Atlantic Cities

Green from Top to Bottom, Today and Tomorrow

London’s Olympic Stadium is a shining example of sustainable design and construction.

If you tune in on Friday night to watch what director Danny Boyle has cooked up for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics (if British buzz is to be believed, it’s going to be pretty amazing) take time to appreciate the silent star of the show: the Olympic Stadium.
Only time will tell if London’s opening ceremonies can compete with the cultural extravaganza we witnessed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Could anyone really top a spectacle that kicks off with 2,008 perfectly synchronized Fou drummers wielding LED-imbedded drumsticks?

But the stadium at the heart of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, which are the first sustainable Olympics, is already beating out Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium – and every other past stadium built for the Games – in some impressive ways.

To begin with, this year’s Olympic Stadium is the lightest ever built, using just a quarter of the steel required to build the Bird’s Nest. One of the ways the stadium was constructed with so much less steel is that it sits in a bowl in the ground, for which 800,000 tons of soil was excavated, most of which was reused elsewhere in the Olympic Park. Reducing and reusing materials was a priority in the building’s green design, right up to the top ring of the stadium, which was constructed from surplus gas pipes.

The stadium has another sustainable secret. During the Games, it will seat 80,000. After the Olympics, a flexible design will allow the stadium to be reduced to seat 25,0000. The upper tier will be dismantled, leaving behind a stadium that will be used for sports, concerts and community events.

The stadium is one of nine Olympic venues, three of which are temporary and six of which are permanent. A focus on leaving behind legacy buildings that work for the community, rather than hard-to-maintain and hard-to-fill Olympic dinosaurs, is a hallmark of these sustainable Games. The London Aquatic Center will undergo a similarly dramatic transformation, from seating 17,500 during the Games to 2,500 afterwards.

Despite all the nods to reducing, reusing and eventual right sizing, the Olympic Stadium still manages to have a distinctive, pleasing presence, especially in photos where it’s framed by a foreground of wildflowers (much of the Olympic Park really is a park, designed to attract wildlife and encourage biodiversity, and the stadium itself is surrounded on three sides by waterways).

I haven’t heard any nicknames for the stadium, but perhaps in the spirit of cradle-to-cradle design, and as a nod to London 2012 being the birthplace of the first sustainable Games, we could dub it the “Cradle.” So be sure to check out what’s hatching at the Cradle on Friday night. The opening ceremony kicks off at 9 p.m. London local time and will be tape-delayed in the U.S., airing at 7:30 p.m. EDT/PDT.

Details are somewhat hush-hush, but the $42 million ceremony, entitled “Isles of Wonder,” is rumored to feature 10,000 volunteers, Sir Paul McCartney, roaming sheep, James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, Lord Voldemort and David Beckham. Not necessarily in that order. The biggest wonder may be the backdrop: a sustainably designed, shape-shifting stadium.

Amy Southerland is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. She specializes in writing about the nonprofit sector, with a focus on education, philanthropy, social justice and sustainability issues.

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