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Reduce, reuse, recycle

Who can forget Sir Paul McCartney rounding off the opening ceremony of the London Olympics with a rousing chorus of “Hey Jude”?

A rendition of “Here, There and Everywhere” might also have been apt to describe the amazing legacy story of the 12,000-seat Basketball Arena - the largest temporary enclosed venue ever built for the Olympics and surely the most dispersed.

Olympic Village

Mighty mattress: The Basketball Arena components were built under separate construction packages so they could be rehired or reused

The venue was designed as one of the world’s biggest kit-of-parts so that each main component could be put together, taken apart, separated and reused in other temporary venues in the UK and overseas.

“There was a very clear drive from the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to demonstrate value for money on this project because of its size as a temporary venue,” says Nick Ling, sector leader for sport at SKM, which was appointed design team leader in 2007 with a team that included the flair of Stirling Prize-winning architect Wilkinson Eyre and the experience of sports architect KSS. “We built the arena for £26M - about one tenth of the cost of the Aquatics Centre - which is incredible value when you consider that it was also the most used venue at the Olympics and Paralympic Games, playing host to basketball, [the later stages of] handball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball and in almost constant use from morning to midnight.”

“In the West End and the City businesses adapted to the idea that the working day does not have to start at 9.30am and end at 6pm”

Rose McArthur, SKM

SKM modelled how these parts would be put together and dismantled through many design iterations. Separate components were easier to source from the temporary events market. Each part of the venue was built under a separate construction package and brought together with minimum interfaces so that components could be returned unaltered for rehire or reuse.

Programme and costs were high on the agenda but the ODA also wanted a bespoke world-class design and the SKM-led team delivered an acclaimed rectangular PVC building envelope, which became known as “the Mattress”. The PVC box was independent of the seating and roof structure, and was put in place first so that the rest of the structure could be built under cover.

“The strategy was to get the PVC envelope up early and then build the venue under cover,” says Ling. “This helped us with the very tight build programme of 15 months and enabled us to use cheaper materials that were more reusable and recyclable.”

In conventional temporary venues, the bowl structure supports the roof but here the roof structure was an independent lightweight steel portal frame with trusses spanning 95m across the width of the venue. Horizontal loads were transferred downwards and into the sheet pile foundations. “A portal frame is common for an indoor training pitch or an exhibition space but it is innovative for an indoor arena which is 30m high,” says Ling.

“We put shallow columns and sheet piles into the ground that were easy to remove and recycle”

Nick Ling, SKM

The bowl-shaped seating structure was a scaffold system with just lavatories and circulation areas underneath. It was simpler and more cost effective to locate changing rooms, media and VIP areas in the spaces in accommodation behind the seating bowl.

The venue stood on 20m of made ground. “We wanted to leave the ground unencumbered for future development and to avoid bringing up any contaminated material,” says Ling. “So we put shallow columns and sheet piles into the ground that were easy to remove and recycle.” There was also a very light touch on building services with no insulation, minimal heating and ventilation plant and no acoustic engineering.

“We think the arena will be very influential on design thinking for the Rio Olympics,” says Ling. “It has certainly changed our thinking on how to address some of these issues on our sporting venues.”

The Basketball Arena is currently being taken down by Barr Construction - one of the contractors that put it together. The vast majority of the components have a new home to go to. “The strongest legacy is the fact that it’s no longer there but that it hasn’t gone to waste,” says Ling.

Meanwhile, SKM’s transport planners were involved in another of the success stories of the Games: the transport planning that kept London moving when millions of Olympics visitors descended on the capital.

London 2012 was one of the biggest ever experiments in mass behavioural change in transport. And the fact that a third of Londoners were persuaded to change the way they travel around the capital to free up the transport system for Olympics visitors and officials during the weeks of the Games is a testament to the resounding success of the Travel Demand Management programme put in place.

“It is an important lesson internationally that behavioural change really works,” says Rose McArthur, business stakeholder engagement manager for London 2012 and technical director at SKM.

McArthur helped to prepare the Travel Advice for Business (TAB) strategy aimed at mobilising the 275,000 businesses in the capital to encourage their staff to change the way they travelled to work for the period of the Games to ensure London kept moving.

Some 11.2M spectators attended the Olympics and Paralympics overall and there was already significantly reduced road capacity because of the Olympic Route Network for the 55,000-strong “Olympic family” of athletes and officials that sequestered lanes.


SKM and the Olympics

SKM was the engineering designer on the Sydney 2000 Olympic Stadium and had a design role on the main stadium and velodrome and several other venues at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

For the London Games, SKM undertook

  • Transport planning to support the original bid
  • Supervision of design and installation of the temporary stands at the Eton Manor venue, which hosted wheelchair tennis
  • Project management of the design and construction of the Eton Dorney rowing venue
  • Technical auditing of the civil and structural, M&E and public health engineering of the “Copper Box” handball venue as well as advice to the new operator of the building during legacy conversion.

The key to communicating with as many London businesses as possible was to identify intermediaries who could spread the word. Seventy two business groups including Canary Wharf Group, the London Chamber of Commerce and the CBI helped to disseminate the messages of “Reduce the need to travel”, “Retime the journey”, “Remode” and “Reroute”. In the three years leading up to the Games, the TAB programme reached 204,000 businesses.

Companies near to the West End, Westminster, Bank, London Bridge, Waterloo, Liverpool Street, King’s Cross, Stratford and Canary Wharf were supported in putting action plans in place. McArthur and her team engaged with key employers such as Ernst & Young, Marks & Spencer and St Mary’s Hospital. They made presentations, ran workshops and wrote articles on their websites or newsletters. More than 500 businesses, representing 500,000 employees, signed up for TAB sessions.

The starting point in changing behaviour was to question the need to travel at all. Record levels of homeworking took place during the Games to the extent that some commentators spoke of a major cultural shift.

For those travelling into or past “hotspots” such as London Bridge station during the Three Day Eventing cross country in Greenwich Park, it was advisable not to travel at peak periods. “Retiming of journeys was the single most effective element of the TAB programme,” says McArthur. “In the West End, the City and Canary Wharf businesses adapted to the idea that the working day does not have to start at 9.30am and end at 6pm.”

Many people who had not been on a bicycle for years were coaxed back on the saddle; Barclays Bike Hire broke records in July 2012 with 1M journeys taken.

As part of the action plan put in place by Paddington-based Rio Tinto, a cycle champion was appointed. Temporary cycle stands were put in place and are now permanent. Others experienced how pleasant and feasible walking to work can be.

People were encouraged to trial different routes to work and different modes of transport before the Games to empower them with options if their usual route to work was too congested. For experts in transport behavioural change such as McArthur, London 2012 provides invaluable evidence to present to any city leader who in future says that it is not possible to inspire a mass shift in the way that people travel.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Richard Palmer

    The article would benefit from more information regarding the "PVC" architectural textile. It is likely to comprise a woven glass fibre textile with PVC coating but it would be interesting to have more detail of this element given it's contribution to the structures success.

    Has the author checked to see how many of those keen new cyclists and walkers are still pursuing this means of transport? I supsect that the numbers have dropped off somewhat.

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