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The Olympic Stadium Is Worth More Than Football

Posted: 17/10/2012 00:00

Ahead of last Saturday's RIBA Stirling Prize announcement, heat gathered for the award to go the building that for three glorious months became the epicentre of the world. The London Olympic Stadium has come from being a maligned structure of impotent imagination to a field of fantasy. Of course, being the home of such immense athletic feats seen in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games has helped along with four top-class ceremonies.

In the end Stanton Williams' Sainsbury Laboratory triumphed which was no surprise considering - in purest architectural circles - the Olympic Stadium was always a mid-field candidate to win. Yet it's what the venue represented that caused the last-gasp surge. Spectators came to love the triangular floodlights, the circular intimacy, even the high-banked upper stands and the Everest-like stair climb that accompanied them. By the end of the summer the world recognised that London had another world-class venue.

What happens to it now is the bone of immense contention.

Prior to the Olympics, football seemed like the only tenant for the stadium. When the city, indeed the whole nation, seemed to be gripped in a permanent state of misery in response to the arrival of the Games the focus was all about cost: how quickly could we shift these nailed-on white elephants for the best price and forget Seb Coe's five-ringed folly?

Events turned sour for the naysayers, as London 2012 exceeded all expectations to be recognised by most as the best Games of the modern era. And so that desire to tear everything down and reduce Stratford to a zone of mediocrity evaporated in the cauldron. The Legacy plans for what will be the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are far-reaching and exciting - if a little short on detail. However, there is no escaping the fact that the fate of the Olympic Stadium is key to the health of the entire park.

However, if the 2012 Games have taught us anything it is that football doesn't quite matter anymore.

Consider in this year: the nation has witnessed towering success not just at London 2012, but the Tour de France, international tennis and the Ryder Cup all the while football happily sets camp in the gutter with almost daily tales of indiscipline, hubris and disrespect. It was telling that on Super Saturday, the balmy night which produced Britain's greatest ever Athletics performance, the Men's Olympic football team exited the tournament on penalties. And no one cared.

So, for all the promise West Ham could bring to the stadium (and it would be a lot) they - and their sport - shouldn't be considered de facto tenants.

Understandably there are concerns for the London Legacy Development Corporation around the conversion costs, especially in retaining the athletics track which was so key to winning the Olympic bid in the first place. But when organisers of the 2015 Rugby World Cup want to use the stadium in the midst of all the confusion you know there is transcendence before us.

Many Olympic stadiums, post-Games, become football grounds but others become multi-purpose recognising the value of being worth much to many. In Legacy mode, the London Olympic Stadium could be the perfect partner to the o2 arena across the river. Concerts, sports and live entertainment could all exist and be profitable without being wed to a single sport and a single team. And the spirit of the London Games can live on through a site that became a centre of national pride.

As those judging the Stirling knew too well, many will have designs on what the London Olympic Stadium can offer them. But only one could win. For the LLDC, it's more about letting the right one in.

 

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