The big event

Atkins | 10 Jul 2009 | Comments

For the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), the story starts with the winning bid in 2005. Its main responsibility: to prepare and stage the Games. As the official engineering design services provider for London 2012, Atkins is now helping to set the groundwork for the main event. James Bulley, LOCOG’s director of venues and infrastructure, offers his first-hand perspective on getting ready for the big event.

What are the biggest challenges facing LOCOG with regard to infrastructure and London 2012?

The major challenge is the sheer scale of the project. As the organising committee, we don’t just have to think about building the Olympic Park, which is a very clear and tangible task. We’re dealing with over 100 sites and venues. These range from competition venues and operations centres to training grounds and places that will welcome spectators, such as airports, railway stations and car parks.

This obviously represents a huge investment, both to meet the additional requirements for existing venues and to build new ones. The process we’ve been going through with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and others concerns how we refine and optimise our plans, so that we’re spending our budget in the most efficient way.

At the same time, one of the decisions we took during the bid was that we were going to deliver London 2012 with no white elephants. Temporary facilities or installations – what we call “overlay” – will be used where appropriate. Wherever possible, we only want to put in additional facilities on a temporary basis, as opposed to leaving behind big structures.

Even though such facilities are not quite the same in monetary terms as building an Olympic Park, the number of projects involved and the scope of it all make it significant. The amount of temporary construction, in terms of venues that we have to build and then take down after the Games, is three times more than all the three previous Summer Olympic Games put together.

How does the question of legacy figure in all of this?

Any venue we deliver must be underpinned by ongoing use and a business plan. If we’re developing a new venue, we must be sure it is being built in the right location for use after the Games. For example, there’s no point building another indoor arena where we’ve got an existing arena of the same size nearby. For the aquatic centre, it makes absolute sense to build it on the chosen site: it will probably be the only competition standard pool in London in 2012, so there’s an absolute need for it. Where there isn’t a long-term need, we build a temporary facility. That’s the basis of LOCOG’s legacy planning.

At the same time, we aren’t starting from scratch. The concept we presented to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Singapore during the bidding stage was about taking advantage of London’s existing world-class venues – Wembley, Wimbledon, Lord’s and the Dome – and mixing them with some famous London landmarks. For example, having road races set against the backdrop of locations such as Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. I think that gave the London bid a significant advantage from the start. Add to this the new facilities that we were proposing for the Olympic Park and the regeneration of east London, and we had a strong proposition and a very strong legacy prospect.

Another question occupying us is what sort of legacy can we leave the marketplace, in terms of the type of materials being used?

Temporary facilities require a lot of non-traditional construction techniques and materials. Whereas in previous Games a lot of the construction for new venues was done in steel and concrete, the creation of these temporary facilities is anything but “business as usual”.

We’ve set up a temporary materials forum that’s engaging the industry and research establishments to find alternatives to some of the less sustainable materials that have been used in the past. This allows us to challenge the amount of temporary works that we’ve got and enables us to have quite an influence over the market in terms of the way in which these materials are used in future.

We set out a number of aspirations in our bid with regard to sustainability and I can honestly say that this will be the most sustainable Games ever. We’re working with a number of forums and organisations interested in the sustainability side, which really raises the bar in terms of how we approach this challenge.

What lessons have been learned from previous Olympic Games?

We’ve worked quite closely with a number of people from previous organising committees in evolving our plans, as well as with the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Part of this involves the transfer of knowledge so that we’re not reinventing the wheel and we’re using best practice. Part of it is also to understand what we want London 2012 to be.

The Games are held in different cities and each has its own identity based on the host city. London 2012 is going to showcase London. Our venues are going to be focused in three core zones: the Central Zone, which is in central London; the River Zone along the Thames; and the Olympic Park. All of this presents a showcase of London in context.

Our core concept is about relating the new venues we’re building to the existing architectural context. Whether you’re watching on the TV or whether you’re there as a spectator, London 2012 will capture the flavour of London as both a modern and an historic city.

What about planning – how is that side of things going?

From the time London was awarded the Games to the actual staging of the event, LOCOG has seven years in which to deliver London 2012. The delivery of the overlay happens in the last year, which leaves six years to do all of the planning, designing, operational testing and so on.

During that time we need to ensure we have analysed everything that needs to happen in order for London 2012 to be a success. We have to plan for every eventuality, which includes contingency planning. The next two years will be about operational planning and testing, and getting the detailed design and procurement in place.

What about security issues? What planning is in place and do you think it’s a key issue for London 2012 in particular?

The day after we won the bid, London was struck by a terrorist attack. Security is central to all of our planning and we absolutely need to guarantee the safety of the athletes and the spectators during the Games. Everything that we do, from venue design to operational planning, looks at the security aspects to ensure that we can guarantee their safety. At the moment, it’s a joint effort between the Home Office, LOCOG and the ODA, and follows through the full life-cycle of the project. That co-operation and integration is a key part of our planning. It ensures the right measures are being put in place and that operational plans will deliver in 2012.

What do you hope that your participation in this will leave behind?

We very much hope that, from a venue standpoint, we’re able to demonstrate how to deliver an event on this scale in a sustainable way. Ultimately, we hope that it’s going to be an absolutely unique and inspirational Games for the spectators who come to the city to be part of London 2012 and enjoy the Games. That’s really the best thing we can ask for.

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