A Visit to the Breathtaking Olympic Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Aquatics Centre and Anish Kapoor Sculpture

The Olympic Aquatics Centre, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, is the big one: the most expensive building on the site and surely the most controversial.

This TreeHugger had the thrilling chance (really, it was) to visit the Aquatics Centre to see the Fina Diving World Cup . The winners of this competition go to the Olympic Games so it is serious business. Here's a first-hand impression of the building.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 First view of the Aquatics Centre

The Aquatics Centre was intended to be the spectacular gateway to the Olympic Park; the exciting first view. Whilst waiting to get through security, this is the first sighting. Hmmmmmm.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Audience wings plus main part

A lot of the building's intended glory has been obscured because of the need to add two "water wings" to seat extra spectators for the Games. They allow the venue to seat 17,500 people during the Games. These additions on either side of the main building cost an additional £253M (that's $399M) and prevent the stunning wave-like roof from being seen. However they are to be removed after the Games and will be replaced by huge glass walls, opening the space to the sky and the surrounding park. When removed, the place only seats 3,000.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 September, 2013

September, 2013: the Olympics are a distant memory and here is a shot of the Aquatics Centre without its wings.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The wave-like roof is steel-framed and timber-clad; it floats and undulates. But is also substantial; a stunning and overwhelming presence. It extends far out over the entrance in a dramatic sweep. It also provides a shelter from the miserable winds and rain. The roof required 3,000 tons of steel (compared with the Velodrome which used 300).

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Had the roof not been obscured by the wings, which isn't the architect's fault, (and apparently she is none too happy about it), it would have been a stunning building. But alas, it will only be seen in its full glory after the Games, when the wings will be removed.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Once inside the majesty of the space is breathtaking. The soaring ceiling with its wavy central panel adds a floating feeling and unifies the whole design. The greys of the structure are offset by strong primary colours: the blue pools, the yellow and red of the lane markers,

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The diving boards, which are the centre of attention and dominate the space, have been carefully designed. Hadid has said it "seeks to fully exploit the spectacle and drama of ascending the dive boards and diving".

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The diving boards are moulded out of the same concrete as the rest of the lower structure, making them extensions of the architecture rather than additional pieces of concrete. There are two pools: one for the diving, one for the swimming.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Athletes marching past

On this occasion the extra seating was blocked off, so there were only about 2,000 people for the Women's Synchronized Diving competition. It was very very warm inside; something that will have to be worked out before the hot summer weather.

No announcements will be made over the loud speakers during the events because it was thought that would influence the judges. This does mystify things but apparently during the Games audience members will be given earphones.

Seating is tight, when someone passes by you really have to stand to let them through. It was much roomier at the Velodrome.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Is it worth it? Probably the Aquatic Centre could have been built more cheaply, without a top name architect. But given that so much is being spent on this Olympic extravaganza and given how ugly some of the other buildings are (such as the Media Centre), it is a wonderful legacy for London and the country.

Tags: Architects | London | Olympics | Sports