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LONDON 2012 Cultural Olympiad – INFRASTRUCTURE

LONDON 2012_the CULTURAL OLYMPIAD Proposal for a ‘Media & Technology Vision’ by ATOPIA : design <>communications<>urbanism

ONE Planet TWO weeks THREE time Horizons: until, during & beyond 2012 FOUR billion people +/FIVE interdependent areas of design :



LONDON 2012 Cultural Olympiad – INFRASTRUCTURE

Fig 01: a GREEN HAND_ for a MEDIA & TECHNOLOGY VISION ‘For the Olympic Park, duct infrastructure will be built at the same time as any new carriageways or footpaths are constructed. These new ducts will then be connected into the significant major duct infrastructure routes that already exist adjacent to the Olympic Park. The driver for this investment will be the overall regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley which offers a long-term legacy market after the initial high burst of activity during the preparation for the Games, and the period of the Games themselves. There will therefore be a high capacity fixed infrastructure in place to support the continuing regeneration and development of the area after the Games.’ from : LONDON 2012 – the BID (section 15.6)

The interdependence of Ecology and Technology has always guided the planning and operation of the Olympic Games, Ancient and Modern; with respect to the sites selected, materials and tools used, the records made and broken, the time logged. The Olympics have an explicit purpose with respect to long term cultural development in which the two weeks of the Games have a catalytic role, and where technological and ecological issues are preeminent. Recently the challenges posed by an increasing awareness of the effects of global climate change compel the organizers of the Games to become unequivocally ‘Green’ in all their affairs – a ‘Green Olympics’ or as the LONDON 2012 organizers with the WWF and BioRegional express it a ‘One Planet Olympics’ is the goal. The maintenance of ecological and cultural diversity is an obligation. The legacy of the Games must be an infrastructure that can support local and regional development, the formation of new markets and evolving social aspirations. Plans for the 2012 Games include the development of a ‘Green Grid’ across East London – an elaborate network of open spaces, an inclusive public realm dedicated to community development, education, health and recreation. Green fingers will be a prerequisite. The Olympics is a spectacle with a global audience; since the Mexico City Olympics (1968), and, in a remarkable way, the Los Angeles Olympics (1984), the design of the Games has been governed by the protocols of broadcast Television – first, black and white, then colour, now High Definition, Digital and Interactive. It is arguable that the Atlanta Olympics (1996) condemned by the international architecture and design community as a disastrous successor to the exceptional Barcelona Olympics (1992), was actually a significant precursor to a more accurately contemporary, commercially driven and media friendly approach to managing the Games and its legacy. Dissemination is a big business and a major source of revenue – Broadcast Television rights for the Athens Olympics (2004) produced 1,476,911,634.00 USD. 300 channels provided 35,000 hours of coverage in 17 days to a global audience of 3.9 billion in 220 countries or territories. Recently expressed criticism in the British architectural press that LONDON 2012 will be remembered as the ‘tarmac and plasterboard’ Olympics may be an indicator that some design professionals are failing to understand the real opportunity that this represents. An environmental approach that is ecologically motivated and manifestly concerned with Design, looking good and working well may not require much, if any, big A architecture. However, it will demand an approach to design that derives its agency, cultural purpose and effectiveness from a high level organizational architecture that binds Technology and Ecology together more intensively than ever before. And, it will depend upon an extreme sensitivity to new temporalities and new spaces of reception that continue to evolve – www2, Google, MySpace, YouTube, Wikis and more. There is a common misconception that these are virtual spaces and have little or no impact on the concrete realities of the City. It is often argued that despite the very real impact that miles of trenches, ducts, chases, trunking, conduit and cable have on the structure of any City, and despite the equally real transformation of working habits and social organization, the design of ‘places’ is not affected by technological development. A case is often made that, because ‘change’ is continuous and new ‘products’ become available every day, design solutions tailored to a specific technological milieu will become instantly outdated – that innovation is quick and building is slow. This sounds right but fails to recognize the relationship between the resilience of ‘infrastructure’ and the flexibility of ‘devices’ and their arrangement. It also fails to take account of


LONDON 2012 Cultural Olympiad – INFRASTRUCTURE

the indisputable transformation of time that communication technologies have achieved – a new sense of time shared by people across the world. As their experience of time changes, so does their understanding of distance and ultimately place. "Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” Olympic Charter, Fundamental principles, paragraph 2

Fig 02: National Venues

One of the most important areas for design innovation is the tangible interdependence of real places and virtual places. It is no accident that LOCOG insist that Technology and New Media are central to their ‘vision’ for 2012 and that Major Technology Partners have been identified this year. Alex Balfour, Head of New Media at LOCOG in a posting on the LONDON 2012 weblog (22nd December 2006, 15:52) reported from a meeting with the IOC in Lausanne: ‘On the agenda were digital rights. The fast-changing media landscape is very challenging for both us and the IOC. Our games are five years away, which may seem a short time to the team at the ODA building the Olympic Park, but in digital media terms it’s an eon. But I was really heartened to find that our colleagues at the IOC are as excited about the opportunities digital media offers as we are. I am now very confident that we will be working very hard together to embrace change rather than run away from it.’


LONDON 2012 Cultural Olympiad – INFRASTRUCTURE

This brief account indicates the importance of articulating a ‘Media & Technology Vision’ for LONDON 2012 that is not simply about digital media, that embraces change to define a public realm that is both physical and virtual, is concerned with intelligent and contemporary ‘placemaking’, is ecologically motivated and includes a clear cultural development policy, until, during and after the Games. “… nearly half a million mobile phone calls were made from within the Olympic Park on the first day of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and roughly a quarter of these were made during the Opening Ceremony alone.” / 2005

Fig 03: London CLUSTER

Initially this ‘Vision’ should focus on the Olympic Park physical master-plan – specifically the category of Infrastructure & Utilities, ultimately broadening the scope, working towards the definition of a ‘virtual master-plan’ for the London Cluster of Venues, and its temporary ‘overlay’ architecture. To be most effective the ability to cut across some of the real or imagined boundaries between development agencies, project sites and constituencies is necessary – understanding the bond between the Olympic Park, Stratford City, CTRL, the Lower Lea Valley, and the ‘Green Grid’ projects is crucial, as is an active engagement with the CULTURAL OLYMPIAD stakeholders: community groups, The Mayor of London, UEL, arts organizations and the design professions. DT / ATOPIA 12/2006 rev 01


London 2012 cultural olympiad final us  

ATOPIA white paper produced for LOCOG in 2006 to establish a framework and approach for a 21st century Olympics.

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