Planning matters

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Brazil’s able-bodied Olympic Games are over and the Paralympics finished on September 18th. It will be another four years before we get to see Simone Biles defying gravity or Katinka Hosszú swimming faster than a sailfish. But once the athletes have left town, what happens to the Games’ buildings they leave behind?Olympic villages are relatively easy to repurpose and are often sold off or rented out as ordinary flats, although the local economy doesn’t always favour host nations in this respect. Abandoned housing from the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the largely unoccupied Winter Olympics Village in Turin, 2010.[1] The stadiums and other venues are a little more challenging. London’s 2012 Olympics have been widely praised as being exceptionally well-planned and ensuring the primary focus was on what would happen after the Games (‘the London 2012 Olympic Legacy’), not just the sporting events during the month and half of Olympic and Paralympic competitions. Stratford is undergoing a continuing, rapid transformation and regeneration. Housing and office buildings are being constructed next to the re-branded East Village (the former Athlete’s Village which is now private rented housing). The Velo Park, Aquatics Centre, Tennis and Hockey Centre and Copper Box Arena are all open to the public, hosting classes and events. The Stadium itself has been re-purposed as the new home of the West Ham Football team – although this has not been easy to achieve. In Rio, vast swathes of favela (urban slum) dwellings were cleared to make way for the Athletes’ Village and Olympic arenas which apparently, having been designed modularly, are to be turned into four schools, two public swimming pools and a public park now that the Games are over. The future of the Olympic Village is not quite so community-minded and the developer hopes it will become a new upmarket area of town.At least there are plans for the buildings though. The majority of Athens’ 2004 Olympic venues remain unused and are deteriorating with no clear plans for future use in place. Beijing’s fantastical Bird’s Nest Stadium – designed by Herzog & de Meuron as ‘an architecture that will continue to be functional following the Games in 2008’ - currently costs the taxpayer more than £8 million a year in maintenance fees and it’s not being fully utilised. It has hosted a handful of events since its construction eight years ago and tourists can currently zip round it on a Segway for £15. Athens’ abandoned Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom (left) and disused swimming pool (right).[2] It is a shame that buildings in which world records were broken and history made, or which are architectural marvels in their own right, should not have a more propitious future. Given their historical, evidential, communal and often aesthetic value, a great many Olympic venues ought, by rights, to be included on their countries’ statutory lists. In Britain, we have just one listed building which was used for an Olympic event (and we’ve hosted three)![3]Wembley Arena is a Grade II listed building, designed by Sir E Owen Williams for the 1934 Empire Games. It is built of reinforced concrete and had the largest concrete span in the world at the time. It is noted for its 15 massive concrete buttresses and gabled ends, with narrow windows which increase in height from the edges to the centre. Used for the 1948 Olympic Games, it is the only building on the statutory list to hold this accolade. Wembley Arena.[4] The Great Stadium, later known as White City Stadium, was built for the 1908 London Olympic Games and hosted a 1966 World Cup football match as well as being an important greyhound racing venue and speedway track. Hailed as the precursor to modern stadium design, and the UK’s first Olympic stadium, it was demolished in 1985 and the site was later developed for use by BBC White City. China’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, (left) designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the project architect was Stefan Marbach, in collaboration with artist Ai Weiwei;[5] and London’s 1908 White City Stadium, demolished in 1985 (right).[6] A number of the UK’s purpose-built 2012 Olympic venues are architecturally outstanding, particularly the Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid and the Velodrome by Hopkins Architects; they may well meet the criteria for listing. There are no velodromes included on the statutory list,[7] despite there being a (brief) entry about velodromes within Historic England’s Guide to Listing for Sports and Recreation Buildings. Although there are listed swimming venues, Zaha Hadid’s exceptional design must surely be worthy of consideration; listing one of her last creations would be a fitting tribute to such an outstanding modern architect. These venues are certainly under no threat of disappearing for now as they’re well-used and therefore not creating a financial burden. London’s Velo Park by Hopkins Architects,[8] and Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid.[9] Hosting the Olympics can be an incredibly expensive undertaking. London’s 1948 Olympics re-used a great many existing sporting venues to host the events, as did Los Angeles’ in 1984, the first Games to turn a profit since 1932.[10] The recycling of venues is becoming increasingly popular. LA is proposing to host the city’s third Olympiad and putting old venues to use once again in 2024,[11] and Russia is building a new stadium inside the 1980 Olympic Stadium in Moscow, to host the 2018 World Cup.[12] The stadium was built in 1956 and its refurbishment is seen as a positive re-use of a building which holds great meaning for the people of Moscow.[13] Tokyo will host the next Games and their proposals include reusing a large number of their 1964 Olympic venues, necessitating the construction of only 11 permanent new buildings. They also propose to make their Games as environmentally sustainable as possible, powering the athlete’s village with hydrogen and locating the stadiums as close to one another as possible to reduce travel emissions. Inspired by Rio, Tokyo’s Olympic Committee intends to turn some of the temporary venues into schools following the Olympic Games.[14]Olympic bids are often used as catalysts for urban regeneration with motives ranging from welfare concerns in London to purported shame at unsightly slums in Rio, but hopefully delivering social benefits in the long run. Having a long term plan for the proposed Olympic stadia is now a requirement of any Olympic bid. If well-planned, holding the Games can have an incredibly positive impact on the host cities and nations. Recycling buildings is both economically and environmentally friendly; recent Games have produced some spectacular pieces of architecture which will hopefully continue to be valued and utilised, in order to be fitting symbols of remarkable human achievements. [1] http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/other-sports/athletics/olympic-stadiums-ruins-how-former-8567479[2] http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/05/what-legacy-when-olympic-stadiums-are-left-to-crumble-6050917/[3] The German Gymnasium at Kings Cross was the first purpose built gymnasium in Britain and hosted the pre-cursor to the Olympic Games in 1866 (the first modern Olympic Games as we know them were held in Athens in 1896). NLP was involved in the Gymnasium’s sensitive conversion to a German restaurant.[4] http://www.wembleywaspparking.com/blog/wembley-arena-renamed-the-sse-arena/[5] http://holidayphoto.weebly.com/beijing-national-stadium.html[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/3542374/Olympic-spirit-too-much-for-Cornwall-rugby-team-against-Australia-in-1908-Rugby-Union.html[7] The Herne Hill Velodrome is the last remaining venue from the 1948 Olympics which is still in use for its original purpose, but it is not listed.[8] http://www.globaltravelmate.com/europe/united-kingdom/london/london-olympics/2521-london-velopark.html[9] http://www.e-architect.co.uk/london/london-aquatics-centre[10] http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/after-the-party-what-happens-when-the-olympics-leave-town-901629.html[11] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/world-olympics-rio-stadiums-games-sports/[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/sports/soccer/russia-world-cup-stadium-rises-matryoshka-style.html?_r=0[13]  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/sports/soccer/russia-world-cup-stadium-rises-matryoshka-style.html?_r=0[14] http://www.building.co.uk/tokyo-2020-the-recycled-olympics/5083662.article

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Climate Change and Cultural Heritage

Keri Dearmer 29 Jan 2016
As much as Donald Trump would like to deny it, climate change is a real problem, caused by the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere thanks to our extensive use of fossil fuels, deforestation and our intensive farming methods. These are the key factors causing the greenhouse effect which traps heat, warming the earth up and causing new weather patterns which are affecting animal and human habitats (www.wwf.org.uk). We know that this is having a detrimental effect on a myriad of animal species and even humans but what effects will our warmer, wetter planet have on our cultural heritage?I would like to be able to tell you that these effects are still a few years away and we have time to prepare, but I would be lying. You will have seen the chaos caused by storms in the UK over Christmas and the New Year: in short, climate change is already affecting our historic places.Strong winds during Storm Frank were responsible for the collapse of the north jetty of Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare. The Grade II* listed pier is the only one in Britain which leads to an island. Built in 1867, it was closed in 1994 and has been deteriorating ever since. Although it was not unexpected, its sorry state should not be taken as evidence that it was bound to collapse anyway. Hurricane force winds of 120mph battered the coastal town leaving many without power. Portion of the collapsed pier (Timmy Curtis, BBC, 2015) Heavy rain in Scotland led the wall of Category B listed Poosie Nansies pub in Mauchline, Ayrshire to collapse. Listed both for its architectural interest and its associations with Robert Burns, it took 25 firefighters to stop the rest of the building from disintegrating. The collapsed wall of the Poosie Nansies pub in Mauchline (Alister Firth, Ayrshire Post, 2015) The storms also led to extensive flooding and Category A listed Abergeldie Castle in Aberdeenshire (next door to the Queen’s Balmoral Estate) nearly fell into the River Dee. Severely elevated water levels eroded the river bank, undercutting the foundations and forcing the Baron of Abergeldie (whose family have owned the estate since 1482) to evacuate. Built around 1550, the distinctive Scottish tower house retains many of its original features but where the river bank was once 60ft distant from the building, it is now just 5ft. Work to shore up the bank is ongoing. Severely eroded river bank threatens the stability of Abergeldie Castle (Press and Journal, 2016). Coastal erosion is also a significant heritage issue. Not a new one, but an issue that is certainly getting worse. Grade II listed Cavell Tower on the Dorset coast was saved from falling into the sea in 2006. Although this has had a substantial effect on the building’s setting, it was considered to be the only way to save the building from certain collapse. The tower was built in 1830 and had to be moved back from the cliff edge by 25 metres to stop it from toppling over the edge. Restored Clavell Tower at a safer distance from the Cliff edge (Landmark Trust, 2016). The National Trust has warned that this could be the fate of many more of our coastal landmarks, thanks to rising sea levels and the erosion of the coast. St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, Formby’s dunes near Liverpool and the entire fishing village of Porthdinllaen in north west Wales are just a handful of the 70 sites that the Trust have identified as being under threat. Of course these problems aren’t confined to the British Isles. Medieval Mårup Church on the Jutland coast of Denmark is on the brink of falling into the sea and was partially dismantled in 2008 to save it from complete destruction. In 1793, the church was 500 metres away from the coast, today it is just nine. Coastal measurements suggest that the rate of erosion is rapidly increasing and many coastal sites in Arctic regions have already been lost, such as the Østterikeren research station on the island of Jan Mayen, built in 1882. Mårup Church’s alarming proximity to the cliff edge (www.gronhoj.dayzresorts.no). Global warming is also responsible for mudslides in Guatemala that destroyed the ruins of World Heritage Site Quirigura. If that seems too far away to be relevant, Westminster Palace, the Tower of London and Kew Gardens may all have disappeared by 2080 because sea level rise in the Thames Estuary will cause larger, higher tides.Historic buildings in general will suffer from increased ground level moisture because they are more porous than modern buildings (whc.unesco.org).Migrating pests could cause new problems for timber structures; flooding causes moisture and evaporation issues such as mould growth and an increase in stormy weather will cause structural damage (whc.unesco.org).I’m not suggesting that one pub is more important than hundreds of people made homeless by devastating weather conditions, or that a pretty Danish church should take precedence over an entire inhabited village falling into the sea. I just want to point out that climate change has an effect on many different aspects of our lives and it doesn’t just mean sunnier summers and warmer, windier winters, it means losing entire species, massive tracts of land and a fair few nice old buildings too.  

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