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Ian Crockford, Olympic Delivery Authority, London, England

Ian Crockford, Olympic Delivery Authority, London, England



We had to get our minds around the fact that two-thirds of the stadium is being designed as temporary.

—Tony Aikenhead, Team Stadium

About six years ago, the home of London, England's future Olympic Stadium was a mountain of discarded appliances.

“If you wanted to dispose of your fridge, it probably ended up on this site,” says Ian Crockford, project manager for the 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), from inside his trailer at the project site.

Riddled with waste, shanties and petrol-tainted soil, it was “an unloved area of London,” he says.

Encompassing an estimated 80,000 seats, the Olympic Stadium is poised to help change that—transforming a once-corroded area of East London into a bustling tourist and waterway thoroughfare.

“There are a lot of riverways around there, but they've been inaccessible and quite dangerous places—you wouldn't want to be walking around them at night,” Mr. Crockford says. “The development will certainly change that.”


Beginning in 2006, the early stages of planning centered on building the team of governmental players and stakeholders that would form the backbone of the ODA. Mr. Crockford and a work force of more than 1,000 would have to act quickly if they wanted to execute the first-of-its-kind project in time for a mid-2011 delivery date—and in accordance with their stakeholders' standards.

As a scheduling gauge, the team looked to the recent construction of London's 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium, “which took roughly 10 years, start to finish,” Mr. Crockford says. “We knew we were really up against it, and the clock was ticking.”

There was also the delicate matter of all the politicians and athletes who wanted a voice in the design.

“The process is more complex than in the private sector because there are many more stakeholders than what you normally get,” he explains. “You have the London Development Agency as the land owner, and the utilities companies, the local councils and the different parties of various focused governmental groups. Altogether you have to keep everyone informed, and you have to explain to people at all times how you are approaching the project and keeping everyone's interests in mind.”


One of the first tasks at hand was cultivating an understanding of the site itself.

“You are working with topography where you have to determine what the final level will be across the board,” Mr. Crockford says. “How many millions of cubic meters of earth do you move to make this work?”

By December 2007, the work zone was leveled and the “enabling works team” began soil remediation. Crews used large machines to clean, sieve and shake out contaminations such as petrol, oil, lead, tar and arsenic left from previous industrial work in the area. There was also an onsite “Soil Hospital,” where as many as 60 scientists and technicians analyzed up to 80 soil samples each day, with thousands more tested off-premise.


“Some of the soil needed heavy treatment onsite before it could be reused,” Mr. Crockford explains. “We actually cleaned up about 97 percent of the soil onsite, so there was only a small quantity that had to be removed and disposed of because it couldn't be cleaned.”

In the end, more than 800,000 tonnes of soil were cleared, cleaned and redistributed to make way for the stadium's construction platform.

While the Soil Hospital helped cure contamination, ODA environmental manager Richard Jenkins oversaw the dredging of a 2.2-kilometer (1.4-mile) stretch of river with direct access to the construction zone. Once the team removed 30,000 tonnes of silt and gravel—along with at least one car—barges could help get the job done.

“This is a crucial part of our logistics strategy, as we plan to use the waterways for the transport of construction materials into the Olympic Park, cutting down on the amount of lorries traveling on the roads,” Mr. Jenkins says.

The move also meant the riverways were in commercial use for the first time in about 35 years.


Along with the clean-up job, the team had to figure out how to squeeze the stadium into the 2.5-square-kilometer (1-square-mile) site.

The design and construction consortium, known as Team Stadium, got to work. Engineering giant Buro Happold, architectural firm Populous and independent contractor Sir Robert McAlpine came in with experience from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia—but this was going to be a whole new game. The presence of several rivers surrounding the London site created an island of land that limited the stadium build-out.

40 acres (16.2 hectares)
The size of the Olympic Stadium island site

10,000 tonnes
The amount of steel contained in the stadium

800,000+ tonnes
The amount of soil removed from the site

33 The number of buildings demolished onsite

1,000+ The project work force

“We actually got the historic plans from Sydney's stadium, which also sat 80,000, and put them directly on top of our site,” Mr. Crockford says. “When we did that, we found that the stadium stretched halfway across the rivers.”

Constructing bridges to connect parts of the structure across the riverways would prove too costly. Instead, the team decided to construct vertically—digging a “sunken bowl” into the ground to house the main field of play and intimate seating for spectators.

The 25,000-seat arena would serve as a permanent legacy once the Olympics ended. On top of that, another 55,000 temporary seats would be added, with merchandising, food vendors and attractions housed around the perimeter.

It was an unprecedented shift that didn't come without some trepidation.

“We had to get our minds around the fact that two-thirds of the stadium is being designed as temporary,” explains Tony Aikenhead, project director from Team Stadium. “The process had to be talked out, and eventually the designers started to embrace it and find it exciting to do something different than what had previously been done.”



Construction kicked off in May 2008, with Team Stadium crews pouring the concrete foundation. Meanwhile, Mr. Crockford kept in close contact with the stakeholders, making sure the field of play and spectator seating would gel.

“We knew the running track and jump pits were going to be in the center of the stadium,” he says. By working with stakeholders, including athletes, the team was able to design “the most compact field of play acceptable to everybody.”

The team still had to figure out the separation of spaces necessary for the various user groups, though.

“How can people go about their stadium operations—like cleaning waste or restocking food booths—without conflicting with the athletes, officials and spectators?” Mr. Crockford asks. “For a normal sitting at a stadium of this size, you would probably get about 20 tonnes of waste.”

Input from stadium operations managers led to a route that allows for small vehicles to dispose of waste out of the public eye.

Despite all the preparation, some matters had to be tackled on the fly. One such issue was the roof. It was originally slated to cover two-thirds of the seating with the support of steel beams fixed to the outside of the stadium shell, but team members discovered the design led to turbulence on the playing field. So, late in the process, they came up with a lighter, more flexible cable-net roof.

The change aligned with the team's goals of using recycled materials, too. About 34 percent of the stadium's construction is made from recycled steel and concrete, and the roof itself includes 52 tonnes of scrap metal from old keys, knives and guns confiscated by London's Metropolitan Police. In total, the stadium contains about one-quarter the amount of steel used in its counterpart at the 2008 Beijing games.


With construction slated to wrap up by mid-2011, the project is on track for a timely completion at an estimated price of £537 million, Mr. Crockford says. So far, setbacks have been limited, thanks in part to careful planning.

“I made sure the stakeholders were happy, the initial plans were correct, and the team really understood the challenge ahead and all of the key aims for the stadium,” he says. “We had a good model of keeping everyone informed and gave the contractor and design team free range to do what they do best.”

Building Olympic venues always involves a fine balancing act. Project teams create massive structures that must accommodate sporting events lasting mere weeks as well as the long-term needs of a community.

London's Olympic Stadium looks to be a game-changer, but it will be up to stakeholders to determine the team's final score in 2012. PM

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