New London Architecture

Viewpoint: A True Piece of London

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Jason Prior, Founding Partner, Prior and Partners shares a viewpoint for NLA's latest report on the legacy of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

It’s hard to imagine today, but twenty years ago, the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its surrounding development was a forlorn place. Dotted with low-grade manufacturing, recycling sites, bus and tube parking and Europe’s largest fridge mountain, it was also threaded with huge sewer pipes and a filthy river. Overall, it didn’t look promising. It had long been the service area for London, but also home to several communities. And to top it all, a little further down the line, the global financial crash of 2008 had to be overcome. Nevertheless, the scheme had many champions and thanks to the collaborative efforts of the local boroughs, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, dozens of creative and construction teams, leadership teams at the Greater London Authority, the London Development Agency and Olympic Delivery Authority and more besides, the vision was realised on budget and on time for the 2012 Games.

From the start, the masterplan for today’s wider park was conceived in parallel with the Olympic Park and the 2012 Olympics, with the games seen as an event and a catalyst on route to enabling this new district for London. And while it looks very different to many other parks in the capital, the concept is the same — public green space surrounded by housing, workplaces and cultural and educational institutions. The new Olympic quarter is a continuation of the capital’s evolution and carries the baton into the future.

Lessons learnt

In making the first major park and new quarter for London in generations, it was important to look back and learn lessons from the past. The elements of good city making haven’t changed in a very long time, and the same rules applied here. Success in such a venture requires strong ideas and guiding principles, an ambitious vision facilitated by organisational commitment alongside political commitment, and good process aligned with good funding. Infrastructure is the first priority followed by investment in generous community, social and cultural assets.

Ripple effect

Ten years on from the Games, we are seeing how this new quarter is not only evolving into a popular district, but also making profound changes to the adjacent neighbourhoods. The ripple effect is radiating out through the hinterlands and reaching along the length of the Lea Valley from Tottenham to Leamouth. The impacts demonstrate how big a catalyst needs to be to engender positive change and move the dial socially, culturally and environmentally. It takes courage and commitment to make radical change, put n infrastructure, invest in place and people, and ride the vagaries of the economic cycles. To create big change, you need a big move.

Greenest Games

Sustainability was a critical component in the making of the Park: part of the design and construction remit was to push the envelope of sustainability. With numerous state-of-the-art innovations in areas from water management, ecological restoration and material specification to the fact that spectators arrived only by public transport, the park anticipated many areas of good practice we see today. Ten years down the line, there is still plenty that’s good, however it’s no longer a leader in sustainability ideas. This serves to show how fast climate change is happening and how urgently we all need to adapt to meet the new needs.

The wider Olympic project can demonstrate how major cities evolve and change, and in London, it has shown that we’re good at it. When a project is set up right, and it is as inclusive as possible, it can achieve success.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park



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