July 19, 2012

Forget about "The Cube" and "The Bird's Nest" for now and instead get used to hearing about the "Copper Box," "The Stingray" and "The Pringle."

Twenty brand-new venues await the 2012 Summer Olympic athletes. They range in size and permanence -- from the unending Olympic Stadium to a temporary mountain biking course -- helping set the mood and look of London's Games.

While the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium certainly holds the most prominent location within the newly created Olympic Park in east London, a new aquatics center, handball court, velodrome, basketball stadium and even a beach volleyball location has people excited about the fresh look of London athletics. Old favorites such as Wimbledon, Old Trafford and Wembley Stadium will certainly take their place within the Games too, but here's a look at the newcomers for the London Olympics.

Make no mistake, Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of the new 600-acre Olympic Park will get plenty of face time during the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field events, but the understated design focuses on practicality, not Beijing-esque glitz (other, smaller facilities will accomplish that feat).

Designed by American stadium architecture firm Populous, with British architect Peter Cook, the flexible design allows the stadium to scale back to 25,000 seats after the Games. Billed as super-sustainable, the facility uses 10,000 tons of steel, making it the lightest steel stadium of its size. The entire design boasts stark aesthetics (a black-and-white theme plays in both the steel and the seating), while limiting the need for excess materials, a nod to sustainability. Even the structure's main architectural attraction, the diagonal white tubular steel pieces ringing the roof, was created using surplus gas pipes.

The main effort to design a state-of-the-art performance venue comes with the special attention taken to wind. Rod Sheard, senior principal at Populous, says that keeping tail winds (which can negate world records) and difficult to manage headwinds and crosswinds out of the competition required wind-tunnel testing of the roof fabric and design.

Sited on 40 acres and with water on three sides, expect the subdued steel structure to still strike some awe in visitors. The compact seating bowl brings spectators closer to the action and the 532 lights, including 14 "sports-lights towers," aim to give television viewers exceptional views of the action. Within the stadium, spectators can expect 56 different colors of glass designs within the core of the structure, 50,000 square feet of space dedicated to toilets, 360 rolls of turf and nearly five acres of field of play.

It's not everyday you get to walk on a stingray. But the new aquatics center, nicknamed The Stingray, designed by famed London architect Zaha Hadid offers that chance. The venue, which features a bridge running across the wave-inspired roof of the structure, will welcome more than two thirds of all spectators to the Olympic Park.

"It looks incredible," says U.S. Olympic gold medalist swimmer Ricky Berens. "After Beijing, I was wondering if London would try and out-do the incredible venues and London produced something very unique. It has an amazing look to it."

Christine Magnuson, 2008 Olympic two-time silver medalist for the U.S., says her first reaction to the building was, "Wow, this is really a work of art." The level of excitement for the swimmers and the fans should translate into a loud, energized swim environment, she says.

Inside, a training pool lies under the bridge, while the competition and diving pools fall within a large pool hall. Together, the three pools hold 2.6 million gallons of water. Zaha Hadid Architects says the strategy was to frame the main pool hall by surrounding it with the bridge. The roof is 524 feet long and 295 feet wide.

U.S. Olympians have a rising anticipation about the venue. "There will be a lot of energy in the building once the Games start," says two-time gold medalist Mark Gangloff of the stingray, which can seat 17,500.

It isn't just a clever name. The Copper Box venue, designed for handball and fencing during the modern pentathlon, showcases more than 32,000 square feet of mostly recycled external copper cladding, giving this venue one of the most striking appearances of the London bunch.

A glazed concourse level will allow Olympic Park visitors to peer inside the venue and help it appear to glow at night. The multicolored interior will help provide some visual pop, too. For visitors, Make Architects added in 88 light pipes to bring natural light inside the box.

During the Olympics, there will be a 48-hour period when the venue will change over from handball to fencing, requiring the removal of the handball field of play and the installation of fencing equipment. Up to 7,000 spectators will fit in the arena during the Olympics, and the venue will stick around after the Games to turn into a multisport community venue. The box design gives it maximum flexibility.

It isn't hard to figure out where the velodrome got its nickname, The Pringle. With an exterior resembling the popular chip, the Hopkins Architects' design is being lauded as the most sustainable venue in Olympic Park.

The double-curved roof design -- which utilizes reclaimed wood -- mimics the track and incorporates entirely natural ventilation that eliminates the need for air conditioning while creating optimum track-level temperatures. The low-slung roof design also eliminates the need to overheat the naturally lit building and aims to create an intimate atmosphere for the 3,500 spectators circling the track. Another 2,500 seats sit within the curves of the venue's roof. A glass wall gives spectators a 360-degree view across Olympic Park.

During an Olympic test event, the place received positive reviews from riders.

"The place was alive in there, it was pretty special," says Great Britain team rider Ed Clancy. "We've never experienced an atmosphere like that and I am sure the low roof helps."

After the Games, a new mountain bike course and road-cycle circuit will be added to the site to help turn it into a cycling hub.

While the venue doesn't serve as a striking architectural display, the backdrop to the beach volleyball event certainly adds plenty of intrigue. Located at Horse Guards Parade, across St. James's Park from Buckingham Palace and near Downing Street, the "beach" features a skyline of historic buildings.

U.S. Olympic volleyball player Jen Kessy says she didn't understand the significance of the site where soldiers cared for their horses while providing protection for the monarch until she played in a test event there.

"If it's possible, I believe it will make the Games for the beach volleyball athletes even more special and meaningful," she says.

Having already played at Horse Guards Palace, Kessy says it ranks as one of the top two volleyball locations in the world (playing in the shadow of Paris' Eiffel Tower was the other), and she says that the venue's "soul" makes it more special.

The beach volleyball event will be the only one located in the heart of London, which means the athletes will stay in a hotel and not at the Olympic Village.

"I was bummed to hear that we wouldn't have the village experience, but the beach volleyball venue definitely makes up for it," Kessy says.

If you didn't think steel and PVC could look interesting, check out the temporary basketball arena, one of the largest temporary structures ever built for the Olympics. Designed by Sinclair Knight Merz, the 215,000-square-foot recyclable white PVC membrane wraps a 1,000-ton steel frame. The white patterned PVC tent provides some visual intrigue and will serve as a backdrop to artistic lighting displays during the Olympics.

Inside, 12,000 spectators can watch the Olympic basketball tournament and the handball finals. The site, located near the Olympic Stadium, will also serve as the staging area for athletes during the Opening and Closing ceremonies. After the Games, the arena will get dismantled and pieces will be reused.

Located close to the Aquatics Centre within one of the most compact areas of Olympic Park in the southeast corner near the Olympic Stadium, the temporary Water Polo Arena has just enough room for 5,000 seats around the competition pool and a second warm-up pool. Ancillary operations for the arena will actually take place at the Aquatics Centre.

The rising white roof gives the arena a bit of personality amid so many larger venues. After the Games, the structure will be torn down and pieces will be reused elsewhere.

Located in the northern section of Olympic Park, the new 1,300-foot BMX Track will host two BMX events during the Games. The vivid velodrome sits behind the open-air BMX stadium. After the Games, the track will be reconfigured to form a community mountain bike track and road-cycle circuit.

The new temporary Riverbank Arena will host field hockey during the Games. The "London Blue" color of the playing field is meant to contrast with the yellow ball of the game, all while the Olympics' bright pink color will highlight the ring of the pitch. This will be the first time Olympic hockey has been played on a different color pitch than green. All hail Boise State.

Organizers again utilized the area's extensive heritage, building a new equestrian park -- hosting 19 events -- on the south bank of the River Thames in southeast London, which affords views of central London and the Docklands. The design of the three-sided venue captures those views for spectators. The temporary stadium is sited in London's oldest Royal Park, dating back to 1433. The Royal Observatory and the home of Greenwich Mean Time also rest within the park.

A grandstand will afford spectators the chance to watch marathon swimming and the triathlon finish within Hyde Park, easy walking distance from London's famed West End. The venue will provide temporary seating and course markers. The park will also host music, theater, film and cultural events.

In Essex, the temporary mountain bike course sits within a 550-acre site featuring grassland and woodland. The nearby ruins of the 700-year-old Hadleigh Castle adds some visual intrigue to the location, chosen largely because the varying gradients add in technical difficulties for the competitors. Spectators can view the action along paths winding through the site.

Expect plenty of shooting and archery at the new, temporary site of 36 Olympic events on the edge of Woolwich Common in southeast London, nearby to Greenwich Park. The current Royal Artillery Barracks were built in 1776 and the Games will add in four temporary indoor ranges for pistol and rifle shooting and outdoor shotgun ranges for trap and skeet events. Temporary grandstands will give spectators a chance to scout it all out.

The 1,000-acre River Lee Country Park near Hertfordshire (about 18 miles north of Olympic Park) will feature a nearly 1,000-foot competition canoe slalom course and a 500-foot training course fed by a 2.5-acre lake. The new courses get their white water from pumps and obstacles placed within the venue. While the seats will get removed after the Games, the canoeing and kayaking courses will remain as a park attraction and future competition venue.

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