Saturday26 July 2014

Beauty queen or manta ray with arm bands?

From: Oliver Wainwright's Blog

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The most hotly anticipated of all the Olympic venues, Zaha Hadid’s £268 million Aquatics Centre was finally unveiled today to packs of expectant journalists, eagerly crowded in, swimming trunks at the ready.

With the Velodrome receiving universal plaudits, and the Main Stadium pleasantly better than expected, how would Hadid fare in the competitive media spotlight?


The underside of the roof is clad with red louro timber, stained grey to pre-empt weathering.

“I think it’s okay to have more than one good building on the site,” she grins. “It was not our intention to be the only beauty queen here.”

Modest as ever, Hadid is rightfully proud of what she describes as a “pavilion in the park,” a diminutive title for this 160m long, 90m wide wave of a building.

Its vast undulating canopy climbs from two points to the north, flexing its broad muscles above the main pool, before plunging down to frame the diving pool, behind which it tapers to meet the ground in a single point.


The roof springs from two points at the northern end of the pool.


middleroofThe ceiling flexes 120m in a clear span across the length of the pools…



…before meeting the ground at a single point at the southern end of the building.

Such sinuous formal gymnastics belie the forest of steelwork hidden in the roof cavity behind the thin timber-clad soffit, a matrix of trusses that extends to 12m deep in places, and weighs in at a staggering 3,000 tonnes. (The Velodrome’s cable-net roof uses only 300 tonnes of steel to cover a similar area.)

The supple, muscular language reaches its climax in the diving boards – thick concrete tongues that arch out above the pool, supporting a zig-zag processional route of stairs from one platform to the next. Proving that concrete is still what Hadid does best, a further treat lies deep underground in the form of a beautifully coffered ceiling for the warm-up pool.



The concrete diving boards are cast in-situ, and contain extra thick rebar.





The underground warm-up pool sports an elegantly coffered concrete ceiling.




But for all the seductive drama of the interior, there are two gigantic elephants in the room – so big, in fact, that they poke out of the room, and soar up either side of the stealthy low-lying roof: the 7,000 capacity temporary seating stands.

From the outside, the building’s double-curved form has often been referred to as recalling the elegant streamlined body of a manta ray. This may be, but for now, it is a manta ray held afloat with a pair of hulking great arm bands.


armband1The temporary seating wings are wrapped in PVC sheeting, with cut-out shapes faintly reminiscent of Saarinen’s TWA Terminal profile.


The temporary wings lead to some interesting material junctions: here, the timber soffit emerges like a great slug from its crisp white shell.


The forest of steelwork inside the temporary seating stands.



The aquatics centre seen from the DLR railway line.

“We were always designing with legacy in mind,” explains Hadid. “This had to be a usable swimming pool for east London, as well as for international events – not another white elephant.”

While Beijing has struggled with its 17,000 capacity water cube – so much so that it has finally been filled with slides and converted into a water park and son et lumière show – Hadid’s design has thought ahead, and will leave behind a relatively compact 2,500 seat venue.

The aquatics centre may well be the beauty queen of the Olympic Park one day, but for the time being she is one that is still sporting dental braces – it may be painful to look at now, but have faith, it will be better for it later.

Read the full building study in BD on 12th August.

Readers' comments (12)

  • How can this be good design by not fulfilling the brief at the outset with the two massive wings...?

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  • The naff looking exterior of the building is as much Zaha's fault as the Olympic committee. Why only put in 2,000 seats for a centre needing a capacity of at least 20,000. I mean is there no such thing as a 'design brief' anymore. At least all the venues complement each other well i.e. there all as terribly designed as each other.

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  • Dear Author. The Watercube in Beijing was designed from the outset (2003) to be partially transformed into a leisure pool afterthe olympics, which is now visited by thousands of people every day. Therefore it wasnt a struggle or an afterthought as described by you. best regards

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  • Forget the drama of the main event, can we have a few more images of the warm-up pool? Beautifully simple!

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  • Simon  Quinlank

    We are paying £9 billion ponds for a handful of temporary sports facilities and a park. Wouldn't it have been cheaper and more value to have build permanent solutions?

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  • zecks_marquise

    simon the temporary venues there there because it is totally unsustainble to keep them after the games. it would be stupid to keep a a 20000 seat swimming pool, a 10000 seat basketball arena, a 7000 seat beach volleyball etc for posterity.

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  • Simon  Quinlank

    If they are temporary why do they cost £3 billion? Is seems we have been charged extra because they are temporary or demountable.

    Beijing now has a water park in thier cube, wouldn't that be a great day out? Doesn't London know how profit from tourists and monetize Londons assets? Somerset House, Hyde Park, Wembley Stadium etc..

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  • bitter pill

    the wings on this building are truly horrible and detract from its appearance no matter how hard the legacy issue is argued. hadid would have done better to separate these visually from the remaining structure rather than express these as a second rate, two dimensional cutout extension of the remaining form.

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  • bitter pill

    after all, how many people will know (or care) of the legacy structure once the olympics is over? to a world audience, first impressions will count more.

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  • Maybe she should have stuck to the underground warm-up pool and have the main venue designed by someone with less affinity to the flashy (and capable of reading the brief) so the two actually match.

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  • if you live in london you should care more about the legacy than the bit that will be only in use for 2 weeeks..............

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  • Pretty sure Hadid didn't design these temporary stands? the original design had temporary stands which followed the curve of the building and looked very elegant.

    Having said that there is no defending the appalling waste of resources involved in creating a 3000 tonne roof

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