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February 2011 – Most sustainable stadium

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The Olympic Park Legacy Company was meeting to decide on which of two competing bids to accept for the future of the centrepiece London Olympic stadium as NSC went to press. Few other structures can have generated so much controversy over what is to happen after its initial use is finished, even before its construction phase is over.

The stadium’s architects, Populous, faced a tough challenge with a brief that called for a structure designed for a specific sporting event that was to be both temporary and permanent. It needed high sustainability credentials, which brought steel to the fore. The stadium might turn out to be a bit more temporary than originally envisaged; but this will allow steel to show some of its other advantages.

One of the competing bids involves demolition of the structure and reconstruction of a new stadium designed for permanent use as a football stadium, which would be quite different from the as yet to be completed stadium. The other involves reconfiguration of the structure. Which you personally prefer, if any, possibly comes down to which of two London football teams you support.

Both options, and others, are made feasible by the fact that the stadium is substantially made from structural steel and has demountability designed in. So it can, for example, easily be changed from 80,000 seats to 25,000 and the seats re-used elsewhere. The roof that covers some two thirds of the seats can be easily removed.

This was always part of the overall concept for the stadium, to prevent any ‘white elephant’ legacy. Being made in steel also means that it can be easily adapted for changing use in ways perhaps not originally considered. Or, if complete demolition is decided on, the process will be much easier than if reinforced concrete had been used more extensively, and the process will generate no waste from steel. It can all be either reused somewhere else or in the new stadium, or will be fed back into the steel production process where it will also perhaps be used in a new stadium.

As ODA project sponsor Ian Crockford explained in NSC last year, the stadium is not only the most sustainable ever built, it is also the most flexible. It is also the lightest, using 10,000t of structural steel as opposed to 40,000t in Bejing’s Birds Nest Stadium.

Whatever the stadium’s future turns out to be, its construction is turning out to be a major showcase for the sustainable, constructional use of steel; and its legacy use will show either how easily flexible steel structures can be adapted for changing uses, or how easily they can be removed to make way for another structure.

Steel looks like an Olympic winner before it even gets out of the starting blocks.

Nick Barrett

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