Should the Olympic Stadium be demolished?
Yes, says Paul Bower, it’s at risk of being another white elephant. But London’s deputy mayor for planning Edward Lister says the 2012 stadium could be a national treasure
PhD student, Architecture, Queen’s University Belfast
The Olympic Stadium was hailed as breaking the mould of stadium design. By attempting to avoid the unwanted tag of “white elephant architecture” — where large stadiums are left to ruin due to excessive running costs, lack of a long term tenant and events incapable of filling them — London’s stadium was to be different.
The stadium’s architect Rod Sheard of Populous has regularly extolled the virtues of the building’s kit of parts that can be dismantled and reconfigured post Games. Yet it appears the proposed football sized “block” of a future legacy use does not fit comfortably inside the athletics-sized “hole” that the stadium encloses.
In the 1960s the site of the Olympic Park was imagined as a place for a visionary and unbuilt Fun Palace by architect Cedric Price. It was to be a vast entertainment complex that deployed a similar notion of a kit of parts, which could be continually reconfigured to produce a set of environments that could be changed by its users and community.
Price made clear that the architecture should last no longer than the community in which it sits or needs it — an architecture both flexible to change and expendable.
If the Olympic Stadium truly wants to be different, Locog could look at the site’s imagined past for a possible way forward.
Rather than another white elephant, why not create a white elephant sized footprint capable of many possible futures; the stadium should be disassembled and the space reclaimed for public use.
Why not an accessible and playful space fit for all East Enders?
London’s deputy mayor for planning
With the stadium’s future to be announced later this year, the London Legacy Development Corporation will confirm the final element of our plans for the Olympic Park.
The challenges we’ve had with the Stadium legacy have not arisen through lack of suitors. Just as every other venue and development site in and around the park has attracted international, blue-chip interest, the stadium has always been keenly sought after by prospective tenants.
And that was before the Olympics. The stadium is now burnt into Britain’s folk memory as the stage from which our opening and closing ceremonies delighted the nation, and as the deafening crucible in which Ennis, Farah and Bolt forged their gold medals. With every chance of even greater British success in the Paralympic Games, the Stadium is on the way to being a national treasure.
There are plenty of reasons to be horrified by the idea of demolition. The stadium’s construction set new standards in sustainability, using less than half of the steel typically used for a stadium of its size.
To demolish it would be an insult to those credentials, as well as the taxpayers whose support for these Games was won on a promise of legacy, and the Stirling Prize judges who shortlisted it for this year’s award.
In 2017 the world’s athletes return for the World Championships. Winning the right to stage this event sealed the position of track and field at the heart of our legacy plans. The job now is to build the best possible combination of uses — sporting and non-sporting — around that. Football would be a great addition, but the future is just as bright without it.
The Olympic Stadium combines an electric heritage with mouth-watering potential.
It would be a foolish mayor who ignored that.