London hosts the 30th Olympic Games and the 14th Paralympic Games this summer, but the city’s new Olympic Park will continue to thrive long after the athletes have claimed their medals. Designed by international landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates, in partnership with London-based LDA Design, the 247-acre parkland provides a central framework that follows the River Lea, linking sports venues like the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre, and Velodrome. The park (seen here during construction before the Games commenced) also proves a catalyst for the regeneration of the neighborhoods within East London’s Lower Lea Valley.
Sustainability was such a high priority for the park’s design, according to Gavin McMillan, senior principal at Hargreaves Associates, that its early nickname was “mean, lean, and green.” The five themes that guided the design are climate change, waste, biodiversity, healthy living, and inclusion (reflecting the diversity of London and the Games, as well as the park’s role in revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood). However, the first priority was decontaminating the former industrial site, a process that involved removing heavy metals from the soil, along with a few unexploded bombs from the Blitz in World War II. The cleaned soil—80 percent of what had been on site—was reused and many other materials, including paving and 90 percent of demolition waste, were recycled. The bombs were safely detonated.
While the Olympic Park’s plan includes predictable energy-efficient features like LED site lighting and even a few wind turbines, it also addresses the broader implications of an urban green space. The range of vegetation, from red clovers to black poplars, meets biodiversity goals while reflecting the English tradition of botanic gardens. There are no grassy water-guzzling lawns to be found; instead, the designers created combinations of meadows, woodlands, and wetlands, all of which tie into the existing spiderweb of waterways that overlays the site. The park’s varied habitats appeal to the public, as well as native species like bats, swallows, and newts.
The designers modeled the site extensively in three dimensions to assure that they maintained natural flood patterns and accommodated stormwater runoff, but this process also proved a valuable tool in anticipating the movement of large crowds of people—an area of expertise that Hargreaves cultivated while working on the plan for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Though many of the buildings that comprise London’s Olympic Park are temporary structures that will be unpacked following the Games, the landscaping will remain. The park’s pathways and bridges establish a pedestrian link and bike access to nearby public transportation nodes, and they will help promote a healthy lifestyle for nearby residents. As McMillan sums up, “The Olympic Park itself will be the lasting legacy of the 2012 games.”