After the Games: Recycling the Olympics
By Nick D’Alto
It’s all about building . . . and unbuilding!
Throughout the Games, the Olympic complex’s dozens of buildings located at the main Olympic Park, as well as venues throughout the United Kingdom, will host nearly 20,000 athletes, as many journalists, and nearly a million fans.
But on September 9, 2012 the Olympic and Paralympic games are over. Once teams and spectators return to their respective nations, what will become of the “sports city” that provided their athletic stage?
The answer comes from a unique goal of these Olympics, called “legacy,” using the Games to provide lasting improvements in the lives of Londoners and visitors to the city. To do it, designers of the Olympic Village have combined ingenious engineering with environmental thinking, to take the concept “reduce, reuse, and recycle” to what you might call Olympic heights.
The process began with the site itself, which started out as a “brown field,” a region of east London contaminated by a century of industrial dumping. To remediate the area, huge soil-washing machines cleaned and agitated the ground, removing four million tons of waste. Old structures standing on the site were demolished. But instead of simply carting this debris away, these materials were reused, to help construct amazing new structures.
Among these is the Olympic Velodrome, which will host indoor cycling events. Its circular roof borrows the construction of a bicycle wheel to use the steel in the building more efficiently. Daylight illumination (less artificial light), natural ventilation (less air-conditioning), and even a system to catch and use rainwater are all part of this “green” theme. Even the International Broadcast Center building is topped by a “living roof,” composed of grasses and other plants. The Park’s Central Power System provides heat, electricity, and chilled water at far-reduced CO2 emissions.
Other buildings in the Olympic Park will take this theme of reuse even further. They’re actually designed to change shape—their steel and concrete will form one kind of building during the Games, and another kind after the Games are over. As you watch the Olympics this summer, keep your eyes peeled for these real-life transformers!
Transformer #1: The Olympic Stadium
In 2012 This immense pavilion is the centerpiece of the Games, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, plus all track and field events.
Its playing field is set into a bowl-shaped depression in the Earth. Twenty-five thousand seats wrap around it, allowing spectators to view the action close-up. Above this, steel and concrete support 55,000 more seats, giving the stadium Olympic-sized capacity. A ring of very tall steel “legs” surrounds the seating, and supports a roof made from fabric and cables. The building has no walls; instead, a curtain of weatherproof fabric wraps around it.
Construction is environmentally friendly—crushed gravel recycled from building the park supports the stadium, which uses less steel than conventional structures, and concrete made from recycled industrial waste.
After the Games
Where did the top go? The stadium is designed to shed its aboveground seating. This shrinks seating back to 25,000—perfect for hosting local sports such as soccer.
To make this happen, the stadium’s steel legs are first dismantled, and its fabric enclosure is unwrapped. Then portions of the roof are lowered to cover the new, smaller structure. (To see an amazing animation of this process, visit http://portfolio.populous.com/showcase/london2012games.html.) While past Olympic stadiums sometimes became unused “white elephants,” resizing this structure can help it remain a sporting Mecca.
Transformer #2: The Aquatics Center
In 2012The Aquatics Centre will host swimming and synchronized swimming events, with seating for 17,000-plus spectators in two triangular steel “wings.”
To capture the theme of water, the building boasts a 500-foot-long, wave-shaped roof, once believed too complex to build. In addition, water combined with cement and 200 million pounds of recycled crushed stone make the high-strength concrete used throughout the structure.
After the Games
The building’s wings seem to “fly” away! When the wings are removed, the Center morphs to a 3,500-seat aquatic stadium, perfect for ordinary swimming events, while still expandable for major competitions. The flexibility makes the building far more efficient to operate.
Transformer #3: Basketball Stadium
This arena will host handball, basketball, and wheelchair rugby events.
The structure stands 100 feet high and spreads longer than a football field. Its frame is made from 1,000 tons of steel bars. These are assembled into trusses (bars joined to make flat, rigid shapes), which are joined side-by-side to form a metal “skeleton.” An enormous “skin” made from a tough, synthetic fabric covers the skeleton. This stadium was the most rapidly constructed building in the Olympic complex—ready one year ahead of opening day.
After the Games
It’s the same stadium—except now it’s standing somewhere else! Amazingly, the huge building can be dismantled like a gigantic Lego toy and rebuilt somewhere else. All its parts were engineered to be packed, shipped, and put together again, anywhere in the world. The stadium’s vast interior can host all kinds of events—from sports competitions to rock concerts. Seating can be modified or removed.
Portable structures like this one might make future Olympics more affordable, allowing more nations to host the games. Will this building be rebuilt at the next Summer Games (Rio de Janeiro, 2016)? Or will it transform into another stadium, somewhere else on the globe? Keep your eyes open; you might just spot it in a new location!
The Computer from Mount Olympus
London 2012 will mark the most cyber-connected Olympics ever. It’s predicted that billions of PCs, smart phones, tablets, and other electronic devices will be used to access event schedules, race results, and other data about the Games. To meet these demands, London 2012’s state-of-the-art Technology Operations Centre will operate over ten thousand computers and one thousand network servers, staffed 24/7 by hundreds of computer professionals.
So when did computers first start tracking Olympic information? Believe it or not, about 100 B.C.! That’s the estimated date of origin for the famed Antikythera Mechanism—the oldest surviving mechanical computer. Discovered by sponge divers off southern Greece in 1901, this wood and bronze mechanism once contained dozens of exquisitely meshing cogs and gears, which turned like clockwork to predict the positions of the Sun and planets.
Apparently, it predicted the latest sporting news as well. Using an X-ray scanner, researchers recently deciphered a set of inscriptions marked on one of the machine’s dials. They correspond to names in the Olympiad cycle—the months when the original Greek games would have been held. Thus, the machine’s original owner could predict exactly when each ancient Olympics would take place, plus how each heavenly body would be aligned during that game. This discovery gives new meaning to the phrase “sports stars”!
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