Open house weekend: London Olympic site

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Open house weekend in London is primarily a way of opening up architecture and design classics to members of the public. I took advantage of it to see the neighbouring building site for the London 2012 olympics. The current industrial nature of the site reminded me more of open days I attended as a child at Cammell Lairds shipyard in Birkenhead, the Vauxhall car manufacturing plant in Ellesmere Port and more importantly a trip around the Shell Stanlow refinery: a catherdral of aluminium-clad pipework that fired my young imagination and inspired my first career in the oil industry.

Things have changed in the quarter of a century since I last enjoyed a leisurely industrial tour. The first thing that brought the trip into the present day was the burly security guards running bomb sniffing dogs around the coaches that took us on the tour. We didn’t step off the coach during the hour long tour for a number of reasons:

  • They wanted to get 4,000 people through the site in two days
  • It is quite spread out
  • They didn’t want to disrupt productivity onsite

I am sure it also had something to do with a more litigious society and a jobsworth health and safety culture that wraps people in cotton wool.

Aquatic centre

The scale of the site is impressive, in particular the aquatic centre by Zaha Hadid, despite the fact that the early concept models that I got to see before the tour looked more like a melted toilet seat.


One of the things that I found most interesting was the way that reclaimed (and possibly still contaminated) soil was moved around the site in mounds as space was required. This required a lot of lorries conducting an industrial version of musical chairs and partly explained why the site had a digger driver school to help train all the employees that were required.


The scale of it all reminded me of the tales that my Dad told of power station and factory sites he had worked on servicing plant as a young mechanical fitter. One thing really stood out to me though, taking the Lynch truck above as an example, there is only a telephone number on it, not a website, email address or twitter feed despite the fact that Lynch  Plant Hire have a website. This brought home to me how different the culture of the construction industry now is from my present role. My complete set of pictures from the tour are here.