CGI’s that were presented to us. Perhaps this is due to financial reasons but some thought could have been put into the architecture and detailing.
Access and circulation into and around the stadium are achieved well through openings in the wrap and vibrant colours. There is a continuous level between the plaza and lower concourse allowing direct connection into the stadium without any barriers as such, but it is the access to the upper concourse that I find exciting. As I stand at the bottom of the stairs in between the wrap and the expressed black steel structure of the tiered seating mounted on concrete feet, the light from inside the stadium invites you in. Only when you’re inside can you appreciate the scale of the structure.
The stadium forms the perfect stage with its neutral colour tone and uninterrupted views of the field of play allowing the participants and spectators to animate the stadium. Its theatrical qualities also enable spectators to be close to the field of play.
As seen from recent TV coverage, the stadium has been buzzing with excitement from the athletics. The acoustics are great during the opening ceremony and on event days. My friend James, who was in the park, described it as “an amazing sound coming from inside the stadium.”
The Olympic Stadium is not iconic like its predecessor and nor is it trying to be. What it does achieve, however, is a balanced relationship between architecture and engineering and a worthy contender for the Stirling Prize this year. The true success of the stadium remains to be seen at the legacy stage. Will it still have the same qualities if the upper tier and wrap are removed? Only time will tell.
Vinesh Pomal is an architectural assistant at ECD Architects and is currently undertaking his Part 3 and MA in Professional Practice at the University of Portsmouth. He is also a representative for the Architecture Students Network (theASN)
13 September 2012
15 August 2012