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The Odyssey of London’s Olympic Stadium (more Simpson than Homer)

March 11, 2010

I’m not the kind of person who whines about the Olympics constantly; in fact I’m a massive fan. The entire project is the best opportunity east London’s had in its entire history. Furthermore the entire scheme is currently under-budget (..following a hike in the budget, but let’s forget that) and building work is way ahead of schedule.

Nevertheless, what ought to be the show-piece venue has been subject so many compromises what Londoners have been left with is an uninspiring meccano stadium that currently has no tenable future.

The initial design

The stadium’s initial design (above) was inspired by the human muscle, but since then the design has been scaled back massively. The logic is all well and good, the government does not wish to build a 100,000 seater stadium in London when there is little demand for one. Doing so would risk a Millennium Dome II, potentially straddling the taxpayer with a massive bill for up-keep until a tennent could be found.

Thus, the stadium has essentially 20,000 permanent seats with another 80,000 temporary seats which will be removed following the games.

This is why we have the current, uninspiring, utilitarian design.

Imagine it on a rainy day.

In true British fashion we’ve not quite managed to get that design right, and it’s now got far bigger, unwieldy lights which almost resemble a crown (which is fitting, as 2012 is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – perhaps they can pretend it was supposed to be like this all along?).

But this is besides the point, what is of even more concern for me is that the government is legally bound by the IOC to make the stadium a athletics venue, perhaps as a replacement for the ageing Crystal Palace venue. It was a central plank of our bid for the games – a new athletics venue for London. Of course, athletics never attracts 100,000 spectators (except at the Olympics) hence a 20,000 seater venue. All at the cost of £550,000,000. Half a billion on a mostly temporary stadium. With removable seats that won’t even be used for Glasgow’s Commonwealth games, they’ll just be thrown away. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

But the more one looks into the logic which saw the entire stadium design compromised, the less comfort one can have in the governments ability to organise their way out of a paper bag.

The government has no idea who will take on responsibility for the athletics venue. The plan to avoid a white elephant risks creating a white elephant. Nobody knows who will run this stadium (taxpayer, perchance?).

There have even been vague plans to make the stadium into some kind of educational facility(!?) (Surely 20,000 to a class would fly in the face of Labour’s no-more-than-30-to-a-class policy, haha)

In the absence of a clear plan football team after football team want to take-over the stadium. As a football ground. Not athletics. And this looks increasingly likely to be the case.

There are now serious plans for the stadium to go to West Ham, with them keeping the running track and other athletics facilities for use if and when they are needed.

This is probably the biggest compromise since we became a constitutional monarchy.

We now have to ask ourselves serious questions on why we are building a mostly temporary stadium, at a cost of half a billion pounds only to see it become permanent.

It’s not that there’s been a lack of forethought, the government has simply been thinking the wrong things. This means we’re left with a stadium that looks like a glorified ExCeL centre, a mass of unsightly white tubular metal poles, inspiring.

And a new footie stadium for the Hammers, despite Westfield’s insistence against a football stadium – fearing the calibre of humanity a football match would bring to their brand new shopping centre in the Olympic park.

The whole process is just depressing and shows how confused the authorities have been in going about finding a tenant for the new stadium.

If they’d planned the stadium’s future better we would could have been getting a far more inspiring design.

Bejing's Olympic Stadium, the Bird's Nest

Click here for webcams to see the Olympic’s current progess.

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