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Aquatics Centre, Olympic Park, London, UK

Issue 68 Aug / Sep 2012 : Architecture : Stadium

LIGHTING DESIGN: Arup ARCHITECT: Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid Architects have delivered a gracefully swooping venue to accommodate the aquatic events at London 2012. Arup’s lighting team made sure it was lit to perfection.

All photos: Hufton + Crow

Sitting at the gateway to the Olympic Park, the Aquatic Centre is emblematic of the London 2012 ethos. Its world-class design uses technologies and techniques that allow the venue to serve the practical needs of the Games themselves whilst making provision for long-term, ‘legacy mode’ use.

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) designed the structure, applying their bold expressive style to create a building inspired by the fluid geometries of water in motion – a nod to both the venue’s riverside location and the activities taking place within.

An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a single unified wave that accommodates the different height requirements of the main swimming and diving pools. In games mode, two wings of temporary stands flank the building to seat 17,500 spectators. These are to be dismantled post-games with large glazed walls sealing the openings left by their absence.

The Aquatics Centre is positioned on the south-eastern edge of the Olympic Park with direct proximity to the Stratford district of London. A new pedestrian access to the Olympic Park via the east-west Stratford City Bridge passes directly over the Centre as a primary gateway to the Park.

The building itself is planned on an orthogonal axis that runs perpendicular to Stratford City Bridge, with all three pools – main, diving and training - aligned on this axis. The training pool is located under the bridge as part of the centre’s podium structure.

ZHA worked alongside Arup to complete the lighting scheme for the project. The centre’s design and the testing of ideas were a collaborative process, drawing on the input and expertise of stakeholders including the architects, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the London Development Agency (LDA) and Sport England.

Arup’s lighting team carried out the full design for all electric lighting, including legacy sports event and London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games  (LOCOG) overlay broadcasting lighting. The team also carried out daylight design for both Legacy and Games, addressing specifically the athletes’, spectators’ and broadcasters’ requirements.
The lighting scheme had to respect ZHA’s vision, creating minimal disruption to the venue’s fluid lines, whilst also presenting the interior with the drama it deserves. The significantly different requirements of the venue whilst in games time and in legacy mode meant effectively creating two lighting designs that would work within the same space.
Arup associate Giulio Antonutto headed the team trying to balance these needs. “The main challenges were to respond with a design in keeping with the architectural intent,” he explains. “It was not an easy task.

We had several design ideas at stage C: cuts in the ceiling, suspended elements, clusters, large reflectors or diffusers. We considered all the traditional means of providing light to a swimming pool but realised that the fluid form of the roof deserved something special. Something new.”

In a break with traditional pool lighting, the team approached the project as if lighting a large, high-end retail space, introducing light where needed while ensuring minimal glare. Apart from the scale, the elements were the same: ‘recessed’ light fixtures, controlled light distribution, reflections and modelling.

Fixtures in the main hall are hidden in elliptical ceiling openings, typically arranged in three separate rings. This allows the scheme to create an additional cut off and reduce reflections and glare to the bare minimum. Ceiling clutter is also drastically reduced. Special mounting brackets were devised so that these ceiling ‘bubbles’ could be used to house loudspeakers and cameras in addition to lighting. The adoption of a complex parametric model and optimisation techniques by the design team allowed the number of unique elements to be minimised and rationalised during the construction phase.

The advent of high definition broadcasting meant appropriate light levels had to be achieved while at the same time minimising light flicker.
To create the original lighting plans, traditional methods of crossing phases were used to reduce flicker effect, a solution that later computer modelling proved to be highly effective.

During the planning process it became clear that there was very little advice available on proper HDTV lighting provision.

“One of the things that we realised whilst we were working on the project is that the current literature is extremely lacking on the matter,” says Antonutto. “We are now hoping that the broadcasters and ourselves will be involved in writing new standards and guidelines, explaining to our colleagues more about this less known, but very technical, topic.”

Through the project, the team established a list of requirements for HDTV:
• A 1400 lux vertical minimum maintained, to provide the standard camera’s required frames per second and depth of field;
• Uniformity of 0.7 or more, to avoid blown whites;
• Vertical to horizontal ratios of more than 1:2, to have modelling but not harsh shadows and blown highlights;
• Keep the aiming angle closer to vertical, to reduce glare and skip glare;
• No glare, flare and skip glare, which is mostly caused by low aiming angles;
• Low flicker and if possible no flicker, using electronic ballasts, LED fixtures or an optimised phasing arrangement;
• Low vertical levels on the spectators to allow for a clear separation between action and audience (one of the existing guidelines actually confuses this requirement and suggests the opposite).

Recognising that good lighting design is more than simple compliance to technical lighting requirements, the Aquatic centre scheme also allows for an artistic interpretation of the space. Beyond a canvas of uniform light, the multitude of light directions also helps to enhance the forms and action below with good modelling and contrast, factors normally excluded by definition in briefs and guidelines.

High power discharge lamps (412 x 1kW floodlights and 123 x 400W floodlights, of which 27 of the 1kW and 20 of the 400W fixtures were temporary) were used for their efficiency and high colour rendering. There are also some small filming lights installed specifically for broadcasting, for some particular effects.

The lights are controlled in different stepped switching modes so that the levels can be greatly reduced when no filming is underway.
In legacy mode, a large portion of light will be provided by the glazed facades that will replace the extended seating stands. These will incorporate a frit pattern that has been carefully designed using a series of reflection and glare analyses.

In the lower level practice pool, where filming is not an issue, a permanent lighting solution was installed. Ceiling coffers are lined by a light diffusing fabric backlit with fluorescent luminaires to create a bespoke light box effect. This solution not only provides a ‘natural’ sky-lit ambiance to the training pool, but the fabric also serves to reduce acoustic reverberation.

After the Olympics and Paralympics, the Aquatics Centre will close as it undergoes transformation into legacy mode. It is due to re-open in Easter 2014 - minus wings - as part the park’s rebranded South Plaza.


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