Ruminations on architecture, from Ken Allinson
London on Steroids
March 13, 2012Posted by on
As people in Sydney, Athens and Bejing will already know, living in an Olympic city is quite an experience. Well, it would be an experience if one could, in fact, locate the palpable realities rather than the fog of spin. But, of course, most of us, most of the time, don’t get near to that reality – especially architects.
Architects get excited by their own stuff: money, glamour, buildings … fees and publicity. They easily loose focus upon what is really going on.
For example, I’ve mentioned somewhere in these blogs how Ron Herron once won an international ideas competition simply by turning in upon himself and tapping into the sentiments of an East End boy who left school at about 15 and got to be an architect the hard way – by part-time study. The theme of the competition was ‘a home fit for a superstar’ and Ron’s superstar had to be, of course, the Queen. And where was her home? Or rather what was it? It gave itself up as Ron’s other love: Hollywood – the Queen’s home was a studio, filled with apt sets for a monarch’s life.
I always related to this scheme in personal terms until my own design experiences began to be concerned with actual ‘sets’ that could never be called that. But they were. And now I am a citizen of London, a metropolis in which, over in East London again, now at Stratford, another ‘set’ has been constructed for an event to be watched on TV by a global audience. And, just as with normal TV studio, there is a vast background support structure: most of central London will be arranged so that it can properly service the Olympic Games and, in its own way, also become a set.This especially includes the allocation of special road lanes that are just for those hi-end BMW’s that will cruise from central hotels out to the Olympic Park with some 40,000 Olympic bureaucrats, administrators, corporate sponsors and the like – and woe betide anyone else who dares to try and use these lanes!
At the ‘studio’ itself there is the aquatic sports set stage (Hadid) and the bike riding stage (Hopkins) and the water sports stage and the basket-ball stage … and the this and that stage, in between which are comforting invited audience zones where people can move about among the freshly planted vegetation, mingle and get excited about their participation in the various stage events. It’s all rather like the Jools Holland show or the old Top of the Pops, or any run-0f-the-mill games show on which laughter and applause is digitally added (as the BBC used to do for the Henley Regatta – at which, as a BBC audio-engineer once informed me, the sound of the oars is digitally added in). The Olympic Park is a TV studio. A large, crudely sanitised and expensive one. For some three weeks many Londoners are going to be in a version of the Truman Show.
It also appropriates whatever established money-making strategems it can – such as a brand-new shopping centre that serves (as any major airport) as a way to milk the audience-in-transit of a few sheckles. And what a shopping mall – it is apparently the first in the world to have explosives scanners at the entrance doors.
Londoners (and that includes its architects) think of it all as a fun summer party. Perhaps it is, but it’s an expensive party. The original budget was £2.37bn is now (at least) £11bn – and that is the part being admitted to. But, hey, this is an austerity Olympics – security for each of the 17,000 athletes will cost £3500 per competitor per day, much less than in Bejing ($142,000 per athlete). And the Quatar royal family has already consolidated its London basis by purchasing the Olympic Village for £557m (to add to ‘the Shard’, Harrods, etc). That’s about the same as the security budget for the Games. Apparently there will be 13,500 troops maintaining security, while the police have already installed extra security cameras in Islamic parts of London and drones will cruise the skies. Terror has been taken into the mix like some heart-rate increasing sub-plot in a Hollywood drama.
So, the London Games will be witness to the biggest ever crack-down on drugs, but meanwhile, out there, London itself is on steroids.
See the Guardian newspaper ‘piece’ entitled ‘Welcome to Fortress London.’ (Guardian 13.03.12). For the Olympics site go to: (Go to: http://www.london2012.com/)