Delivering a legacy? The Olympic Aquatics Centre
The 50m pool and interior of the London 2012 Aquatics Centre
Spotlight On: London 2012
It’s come under fire from critics for its price-tag and its appearance. But the £269million Aquatics Centre, designed by acclaimed international architect Zaha Hadid, has also been attacked for failing to have sustainability embedded into its design from day one, a consequence of the original centre being conceived before London secured the bid to host the Games, back in 2005.
As part of E2B Pulse’s Spotlight On: London 2012, News Editor James Kershaw reports from yesterday’s (Tuesday) UK Green Building Council-hosted event on the lessons learned from delivering the Aquatics Centre.
From the off, Shaun McCarthy, Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 - the body tasked with ensuring both the Olympic and Paralympic Games are sustainable – and chair of yesterday’s event, admitted the venue posed major challenges.
“I think the aquatics centre is probably the most technically challenging of projects to deliver on the Olympic Park and certainly the most publicly challenging to deliver sustainability,” he told the audience, composed of construction experts, architects and engineers.
But he added that “some fantastic work has been done.”
The line-up of speakers gathered at the event was particularly keen to prove just that.
Ian Crockford, of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the public body responsible for developing and building the new venues and infrastructure for use during and after the Games, reiterated that the focus of developing the Aquatics Centre, and the park as a whole, was on the legacy.
This aspect is particularly relevant for the swimming venue, given that the two banks of temporary seats accommodating 17,500 spectators will be removed following the Olympics. A maximum of 2,500 seats will remain once the temporary banks are gone, which is seen an important element of creating a pool that is intended to provide community (and elite) facilities after this summer’s events.
Mr Crockford explained how the ODA developed their Sustainable Development Strategy, in 2007. The document looked at the impact the Games would have in terms of carbon, water, waste and materials, as well as focusing on supporting communities, creating access and inclusion, and employment and business opportunities.
“Key was the sustainability, so we built a sustainability strategy,” he said. “This was an absolute key part of the framework on how we were going to change development in London.
“We really set those benchmarks on how we were going to change the industry and change people’s thoughts of how we could develop a site of this scale in London.”
One element of the centre that has attracted criticism is the “wavelike” roof – particularly its weight, its efficiency and the fact that it is somewhat obstructed by the banks of seating on either side.
Jim Heverin, Associate Director and Design Team Lead at Zaha Hadid Architects, acknowledged this, but said that talk of “missed opportunities” for the venue were unfounded.
He said the difficult nature of the site, bordered on one side by the River Lee and to the other by rail lines, meant there was “no magical solution” of integrating the seating with the roof structure in this scenario.
“The case is that this is a very difficult site, with a very complex brief and this design has been redesigned eventually to match that and to optimise it, and to get the most efficient design that can work for that site,” he said.
“The most sustainable part of this project, the most sustainable thing that London has been looking at, is that you don’t leave a venue with 17,500 seats which nobody will use, nobody needs it. What people need in London is swimming water, they need pools, they need to use the pools - that is where the engagement of getting more people involved in sport comes from.”
Mr Heverin said the use of a concrete mix design, with a recycled content of 76 per cent, was one of the project's areas with the “most innovation.” More than 60 per cent of the embodied energy (the total energy required to construct the venue) is in this concrete, including a 3,000 tonne concrete bridge used to protect tunnels containing power lines under the site.
Only 20 per cent of the overall embodied energy is in the legacy roof.
“So when you factor all of those factors in, you end up with a design that is very efficient. It is efficient for that site and for that brief,” he added.
“In the end we produced a quality building that will last, and lasting quality is one of the most important aspects of sustainability for us - something that actually goes on for a generation.”
An artist's impression of the Aquatic Centre in legacy, without the temporary seating on each side Michael Stych, Building Engineer at Arup, the engineers behind the centre, also acknowledged the challenges posed by swimming pools.
He explained how pools, no matter what their shape, are big users of energy because air temperatures have to be kept warm, between 29 and 30 degrees Celsius. Yet the key to saving energy here was in not heating the whole space, something Mr Stych said would be “ridiculous.”
Instead, Arup designed a series of systems that can be run individually depending on what the centre is being used for. For example, there is a system for the spectators during competitions, a system for the pool and a system for the façade. This helps to reduce the infiltration of cold air.
Mr Stych also highlighted how the building is very well insulated to create a “real tight space,” including continuous insulation in the roof, as well as insulation in the tanks and some of the basement. Lighting is also efficient, because after the Games the pool will be completely day-lit.
Mr Stych said: “Sustainability is good design and looking at everything and seeing it through form the beginning to end.
“I’m surprised about the controversy about the pool. We have designed a very energy efficient swimming pool.”
Balfour Beatty, the contactors behind the build, identified a number of successes of the project.
These included achieving a BREEAM excellent accreditation, the only London 2012 venue to obtain a BREEAM innovation credit, delivering materials by rail, using insulation with a recycled glass content, and engaging with the community, supply chains, local schools and charities through a sustainability week.
Kirsten Henson, of KLH Sustainability, who provided technical advice on sustainability at the Olympic Park, said the biggest success of the Aquatics Centre was “culture change” and the learning that had taken place during the project. She said it had inspired people within the industry to completely change the way they do things.
“The sustainability influence of this venue goes far beyond the venue itself and reaches further out into the legacy which is actually industry,” she told the audience.
Discussions are already taking place with organisers of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics to re-use the banks of seats which will be removed after the London Games.
In a Q&A session that followed the presentations, Mr Crockford said despite the intense media scrutiny, the centre had been delivered on time and in budget. “There are a lot of successes we should be celebrating here,” he concluded.
Aquatics Centre – sustainability in numbers
- 11,000 square meters of 100 per cent recycled aluminium lines the iconic roof
- More than 30,000 sections of sustainably sourced Red Lauro timber were placed on the curved ceiling
- Overflow water from the 15million litres used in the three pools will be used to flush the centre’s toilets
- About 160,000 tonnes of soil were dug out of the site, which had been contaminated with petrol, solvents and heavy metals. 140,000 tonnes of clean soil was brought from other areas of the Olympic park before construction began
- An Energy Centre on the Olympic Park includes biomass boilers, gas to generate heat, and a Combined Cooling Heat and Power plant to capture the heat generated by electricity production. Hot water and water for the Aquatics Centre will be generated through the site-wide heat network.
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