LONDON – The Olympics will not rot. Peter Tudor is sure of this. In fact, as the man in charge of turning the facilities at the Olympic Park into dust he'd better be sure. Because if he does his job right, many of the buildings you see on TV will be gone in a matter of months.
The basketball arena where the U.S. scored a record 156 points against Nigeria? Soon it will be a pile of girders and plastic seats.
The Aquatics Centre in which Michael Phelps won his 16th gold medal? Most of its stands will be ripped away.
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The 16,000 seat field hockey stadium with its brilliant blue turf? Workers will begin dismantling it right after the Paralympic Games.
"Sometimes when I walk around the grounds I look at the Aquatics Centre without all the extra seats and the basketball arena after the tournament when we will be building houses there," says Tudor, the director of venues for the London Legacy Development corporation – the organization in charge of turning Olympic Park into a genteel East London neighborhood.
The Olympics will not crumble here the way they did in places such as Athens and Beijing, cities where spectacular structures were hailed as architectural feats only to deteriorate when the Games ended and there proved no need for a gigantic Olympic stadium or an outdoor high diving board. Things like London's basketball arena, field hockey stadium, and water polo stadium were intentionally built not as great structures but as unappealing temporary facilities that will be easily ripped down, their parts to be used elsewhere.
This was the plan for London, which has spent more than 9 billion pounds to put on these games and could not afford to wind up with a park of wasted buildings surrounded by yards of security fences. So the plan was to always have a series of buildings that can be quickly destroyed.
"We don't need a 12,000-seat basketball arena," Tudor said. "We don't need an outdoor hockey arena."
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London has a master plan for the site. The plan is detailed and has strict deadlines. The plan envisions a gigantic neighborhood rising in a section of town once dominated by factories, dumps, and marshland. The plan has the basketball arena gone by next year, replaced with winding lanes, apartments, and houses with gardens in a village that will be called Chobham Manor.
The plan says the area surrounding Olympic Stadium is going to become a mixed-use area of stores and restaurants and bars and will be named Marshgate Wharf.
By 2014, the Olympic Park will look completely different.
Not everything will go. For instance, the main stadium will remain – perhaps as a home for West Ham's soccer team – but the upper deck might be torn down. The pools inside the Aquatics Centre will stay, as will the great swooping roof, yet it will seat only 2,500 as opposed to 17,500. It will serve as a public pool, and the place to hold big swimming events.
"People will want to come swim where Michael Phelps swam," Tudor said.
It is, of course, a fantastic idea – one every coming Olympics city should adopt as its own. And some have. Tours have been given to officials from the two next Olympic cities &ndahs; Sochi Russia and Rio de Janeiro – as well as several potential bidding cities that Tudor will not name.
"I must use discretion," he said.
Of course, being temporary, there are not many comforts in the venues. Toilets are outside in a series of equally temporary buildings that are only a minor upgrade from port-o-potties. Food is bought in tents on the surrounding grounds, not on concourses. But these are small inconveniences, especially for a two-week athletic tournament that might not return for decades, if ever.
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And some of the buildings might, in fact, return to the Olympics. Rumors have flown around London that the basketball arena will be shipped to Rio, where it would be reassembled for the 2016 Olympics. Representatives for the London Organizing Committee and Rio 2016 said no decision has been made.
One source said the cost of sending the basketball arena – which is surrounded by canvas tied tightly to a metal scaffolding for aesthetics – might be too much, that it could be cheaper to build a new arena or use an existing one. Currently, basketball is scheduled to be played in 2016 in one of a series of modest-sized arenas that will make up a permanent sports village.
By then the London basketball arena will be a distant memory as the first residents of a new neighborhood will be moving into their homes. Pioneers, of sorts, in the Olympics that will keep on living.
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- basketball arena
- Aquatics Centre
- Michael Phelps
- Olympic Park