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Kay Hughes on Architecture and Olympic Games

Interview Date: 25-07-2012
(More interviews from this person)

VIEW the entire interview on VIDEO!

What is the importance of Architectural events worldwide? What are the profits for a city holding such kind of major events?

Well, I suppose I could talk specifically about the Olympics, but of course there are EXPOs, like the Shanghai EXPO, etc. But, it varies from city to city. Certainly, here in London we’ve taken the view that we want to follow a sustainable approach like the one they’ve had in Barcelona. So, it’s been very important for us, in fact it’s been a unique opportunity for us to begin to develop a site in East London that was heavily contaminated, very poorly divided, away from the city, with lots of infrastructure running through it and also to turn that site and clean it up. So, what we’re doing is we’re building the first new park in Europe in 150 years, we are providing an area in the East of London which has been very deprived and degenerated.

Three of the house boroughs there which are adjacent to the side are three of the poorest boroughs in Europe and we are providing them with clean land, we’re providing them with new sports facilities and we’re building a new park in the center of that area. The opportunity for us in terms of architecture is that we can show the world what we can do and I have this really strong belief that the UK has an immense amount of architectural talent and it’s an opportunity for us to showcase that abroad. So, the benefits will not only be in reputation but it will be in the ability for the UK to put on an excellent event, really, and improve the city at the same time.

What exactly is the mission of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and what kind of services and actions does it make?

In the Olympic Delivery Authority, we are granted the public money to redevelop the Olympic site. The Olympic site is 2 and a half square kilometers and our aim is to provide the venues for the Games and the place of the Games. So, with that public money we have cleaned up that 2 and a half kilometers of very contaminated land, we’ve build over 13 new bridges to connect the land to the local communities, we’ve relayed the whole of the topography so that it can be a site for new housing in the future and we’ve build the venues. When we’ve finished that, we’ve already started handing over the venues to LOCOG who take over from us and they’re called the London Organizing Committee for the Games, they run the show.

What we do is we’re providing the platform and we’re providing the venues for the Games, LOCOG they run the show, they take the athletes in, they put the whole event together and then post Games, it’s handed back to us we reconfigure elements, take away the temporary parts and then it’s given to the Olympic Park Legacy Company who will redevelop the land around it and build new housing. We play the kind of crucial role in getting the big build ready, I think.

As we can see during our stay in London, the Olympics are not a part of everyday life for Londoners. There is no advertisement for the event and no work done within the city. Why is this happening?

That’s interesting, I think you’re right. I don’t think a lot of people appreciate how big the event is and where it’s going to be. I think, really, the reason is that we’ve all had our heads down getting the day job done, because the most important issue for us is that we showcase UK PLC abroad and so things have to be done well and they have to be on time and they have to be within budget and that’s extremely important to us.

We’re now beginning to look up and now that we’re 80% complete on the site we can begin to tell people what we’ve achieved and what has been achieved on the site. The other thing that really sudden, engages people in the whole event is of course, selling tickets. Because, as soon as you start selling tickets people go “oh yeah, we can go to the Games”. There’s something in it for them and for a lot of people there hasn’t been something in it for them up until recently. In the local boroughs there’s been training and we’ve had apprentices etc., LOCOG have had events all the way around the country, but we can’t get that critical mass until we build up to sell the tickets.

It’s made a real difference, actually, the advertising for the tickets. Suddenly people are going “oh yeah, it’s only a year and a half away” and people are really beginning to get on board now. You’ll have seen, the Velodrome was launched last week and so it was big TV event, it was broadcast, huge amount of positive press from that. So, things are beginning to build up. I think to do it too early would have been wrong.

The latest Olympic Games have cost a great amount of money to the host cities and their countries. The cost has never come back to them after the end of the event. What is the plan of ‘London Olympics’ regarding the issue?

I suppose we are slightly different from other sites, because our site is within the metropolis of London, it’s very well connected. It’s Stratford, you can get there on the Jubilee line, you can get there on the Central line, there’s the international train station coming in, there’s cross rail coming in. So, it’s going to be a really well connected piece of London and it had no central area which was a sort of recreational provision for everything to link into.

So, one, the opportunity on a citywide level was to expand the city well, but secondly when we’ve cleaned up the entire site then it becomes development land that can then be sold on. The cultural and the social benefits are very high and connecting them into the local communities is very high, so we expect it to pay for itself. Certainly, LOCOG grows their money privately so that’s not a government expenditure and it will certainly repay itself in terms of the quality of life of the people who live nearby.

Is the world financial crisis an opportunity for everyone to reconsider the ways that we design and construct the buildings and the urban environment?

Absolutely. A really great opportunity to do that. To think much more flexibly about what we’re doing, to get away from architects designing buildings independently, on their own without thinking about the environment that they build into and to think much more holistically about how the built environment is put together and also to look at more small-scale strategic projects.

In recent years attention turns to green urban regeneration. Do you think that it is imperative for the city or it’s just a new fashion with economic outcomes and covertly interests?

I believe that sustainable cities are a very serious issue for us all. One, we all consume a lot of energy, technologically we can make a lot of improvements. For example, on the Olympic site we’ve got a combining energy plant which contributes to a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, we’ll have PVs on the site, we’ve looked at low energy strategies, we’re using gray water recycling and we’ve also just build in the first black water pumping station, which actually takes water from the main sewage pipes, treats it and then uses it as non-potable water. And all these really important things in dense urban environments, that we find ways of using energy and waste in new ways within the site.
There’s also been a lot of talk about sort of green agendas, the allotment holders we’ll be moving back to the site later on, by this idea of producing food locally, I think those are really important ideas. They’re in ear throw at the moment and I’m sure they’ll begin to happen very soon.

How do you imagine a future in which sustainability pervades all forms of architecture and design, where it is unquestioned, and the norm?

I sort of imagine a future where pervades all forms of architecture in the sustainability of buildings, you know, waste energy plants, how you clean your water, how you reuse your water, what surfaces and finishes. All these start to come together and start to be linked and they become smaller hubs. So, I could imagine certainly, in 10-15-20 years time the city will become areas, which are serviced by their own independent utility providers, whether that’s Internet, electricity, power regeneration, water recycling. I can imagine cities growing up in a much more locally connected way.

At the end, can you please provide your personal proposal for 10 buildings (constructed and visitable) which you think as the most important worldwide that someone must visit anyway?

I suppose, one of the buildings that I most admire isRem Koolhaas’s Art Museum in Rotterdam, which I think it’s fantastic. Also, the Herzog & de Meuron Laban Dance Centre. Both of those are about simplicity and pure forms and about the relationship to the urban surroundings and locality. Just from a personal level, I really like Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea, which I think is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in a wonderful landscape setting. What’s interesting about those three buildings is that they work with their setting really well.

*The interview was taken on March 2011.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.