For London’s 2012 Olympic Games, Man-Made Wetlands and Wildlife Habitat


George Hargreaves, FASLA, a leading U.S. landscape architect, is working with British landscape architecture firm LDA Design to create a $200 million, 2.5 square-kilometer site for the 2012 Olympic games in London. One key goal of the project is to ensure the park will serve the community well once the games are over: Out of the 2.5-square kilometer site, one square kilometer (102 ha) will be transformed into permanent parkland. Hargreaves, who did much of the landscape planning and architecture for the Sydney Olympic games, is developing new man-made wetland and wildlife habitats and huge open-air event spaces that can handle 20,000 people, writes the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) JournalHargreaves said: “We’re excited about how it brings together the social world of London with the ecological park. This doesn’t happen very often. More usually you get one use or the other, not both.”

The Olympic site (and eventual post-game park) will be shaped like an “hourglass,” with a large commercial development pinching in the middle. This leaves two sections: in the south, a more urban area, and in the north, a “wilder” half. Hargreaves said the southern zone will look like a smaller version of Hyde Park. The wilder northern zone will include the “reinstatement of the Lea riverbanks’ natural forms,” which involves removing lots of hard concrete canals. Also planned for the northern section are more than 300,000 wetland plants designed to naturally provide flood control and manage water run-off.

The “2012 Gardens,” co-designed by the young landscape designer Sarah Price, is another component. At a half-mile long, the gardens will be divided in four different “climate zones,” each representing the “global collecting tradition of British botanists down the centuries.” RIBA Journal writes that some features will only be temporary. “There will be temporary wildflower meadows and edge-screening to future development sites, as well as ‘lenses’ of different landscapes at the squeezed centre of the site where hard paving is removed.” Hargreaves said these temporary features could last anywhere between five and 25 years.  

RIBA Journal says the park is hemmed in like any other park, but also puts a new spin on the urban-to-rural transect. “[The] Olympic Park opens up northwards into the vast open spaces of Hackney Marshes along the Lea Valley and so can be seen not only as a sequence of spaces in its own right, but also as a transition zone from urban/industrial to open landscape.” Ultimately, however, the success of the park will be judged “by Hargreaves’ strategy of porosity and linkage as much as by its re-imagining of the watercourses that run through here.”

The good public transit access, which will help incorporate the park in the broader community, will only help the park succeed. “Stratford, a nexus of rail links from the superfast (High Speed One, the express link to the Channel Tunnel) to the frustratingly slow (Docklands Light Railway) via two Underground and two surface railway lines, is surely one of the best-connected regional centres on earth, and some £100m is being spent on upgrading the transport interchange there.” In addition, some new starchitect-designed buildings, including an Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid and stadium by Populous / Peter Cook, will draw the crowds into the broader parks.

The initial Olympic Games site will be ready by 2012, and it will evolve into its final park form by 2014.

Read the article and a detailed progress report from the London Games on the Olympic Park.

Also, check out an earlier post that explores whether the new site can regenerate the economically depressed and troubled local community.

Image credit: LDA Design

One thought on “For London’s 2012 Olympic Games, Man-Made Wetlands and Wildlife Habitat

  1. Chester 07/19/2010 / 9:44 pm

    It’s nice but ironic to see a liberated Hargreaves Assoc. designing “nature”.

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