Thursday, 26 January 2012

Olympic Village

To the Olympic Village housing to have a look round as it nears completion, as a guest of Prof. Pankaj Patel whose practice Patel Taylor were the architects of some of the blocks.  Recent reviews of the project as a whole have mostly been fair to middling but I found more to admire than some of the accounts might lead you to believe.  In particular - having been involved peripherally in the design process as a member of the review panel - I was concerned that things that we had fought for would have been stripped out through the exigencies of 'value engineering', time and budget pressures etc.   There's a bit of that - on the later blocks in particular - but rather less than one might expect, and much of the housing passes the test of 'more to see when you get a bit closer', which so many new buildings fail.

 Some of the criticisms have made unfair comparisons with East European public housing and you can see what they mean in certain views from a distance.  But the Olympic Village succeeds in resembling recent high quality housing elsewhere in Europe that has inspired some of what has been done here - such as Hammerby in Stockholm and Parc de Bercy in Paris - much more closely than the desolate public housing of the mid-century.  This is because of the attention to material and detail on most of the blocks  - and the quality of the hard and soft landscape and everything that you experience as a pedestrian - which should ensure that the completed development is a success.

The bigger questions that remain - and on which it is hard to comment while the village remains a high security compound - concern connections with the surroundings, inherently hard to achieve because of the site's geography.  The new housing is not very near any existing housing, and will be separated from the rest of Stratford, Leyton etc. by some rather challenging gaps after the fences come down.  Edinburgh New Town was built on the other side of a big gap from the existing town too, so lack of continuity - even with railway lines inbetween - is not an insuperable problem, but Stratford 'International' Station is not Waverley (nor is Westfield Princes Street) , and there's a bit of work to do at Stratford to make the gaps a plus rather than a minus. Who will do that; and how; and when?

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