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London 2012 International Broadcast Centre and Main Press Centre (IBC/MPC) (1)

Olympic Delivery Authority

Providing facilities for 20,000 broadcasters and journalists; after the Games the venue will be developed into a business workspace. Designed by Allies and Morrison, and RPS.

23 April 2009

Planning reference: 09/90059/REMODA

Tagged with: Sports | Design review | London | London 2012 | London 2012

© ODA

We also reviewed this scheme on 4 June 2009.

We regret that we are unable to support the IBC/MPC proposal in its current form for the reasons outlined below. We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion given the significant amount of effort which has been devoted to examining various options for this development, involving different clients. As presented, the gap between the aspiration for the project and the quality of the buildings is sadly wide.

The architecture as shown is extremely weak, lacking real conviction as to how it could work in Transition and Legacy, and in the case of the IBC revealing a paucity of imagination and analysis which we find deeply disappointing.

The site layout, which is currently awkward and unresolved, hovers between a desire to create a sense of place on the one hand, and to resolve the geometry of the irregular site on the other. The result is an uncertain compromise which achieves neither objective. Individual decisions about block placement have resulted in a scheme that, as a whole, is less than the sum of its parts. A serious rethink is needed in relation to how problems of site layout could be addressed through a post Games transformation strategy.

We note from the statement on Legacy (Design and Access Statement: item 4) that the site as a whole is now intended to operate under a business park model rather than a piece of city (for example Soho) as previously indicated. Although this suggests a disappointing lack of clarity about the urban structure which the Olympics will bequeath to this area, we think that a business park model could hold out the possibility of an acceptable improvement in design, given the fact that the site will be under single ownership post Games.

For a business park design to be successful we would, at this late stage, expect to see more convincing design and landscape proposals. Architecturally, one would also expect to see convincing design details relating to cladding, fenestration, roof design and entrances. We don’t believe these aspects are sufficiently addressed within the planning application. We would also expect the appearance of buildings to have some common identity; in design terms, it is this which makes a business park, more rather than less the sum of its parts.

In relation to specific buildings on the site, our greatest concern is the extraordinary banality of the IBC ‘mega structure’. In our view, it is simply not good enough as currently proposed. We would go so far as to say that its continued presence would blight rather than enhance the Olympic Legacy. We believe that a fundamental rethink needs to be undertaken in respect of the external appearance of this building. Otherwise the public might well ask why this sort of building, which has been removed from the Lower Lee Valley in order to create a vibrant new future, is being reinstated at a larger scale.

We do not think this is an insuperable problem but it requires urgent attention and should be dealt with, in our view, as part of an overall strategy for the external appearance of this business park development. For the IBC building itself, a convincing cladding strategy needs to work well in Transition; that is to say as the building is adapted for new uses and users. At the moment we are not convinced that the buildings will achieve the architectural quality needed to secure the competitive edge for a business park in this location. An appropriate strategy would deliver strong guidelines for establishing architectural character, and the planning authority should seek indicative illustrative material to show how this would work, and look, as adapted.

In respect of the car park, we believe a similar rethink of the cladding treatment is essential. This should begin by considering the redesigned legacy structure as a coherent entity and as part of the overall development. To this end we believe the ramps, the most visually interesting part of this structure, should be part of the cladding proposition. We note the interesting work being undertaken on the Stratford City car park, which we believe has merit. The IBC/MPC design team could use this to inform further design work.

This then leaves the question of how the temporary element of the car park should be clad. We think that provided the permanent structure is visually effective it ought to be possible to derive a suitably economical cladding proposition related to it, but not necessarily replicating it, for the rest. Whatever solution is chosen, the simpler it is in terms of fixings and penetrations the more effective it will be.

In the case of the MPC and the illustrative material accompanying the planning application we believe considerably more work is needed in respect of its visual appearance, not least because of the views of the building from any future development between it and the River Lea Navigation Canal or the housing beyond. As illustrated, this is a large monolithic block whose size has encouraged the architects to create a ‘mews’ condition next to it in order to mitigate its impact. This will only be effective if the architectural character of the primary MPC building is of sufficient quality and interest. We believe further design work is needed to make this building a convincing detailed planning application and for it to make a meaningful contribution to the overall character of the powerful (in scale terms) IBC/MPC building cluster.

In conclusion, we would like to make it clear that the comments made about the need for additional work, though referring to external appearance are not stylistic; they are about identity and character, scale, coherence and the creation of both a medium and possibly long term legacy which is appropriate for this important site. If, notwithstanding CABE’s advice, the planning authority resolves to grant planning permission we strongly recommend that it be conditional upon the satisfactory resolution of the matters referred to above to ensure the delivery of an acceptable and appropriate level of architectural quality.