The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment’s design review panel has slammed London 2012’s media centre plans as “extraordinarily banal” and revealing a “paucity of imagination and analysis” which it finds “deeply disappointing”.
CABE’s design review panel is advising the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) on the quality, sustainability and legacy of London 2012 proposals. The panel provides expert advice on proposals for new buildings and spaces associated with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Reviews include the main stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre, as well as the Olympic, Paralympic and legacy transformation masterplans.
It has released its verdict on the Media Centre after meeting last week.
“We regret that we are unable to support the IBC/MPC proposal in its current form,” it said. “We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion given the significant amount of effort which has been devoted to examining various options for this development, involving different clients. As presented, the gap between the aspiration for the project and the quality of the buildings is sadly wide.
“The architecture as shown is extremely weak, lacking real conviction as to how it could work in Transition and Legacy, and in the case of the IBC revealing a paucity of imagination and analysis which we find deeply disappointing.
“The site layout, which is currently awkward and unresolved, hovers between a desire to create a sense of place on the one hand, and to resolve the geometry of the irregular site on the other. The result is an uncertain compromise which achieves neither objective. Individual decisions about block placement have resulted in a scheme that, as a whole, is less than the sum of its parts. A serious rethink is needed in relation to how problems of site layout could be addressed through a post Games transformation strategy.”
Carillion and its design team of Allies and Morrison, Buro Happold and RPS Group Burks Green revealed its designs for the London 2012 media centre last month, which is due to begin construction on site next month.
The £355M venue, now fully funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) after design and build contractor Carillion failed to raise private funds, will comprise the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) and Main Press Centre (MPC), which will support around 20,000 broadcasters, photographers and journalists during the 2012 games.
Carillion claimed to have designed an IBC/MPC that combines a mixture of permanent and temporary elements during the Olympics in order to be as flexible as possible to accommodate a range of tenants and uses after the games.
“This innovative design provides a quality working environment for the media during the Games while delivering flexible and green employment space for a range of potential business uses in legacy,” said ODA Chairman John Armitt.
But immediate reaction to the proposals was negative.
“The visualisation shows what appears to be a row of low budget warehouses. Are we really showcasing the best of British design and construction capability? Even on ultra tight budgets, we don’t need to blight a nascent community with dystopian out-of-town shopping centre aesthetics,” said one comment on NCE’s website.
“A couple of attractive looking girls taking exercise and some brightly coloured scaffolding can’t disguise that fact that this is a warehouse,” said another.
CABE said its greatest concern is the “extraordinary banality” of the IBC ‘mega structure’.
“In our view, it is simply not good enough as currently proposed. We would go so far as to say that its continued presence would blight rather than enhance the Olympic Legacy. We believe that a fundamental rethink needs to be undertaken in respect of the external appearance of this building. Otherwise the public might well ask why this sort of building, which has been removed from the Lower Lee Valley in order to create a vibrant new future, is being reinstated at a larger scale.
“We do not think this is an insuperable problem but it requires urgent attention and should be dealt with, in our view, as part of an overall strategy for the external appearance of this business park development. For the IBC building itself, a convincing cladding strategy needs to work well in Transition; that is to say as the building is adapted for new uses and users. At the moment we are not convinced that the buildings will achieve the architectural quality needed to secure the competitive edge for a business park in this location. An appropriate strategy would deliver strong guidelines for establishing architectural character, and the planning authority should seek indicative illustrative material to show how this would work, and look, as adapted.”
CABE said its comments, though referring to external appearance, are not stylistic.
“They are about identity and character, scale, coherence and the creation of both a medium and possibly long term legacy which is appropriate for this important site,” it said..
“If, notwithstanding CABE’s advice, the planning authority resolves to grant planning permission we strongly recommend that it be conditional upon the satisfactory resolution of the matters referred to above to ensure the delivery of an acceptable and appropriate level of architectural quality.”
The Olympic Delivery Authority said it stood by the design, but admitted it was still working on the external appearance of the buildings.
“We have worked closely with our partners to agree a compact and efficient media centre, within the layout given planning approval in 2007, to maximise value for the taxpayer and ensure a sustainable legacy. The IBC/MPC works well during Games time and provides a flexible employment space in legacy for a range of potential uses.
“Work on the external appearance of the buildings is ongoing and we look forward to discussing this further with CABE and other partners,” it said.
A planning application for the IBC/MPC was submitted last month, the site has been cleared and the contractor has started construction on the venue. It will provide 29,000m2 of office space when completed.