Walking trail

New Olympic Park reigns over East London (Next Gen case study)

May 5, 2014 by Mike Richardson

Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park was the site of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London (then known simply as “Olympic Park”). At 560 acres, it’s as large as London’s famed Hyde Park, falls within four East London boroughs and is the largest urban park constructed in Europe in more than 150 years.

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Planning Ahead

The London Legacy Development Corporation, a Mayoral Development Corporation formed in 2012 with “accountability to Londoners through the Mayor’s office,” is the planning authority for the park and associated development. It is also part of the larger Green Grid policy framework set forth by the City of London.

In light of the investment necessary to design and construct 2012 Olympic Park, much consideration was given to the legacy of the place after the Olympic masses had left. This legacy was addressed through repurposing the structures and infrastructure to integrate with adjacent communities – dubbed “stitching the fringe” – and by enhancing and restoring the ecological elements of the site.

Master planners and designers implemented a strategy to convert the programmatic requirements of the Olympic Games to that of a new housing and business district for East London: Press buildings and parking lots are being converted into housing and office space and the basketball arena was designed to be completely disassembled and resold after the event. Indeed, all eight permanent sports venues have a secure legacy in the new park.

Brownfields to Greenways

Great Eastern Railway and other industrialists once owned much of the site. Planners and designers prioritized converting uninhabitable brownfields into ecologically functional landscapes. To do this, designers restored 15 acres of woods, hedgerows, and wildlife habitat and will attract new wildlife with 4,300 new trees and 675 bird and bat boxes.

Meanwhile, four waterways converge in the park – the River Lea, Old River Lea, City Mill River, Waterworks River – making restoration of edge conditions another priority. These 40 miles of river corridor also shaped the park into islands each with a distinct character, including the South Park.

South Park Grand Opening

On April 4, 2014, the south of the park officially opened (though more than one million are estimated to have visited the site since the 2012 Olympics). Designed by New York City-based James Corner Field Operations, the space features a new tree-lined, globe light-festooned promenade, water and adventure playgrounds and themed walking trails.

This is also the site of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the tallest sculpture in the United Kingdom, from which visitors can experience a 360-degree vista stretching 20 miles (on a clear day!). If you go, check out the View Tube venue, where you can rent bikes, explore art, grab a bite and even take a class.

What makes this the Next Generation of Parks™?

  • Foresight and preparation for adaptation to future use
  • Interagency collaboration on a massive scale
  • Blend of environmental, social, and financial benefits

Project Team

Hargreaves AssociatesAECOM Design + Planning (formerly EDAW Consortium
LDA DesignArupWS AtkinsMany others

Timeframe

Master Planning: Began pre-2004 for 2012 Olympic Bid
Completion: 2012, as Olympic Games venue
Reopening for Public: 2013-14
Housing and Business Development: 2013-30

Key Facts

Location: London, England
Acreage: 250 open space, 560 total (including buildings and infrastructure)
Visitors (through 2016): 9 million
Job Creation (through 2025): 7,000
Housing (through 2025): 11,000
Cost: £300M to convert to park from Olympics venue

Image Credits

All images are ® London Legacy Development Corporation (David Poultney, photographer), except recyclable Basketball Arena (Source: EG Focus) and canal before/after (Landscape Institute, UK)

Janette Law and Louise Mageli contributed to this story

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