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Olympic Seating Dilemma- Temporary structures for 2012 Olympics will pose an unique challenge

Grand, iconic amphitheatres, once the scene of glorious sporting achievements now sit empty, unused and gathering dust. This might describe Olympia, home to the original Olympic Games, and countless other arenas built by the Greek and Roman empires.

It could also describe many of the venues used in the last two Olympic Games in Athens and Sydney: structures built at vast expense to taxpayers, but of little use to local communities after four weeks of Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Much has been made of London 2012’s power as a catalyst for the regeneration of east London, one the most deprived parts of the UK; but no doubt just as appealing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when it awarded the Games to the capital was London’s commitment to avoiding the spectre of Olympic ghost towns that have haunted so many previous modern games.
London’s solution in its bid to the IOC was to propose the use of a large number of temporary demountable structures that could be packed up and moved on once the Olympic show rolled out of town in August 2012.
The use of temporary structures is hardly a new concept for the Olympics: the Atlanta 1996 Games made significant use of temporary venues, while the entirely temporary Beach Volleyball stadium on Bondi Beach was one of the most iconic venues of Sydney 2000.
However, what is planned for London 2012 is a level of temporary staida use that surpasses all previous Olympics: in total 300,000 temporary seats will be required for London 2012, with 100,000 of those being used in the main Olympic Park sporting venues. In fact, 71% of the Olympic Park venues’ seating capacity will be temporary, with only the 6,000-seat Velodrome maintaining the same capacity after the Games.
Such heavy dependence on temporary demountable structures poses many risks and challenges for the construction industry, not least the fact that the ODA’s temporary seating requirements dwarf the current capacity of the market.
“In the UK there are 120,000–130,000 temporary seats in circulation and we have maximum utilisation,” says Arena Seating managing director Joe O’Neill
“There is little opportunity for that supply to be utilised [by the ODA] in the period between May and August.”
So the ODA must either
order 300,000 seats to be manufactured, procured from abroad, or a combination of both. The trouble is that the procurement is likely to be slightly more
complicated than just placing
an order; for a start, says
O’Neill, while the existing temporary market works on
the basis of seats being loaned
to the client, temporary structures firms are unlikely to
invest in seats that have
no identifiable use after the August 2012 games.
This then forces the ODA to purchase the seats - and it looks like the most likely scenario. But the Games could do the market more harm than good if suitable post-Olympic uses for the structures fail to be identified quickly, warns Edwin Shirley Staging (ESS) business development director Jeff Burke.
“In the short term, releasing that amount of product back into the marketplace would destroy the market,” says Burke, whose firm is acting as temporary structures consultant to the Aquatics Centre design team of Zaha Hadid and Arup.
“Somebody might buy a seat for a tenth of its value, go into the rental market and just cut the price completely from under the feet of the existing companies and just destroy them.”

But both Burke and O’Neill agree the ODA can easily avoid this doomsday scenario if it engages the people who will use the structures after 2012 at the design stage.
Temporary 2012 structures already at the design stage include the temporary elements for the Aquatics Centre and the main stadium, with contractor Team McAlpine (Sir Robert McAlpine, Buro Happold, HOK Sport) consulting Swiss temporary structures contractor Nussli, and due to reveal its design next month. Design team short lists have been drawn up for the handball, basketball and fencing venues, with the hockey centre out to tender.
Burke says that while he has advised the ODA to identify and engage the end users, he is unaware of any such process having yet started.
“I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine the design of those structures being compromised, and I mean that in a positive way, but the design could be compromised to take into account that second use,” says Burke.
“For example, you might
decide to standardise on one truss depth so that that equipment could come together in another use.”
Burke adds that early engagement is also vital as many of those that may potentially take on the structures are likely to be local authorities and “with the best will in the world those guys don’t react very quickly”.
A key part of any solution likely to meet the needs of both the end user and the ODA is the type of temporary structure that is being used.
“Most seating systems work on a basic scaffold fast-erection substructure,” says Campbell Reith senior partner Steve Calder, whose firm is leading one of the design teams short listed for the basketball and fencing arenas.
“The two basic systems are scaffold arrangement and A-frame systems. A-frames are good for fast erection but only offer one viewing angle. The scaffold system offers the ability to adjust the rake.”
Given that the ODA wants
the temporary structures installed a year in advance of the Games, it seems likely that it would prefer the scaffold system’s potential to offer the best sight lines. This, however, places limitations on the amount of facilities such as toilets and food outlets that can be placed under the stands, because it is under the stand that the system holding it up is located.
This will prove particularly tricky for the main stadium, which must provide temporary facilities for the 55,000 spectators sat in temporary seats. Another big challenge for all
of the temporary stadium designers is how best to incorporate a roof. When they have roofs, temporary structures
tend to use material covers
supported by a series of poles.
However, this creates obstructed views, something
the ODA is unlikely to favour. The alternative is a cantilevered structure, which pushes up
costs considerably and one
of the main reasons London 2012 proposed such heavy use
of temporary structures was
to keep costs down.
Whether, in reality, temporary is cheaper than permanent is up for debate: Franklin and Andrews’ managing director
Andrew Williams worked
with the London 2012 bid
team and says that during
the bidding process, it was
considered whether building
a permanent main stadium
then knocking the structure down would be cheaper.
“But there are issues other than construction costs at play here, and I think the ODA is right to pursue the temporary element option,” he adds.

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