Zaha Hadid's London Olympic Swimming Pool Already Under Water

dec pool photo

Photo: B. Alter: Aquatics Centre, December, 2010

London's successful bid for the Olympic 2012 Games was based on its commitment to a sustainable legacy: that's Olympic-speak for maintaining and reusing the buildings for athletic and community use after the big event. The massive Olympic Stadium has just been saved from threat of demolition but now the Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre is going down the drain.

The giant swimming pool has been controversial from the start and remains a problem. It will cost cost £1M a year to run and there are no takers for it after the games.

after games photo

Photo: london2012: After the Games

The pool has been trouble since day one. No architect could be found to build it for a reasonable price, finally Zaha Hadid was awarded the building amidst claims that the roof and building would never be built on time or on budget because of the complexity of the project.

They were somewhat right: the original budget was £75M and now the latest estimate is £278M and it still isn't done. Apparently costs could increase by another £11M because of temperature control problems.

The building will have two 50m swimming pools and a 25m diving pool. It will host events such as swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and some of the modern pentathlon. It is being built to accommodate approximately 17,500 people during the Olympic Games.

Two wings with 5,000 seats have been built outside for ticket-paying spectators. These are to be removed after the games.

Originally it was thought that the giant swimming facility would be transformed into a community centre; using the two swimming pools and two diving pools and adding some water slides and fitness rooms. Approximately 800,000 visitors a year are expected. It will remain an elite facility for the top swimmers as well.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company is now looking for an operator for the facility: a stunning, landmark building, so what's the problem?

roof top photo

Photo: london2012

Where to start... The gorgeous sinuous roof is 160M long and weighs 3,000 tons. The internal timber cladding is susceptible to damp. As one engineer said "It's a phenomenally expensive bit of kit. It's almost a piece of art."

According to the latest news, the elaborate design will be difficult to alter to make it commercially viable. Its shape means that there is no room to add restaurants and public changing rooms. Whirlpools, slides and flumes are what draw in the families and the building can't be modified for that. It is estimated that it would cost as much as £13M to add the necessities for running a commercial, public space. The pool is located in an economically deprived part of London so there is some question about the community's use of it, particularly if they have to pay an entrance fee.

The number of seats will be reduced from 17,500 for the Olympics, to about 2,500-3,500. This is too few for a world championship venue, which again raises the question of its future usage.

The legacy of the games cannot be that they are a permanent drain on the taxpayer, but it is looking harder and harder to make sustainability a reality.

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