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Obsolescence and transformability in London’s 2012 Olympic site

Davis, Juliet ORCID: 2018. Obsolescence and transformability in London’s 2012 Olympic site. Presented at: 18th International Planning History Society Conference, Yokahama, Japan, July 15-19, 2018.

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Obsolescence has been a major issue within the history of Olympic Games developments, producing ‘white elephants’ and waste in the wake of fleeting spectacle in cities from Sarajevo to Athens to Rio. Images of these have haunted claims of the social and economic value of mega-events for cities, bringing the very idea of legacy close to ruin. Seeking to address the threat of obsolescence, considerations of the post-Games usage of the venues and wider site of the 2012 Olympic Games formed an important aspect of planning for legacy from the time of London’s bid in 2003-4. These involved designing infrastructure, venues and parklands to not only work for the Games but facilitate the evolution of the mega-event landscape into an everyday piece of mixed-use London afterwards. Designing an Olympic Park that could undergo a substantial transformation without complete redevelopment concentrated attention, as London legacy masterplanner Bob Allies has often put it, on designing “processes” rather than just “products”. Products, in these terms, are object buildings and landscapes that may reflect a given context or situation, but pay insufficient attention to how change may affect their utility. An emphasis on processes, on the other hand, involves attending to how buildings and urban fabrics exist in time —emerging, materialising and transforming— and how they might be shaped. It implies the integration of such anticipatory thinking into the design and making of buildings, through ideas of relative durability, dismantlability, temporary use, adaptability, flexibility, and the like. In the context of planning for London’s legacy, such ideas informed the design of individual venues and the masterplan framework as a whole. As such, they could be seen to indicate possible new ways of evaluating the social and economic outcomes of Olympic Games, and of spectacularising urban landscapes generally. But, do they? Five years after the Games, there is an opportunity to consider not only how legacy-focussed transformation was anticipated through the design and development of the Olympic Park, but also how it has been unfolding since. Through a history of planning for the future use of the Olympic Park since 2005 —focussing particularly on the fabric of the Games— this paper will explore relationships between transformation as anticipated and as actually realised through adaptation and reuse. The paper will show how, though London has not produced the ruins of Athens or Sarajevo, obsolescence can still be detected in the context of planning processes and adaptability has proved a challenge in many ways. This has implications not only for transformable design and architecture in the context of the Olympics, but for the sustainability of event-led urban change more broadly.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Geography and Planning (GEOPL)
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Last Modified: 23 Oct 2022 13:12

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