Zaha Hadid's Olympic Aquatic Center Is Breathtaking, As Long As You Have A Seat Where You Can See What's Happening

A Visit to the Breathtaking Olympic Aquatics Centre Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The Aquatic Centre designed by Zaha Hadid for the London Olympics doesn't look quite like it is supposed to; It's sort of buried in temporary additions that provide extra seating. Bonnie noted earlier:

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.

It turns out, not only doesn't it look the way it is supposed to, it doesn't work the way it is supposed to. Many of the seats in those upper temporary bleachers have obstructed views, thanks to Zaha's trademark swoopy ceiling.

A Visit to the Breathtaking Olympic Aquatics CentreBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Architizer notes: "Safe to say, this probably isn’t the first time that Zaha or parametric architecture took the fun out of things."

Zaha, for her part, denies any responsibility, and the firm is quoted as saying this is a ticketing issue, not a design issue:

“The brief for the building from Locog was to provide 5,000 spectator seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m diving platform events. The centre actually provides over 8,000 seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m platform events. This is more than 3,000 additional seats than the brief required. Locog approved the sightline studies and seating layouts over two years ago.”

Aquatic Centre without wingsLondon Olympics/Promo image

This is how it was supposed to look, before the wings were added.

a visit to London's olympic velodromeBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Meanwhile, architectural critic Peter Buchanan compares the Aquatic Centre to the Velodrome, designed by Mike Taylor of Hopkins.

Apt to programme, and with Mike Taylor a keen cyclist, the inspirational ideal for the design was the bicycle, not for its form but for its economy and efficiency, and for being stripped of anything extraneous to performance. Taylor had also been the architect in charge of Kroon Hall, housing Yale University’s School of Forestry, directly across the street from Eero Saarinen’s ice rink, with its roof supported on steel cables, clearly another inspiration for the Velodrome. As at Kroon Hall, every measure was taken to achieve sustainability as currently conceived, a feature of all Hopkins’ architecture and a field in which the firm leads.

Of Zaha's approach, he writes:

Clearly Hadid devised the shape first and then the engineer had to figure out how to construct it. Not only achieved at considerable structural and economic extravagance, the result appeals to the eye alone, not the mind or empathic engagement; this is more scenography than architecture.

Buchanan goes on, comparing structural and energy efficiency:

For energy efficiency, the roof has 300mm of insulation in the sandwich panels sitting on the visible cables, with occasional strips of rooflight between them, and supporting the waterproof membrane. In contrast with the 3,000 tonnes of structural steel in the Aquatics Centre roof, here there are only 1,000 tonnes, the whole roof weighing only 60kg/m2 in comparison with the former’s 220kg/m2. This is not a petty distinction because it summarises the very different attitudes that provoke questions as to which is the more relevant approach to design.

One is a model of minimalist, efficient green design that works; the other is, well, Zaha Hadid.

Zaha Hadid's Olympic Aquatic Center Is Breathtaking, As Long As You Have A Seat Where You Can See What's Happening

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