Transforming stadia: competition to community

Creating a sustainable community

8 February 2019

The London Legacy Development Corporation is guiding Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park through its transition from sporting venue to community space, exemplifying sustainability in all its forms, writes Rosanna Lawes

When the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic bid was won in 2005, the games were less than a decade away and the site of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was a very different place. Today’s parkland was wasteland, and part of the site was a dumping ground for industrial and domestic waste. Much of the land was contaminated by oil, tar, arsenic and lead, while the waterways in and around the park were neglected and water quality was poor. River walls were in bad condition and shopping trolleys and car tyres had been abandoned across the area. Potential wildlife habitats were suffocated by invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed and floating pennywort. The area also suffered from the highest concentration of socio-economic disadvantage in the UK, with locals experiencing a much lower quality of life than the average Londoner.

The challenge was to transform the area into 14 permanent and temporary venues, 20km of new roads, 13km of tunnels, 26 bridges, 80ha of new parkland, and a transport hub for 17,000 athletes and officials. The bid committed to complete this task while staging the most sustainable games ever – 1 of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s 6 priorities along with design and accessibility, employment and skills, equality and inclusion, health, safety and security, and legacy.

Project management before the games focused on the way the area and facilities could be used afterwards, with 75p in every £1 spent going towards legacy benefit. This meant that venues and housing on the site would be developed to respond to and tackle the significant environmental challenges of a changing climate, the loss of biodiversity and the overconsumption of vital resources. It also meant considering social equality, employment and economic growth and prosperity.

Responsibility for achieving these wider aims was assumed by the London Legacy Development Corporation, which was formed in April 2012 with the goal of using the games and the park to change the lives of people in east London and encourage growth and investment. The corporation’s sustainability work focuses on the following 4 main themes:

  • smart park: using data and innovative technologies to enhance the park;
  • future living: testing and showcasing new approaches to living on the park and in the local communities;
  • garden district: creating a biodiverse and sustainable part of London; and
  • neighbourhoods: designing and developing the park’s communities to enable sustainable lifestyles.

Adaptive re-use

Much work has been done to alter the infrastructure and landscape created for the games so they can be used in a completely different way. These alterations resulted in more than 35km of pathways and cycleways, 6.5km of waterways, more than 100ha that could be designated as Metropolitan Open Land, 45ha of Biodiversity Action Plan Habitat, 4,000 trees, playgrounds and of course a park suitable for year-round events and sporting activities.

Thinking about the source of the park’s energy and how it is used is an important part of ensuring its sustainability. Energy efficiency and carbon reduction targets are considered at a national, city and local level. The park’s heating and cooling system, for instance, is the UK’s largest low-carbon, decentralised, combined heat, cooling and power network, incorporating 18km of pipes and wires and serving all park venues as well as the East Village and Westfield Stratford City, with plans to extend into Hackney Wick and Fish Island. All non-residential buildings must be rated ‘excellent’ by BREEAM and achieve a 35 per cent greater reduction in carbon emissions than that required by the Building Regulations 2013.

The Copper Box Arena, which was home to handball, modern pentathlon, fencing and goalball during the games, was adapted so that it can now host an even larger number of sports, and houses many local clubs. It provides a daytime base for fitness activities and a night-time venue for concerts and other entertainment events. The arena is also environmentally sustainable, the top half covered in 3,000m2 of copper with a high recycled content that gives the venue its name. The design also incorporates 88 light pipes, which draw natural light into the interior, as well as collectors of rainwater. The cost of these is offset by their long-term benefit, reducing both energy and water use by 40 per cent.

Project management before the games focused on the way the area and facilities could be used afterwards, with 75p in every £1 spent going towards legacy benefit

Overall, 47 per cent of the park’s water demand is met by reclaimed or recycled water, a significant contribution being made by the London Aquatics Centre, which uses as little water – the three pools hold about 10m litres – and energy as possible. This has resulted in 601 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent being saved since 2014, and emissions continue to decline. Measures taken include the following.

  • Turning down all pool pumps: the training and competition pool pumps are turned down to 85 per cent of their power during the day, and 70 per cent during the night, while the diving pool remains at a constant temperature, in line with its use. This keeps the water crystal clear, while saving £35,000 of energy a year.
  • Upgrading the heating and cooling systems: the air conditioning in the building has been given new controls that allow cooling by outside air when temperatures are low enough, and ensures cooling and heating systems are only used when necessary.
  • Recycling hot air: the main competition pool hall is now kept at 27°C using destratification fans. These blow the rising warm air back down to pool level, protecting expensive equipment in the roof while ensuring swimmers are the perfect temperature when on the pool side.
  • Reusing pool water for toilets: our backwash recovery system collects pool water to flush all toilets in the building, saving nearly two Olympic-sized pools’ worth of water every year.

We are currently working on developing the following as well.

  • A variable flow rate chiller: this will use less energy to cool the building while enabling heat generated by the chilling process to warm the 50m training pool.
  • A reverse osmosis system: this will allow us to recycle most of the pool’s water while still keeping it clean.

In the transitional period, the temporary seating removed from the wings of the centre was gifted to community groups across the country, allowing the benefit of the games to continue to be felt elsewhere.

Adapting the Olympic Stadium – now known as the London Stadium – was a complicated process. The bowl was initially made by excavating 800,000 tonnes of soil, most of which was then cleaned and re-used across the site. Converting the track-and-field venue into a multipurpose stadium for football, athletics and entertainment involved removing 25,000 seats, covering the athletics track with a 75cm layer of recycled concrete to protect it during the heavy lifting, removing 14 floodlight panels, constructing a steel halo to encircle the stadium and replacing the seating design. The initial cost of the stadium was £450m, and £323m was then spent to repurpose it.

Neighbourhood developments

Naturally, there are rigorous environmental sustainability requirements for new developments on the park, and any residential properties must be zero-carbon to be granted planning permission. The first of the new neighbourhoods on the park site was Chobham Manor, which was built to the Lifetime Homes Standard and level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes – 1 of the standards used by local planning authorities until the government streamlined standards under the Building Regulations – with 25 exemplar sustainable homes exceeding these requirements.

All new homes are connected to the district energy network, with some also incorporating solar photovoltaic panels to generate their own electricity. Properties connect to a low-carbon heat network while using efficient appliances and lighting, and selected plots benefit from brown roofs and green walls. Overall residential carbon dioxide emissions are predicted to be at least 50 per cent lower than the 2010 Building Regulations target, with exemplar houses achieving a 100 per cent reduction – that is, they have 0 emissions – on fuel for heating, hot water and lighting through on-site measures alone. Exacting levels of fabric efficiency have been carefully balanced with considerations of a future climate. Most of the fabrication of the neighbourhood was done on site. The materials used for all building elements helped achieve the required standards, and were chosen to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and maintain each home.

The aim of Chobham Manor and other neighbourhoods in the park is to create a settled community. A number of homes in Chobham Manor have been designed specifically to appeal to multiple generations of the same family, while 28 per cent of units will be affordable housing. The properties have provision for home working, secure on-plot cycle storage and electric vehicle charging. Additionally, no home is more than 350m away from a bus stop, to encourage use of public transport.

At the East Wick and Sweetwater developments, the LLDC’s development partner is working on strategic infrastructure, including 2 new bridges between Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and communities to its west, and on removing an existing footbridge that will be set aside for potential re-use.

Inclusive environments

Inclusive design means creating sustainable neighbourhoods and communities that meet the needs of 21st-century society by considering the widest possible range of possible residents and visitors and addressing the needs of people who have been traditionally excluded or marginalised by mainstream design due to disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, race or faith. This is key to work on the park: design should meet the needs of the diverse population and remove the physical barriers that can segregate and exclude.

To help us achieve this, we have developed our own Inclusive Design Standards, providing a benchmark against which we can measure the realisation of inclusive design across the park. These are set out in 4 key parts:

  • public realm;
  • residential developments;
  • public buildings, including venues; and
  • spectator and participant needs at venues.

Each part is in turn split into 2 sections: design intent, which gives some background and context, and inclusive design guidelines, which set out good practice to achieve accessible and inclusive environments. These guidelines are then applied to all areas and aspects of the park.

For example, floor surfaces in public buildings including venues need to ensure that all people can travel horizontally in a safe and convenient way without discomfort. In order to achieve this, the following principles should be observed.

  • Glossy or highly polished materials are not to be used because they can appear wet and thus slippery, even if they are not. They can also cause reflective glare and confuse some people with visual impairments.
  • Park design should meet the needs of the diverse population and remove the physical barriers that can segregate and exclude
  • Matting and carpets should have a shallow, dense, non-directional pile.
  • At entrance points a floor surface that removes water is to be provided, ensuring that floors remain dry and slip-resistant.
  • Entrance matting systems deeper than the minimum 1,500mm are likely to be required at entrances with heavy pedestrian traffic.
  • In areas that may become wet, such as the building entrance, changing and shower areas or pool side, anti-slip surfaces or safety flooring should accord with Health and Safety Executive guidance.

In addition, the corporation established a dedicated Built Environment Access Panel (BEAP) – comprising members of the original Olympic Delivery Authority BEAP, members of the Stratford City Consultative Access Group and local diverse community members – that provides advice, technical help and feedback.

Urban exemplar

Initially, the London Legacy Development Corporation undertook an ambitious 18-month transformation programme costing £285m, which resulted in the north of the park reopening in July 2013 and the south side the following April. We continue to work develop a dynamic new heart for east London, creating opportunities for local people; there will be 40,000 jobs on the park site by 2025 and 24,000 new homes by 2031. The creation of a Smart Mobility Living Lab, which will provide an urban test bed for a complex public environment capable of demonstrating and evaluating the use, performance and benefits of connected and automated vehicle technology, is also under way.

While data and commentary is currently available, the real test will be in 10 to 15 years. Only then will we know whether we’ve succeeded in creating an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable community.

Rosanna Lawes is executive director of development at the London Legacy Development Corporation

Further information