Greening the Games: Architecture of the 2012 London Olympics

Posted on by Lauren M

Hosting the Olympics very well may be one of the greatest drivers of new construction for a city, as evidenced by the landmark buildings designed for the 2008 Beijing games, including the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. Similarly, Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Center is likely the most visually exuberant and eye-catching structure at this year’s Games; with an expansive curving and structurally complex roof, the venue serves as the point of entry for the majority of visitors.


However, the majority of the architecture of the 2012 Olympics is of a somewhat different nature, with an underlying sense of pragmatism, reflective of the current economy and state of global consciousness. Innovation, flexibility and sustainability are core concepts for the actual events, as well as the structures in which they are held. More details on the comprehensive approach to greening the 2012 games can be found at the 2012 Learning Legacy site.


Temporary pavilions and structures, pedestrian-oriented site design, and upgrades to the existing infrastructure and transportation systems are just a few means by which the Olympic Delivery Authority has met the heightened environmental standards for both short and long-term development.

We’re taking a look at a few of the permanent architectural highlights below; for a complete overview of the Olympic Park development, visit the London 2012 official website.

  • Velodrome: One of the permanent new buildings at the site designed by Hopkins Architects, the Velodrome, where cycling and track competitions take place, was designed and built with a focus on sustainability, with a steel cable construction system that greatly reduces the quantity of material needed for the construction of the 6,000 spectator arena. The building employs natural ventilation, eliminating the need for air conditioning while reducing water usage by 70% from rainwater harvesting.
  • Olympic Stadium: The venue for the opening and closing ceremonies, among other events, designed by firm Populous, has been a widely-discussed and controversial building, in terms of aesthetics and its role as an icon and symbol of the Games and the city. Still, it’s worth noting that the facility, which accommodates 80,000 spectators at full capacity, is the first to be designed for deconstruction, with a temporary upper level that seats 50,000, leaving a permanent and flexible space for athletics beyond this summer’s event.
  • Copper Box: The site of the handball and pentathlon competitions, this simple building is highly adaptable and designed to be a multi-use sports venue after the Olympics. The simplicity of form and material gives the structure an elegance and sense of place that embodies the theme of legacy with a timeless and forward-thinking flexible design. Make Architects incorporated sustainable strategies, such as rainwater harvesting, natural light and recycled materials into the project to allow for up to 40% reduction in water and energy usage. The exterior copper cladding, from which the building derives its name, consists of 3,000 square meters of sustainably-sourced, material, with over 80 light tubes providing natural light at the roof.

A forward-thinking, comprehensive approach, employing concepts of adaptive reuse, accessibility,  and urban design contribute to what should be the most sustainable Olympics to date, and the new buildings reflect this commitment to social and environmental responsibility. In fact, an entire website is dedicated to sharing the ‘learning legacy’ of this year’s games, where you can read about the process, programs and specific measures incorporated to achieve the event’s goal of ‘creating sustainable social, economic and sporting legacies at home in the UK and around the world’. (

So... let the (green) games begin!