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Olympic Legacy or 'Emperors New Clothes' ?

David Mackay, architect for Barcelona's Olympic Village and Port and co-author of the pre-Olympic masterplan for the Lower Lea Valley doubts the lasting benefits of London's Olympic development.

South of the Hackney Marsh in the Lea Valley Regional Park, today are the local recreation grounds, Lea Valley Sports Centre and Cycle circuit, Sports grounds and other open spaces. Until now Regional Parks were protected by law from encroaching constructions.

In consideration of this restriction the Park Authority had for sometime wished to link up with the river Thames creating sinuous green routes along the waterways forming a related cityparkway, providing an opportunity for new canal communities . The Olympic Games could have been the instrument to achieve this, just as Barcelona used it to invade brownfield industrial land to open the city to the waterfront. The idea of recovering the natural features of the Valley has … escaped the Olympic Authorities.

Unfortunately London has lost this opportunity by deciding to agree to cover the existing recreation facilities with the silliest architecture seen for years with no real concern for a legacy. Recently speaking to a person responsible for legacy within the Olympic Delivery Authority it was apparent that this person was not even aware that legacy is of primary importance.

Judging by what has been published and written by the various overlapping Government agencies and the questionable cultural quality of some of the key players, so far as legacy is concerned, we are being asked to look at the Emperor's New Clothes – so delicate that nobody can see them. Instead of enhancing the geographical and historical capacity of the Valley (as Capability Brown would have done in the English landscape tradition and remembering that the Lower Lea Valley is comparable in size to Nash's Regent Park including Regent Street all the way down to the Thames) the authors EDAW, HOK Sport, Foreign Office with Allies and Morrison have slapped down over water and land an independent decorative layout.

A committee is the wrong way to try to improve matters, Stuart Lipton and Richard Rogers at heart must know that. The “fine-tuning” published last June is exactly what would be expected – adjusting a bad beginning that has no landscape concept or understanding of heritage. If carried out, and with only five years to go, the Olympic legacy is more likely to be like a Hollywood set for a ghost town or an abandoned Expo site.

From: Olympic legacy or 'Emperor's New Clothes'?, David Mackay, Planning in London, Issue 59, October-Dec 2006, Pages 5-7, Leader/Opinions.

Download full text PDF from: 5 LEADER/OPINIONS

See also: Gilligan interview

See also: Richard Rogers