Shaping the future of the Queen Elizabeth Park

Friday 20 January 2012

Much of the London Olympics attention thus far has been on the buildings. But a breakfast talk given this morning by some of the designers responsible for the park at the east London site showed that the landscape features will be just as exciting, and a major part of the wider area’s legacy.

Eleanor Fawcett, head of design at the London Olympic Park Legacy Company explained that the park is ‘in the DNA of why the Olympic site was chosen’, and is intended to reach three targets: to build local ownership, attract regional visitors, and promote sport and healthy living. Split into two parts – the north park and the south park, each has different characteristics, with the overall intention to model the popularity and general ambience achieved by places like London’s South Bank. But with both north and south, said Fawcett, the key was to capitalise on this post-industrial part of London, playing with the juxtapositions between the pastoral elements and huge infrastructure, embracing the energy and its ‘unique moments’. ‘It has to feel great on a wet Tuesday afternoon in February, a place where everyone wants to spend time’, she said. 

The North Park is the greener, more natural environment, while the South will be a more urban setting, framed by the Olympic stadium, Aquatics Centre and Olympic concourse. Grace Tang, Associate at James Corner Field Operations – who also worked on Fresh Kills in New York – explained that this southern element will consist of four ‘frameworks’ – the arc promenade, planting ribbon, hedgerow, event rooms and lawns and gardens. The 10m wide arc promenade is a linear place meant for strolling, with kiosks, food markets and parades; the planting ribbon is a flexible space inspired by the English country landscape, with perennials to cypress hedges and hawthorns and grasses; Event Rooms are set up for different scales of events, from a play feature for kids to a large concert; and the lawns and gardens include more passive picnic lawns, perhaps with a sculpted element. It also includes a modest centrepiece park hub building designed by Make Architects. 

The North Park, by contrast, explained Jennette Emery-Wallis, Principal, LUC, and Barbara Kaucky & Susanne Tutsch, Directors, Erect Architecture, is based on a masterplan ‘like an unfolding leaf’, with an ecological narrative. Again with another hub at its centre, the park includes play areas, birch woodlands, ‘ephemeral dens’ and hiding places for children, log areas for biodiversity, and sand and water play elements ‘letting children be water engineers’ and a rock landscape. 

Balfour Beatty has been appointed to look at maintenance issues, while the use of the waterways at the park is another piece of ongoing work. Fawcett said she hoped that the park hubs would be open the minute the public set foot in the park, with the other elements coming onstream on a rolling basis from 2013 onwards.              

Speakers at the event were:
Eleanor Fawcett, Head of Design, The Legacy Company   
Jennette Emery-Wallis, Principal, LUC   
Barbara Kaucky & Susanne Tutsch, Directors, Erect Architecture    

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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