The Olympic spirit is all about inclusivity, and joint planning and construction between the Olympics and Paralympics has been essential in delivering a successful outcome for both.
Inclusive design has been an integral part of the whole design process, and has been since construction on Olympic venues began.
One major benefit to coordinating the planning process has been that the London 2012 Games were designed to be the most accessible games ever, according to Mark Todd, accessibility manager at LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games).
“For the first time in the history of the Games, the same organising committee organised both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games,” he said. “All venues were designed with both Games in mind and as such are accessible to everyone. There is little transition needed between both Games which will help save on cost and on time.”
The internal layout of these venues all fit in with the principles of inclusive design, where disabled and able-bodied people could virtually always use the same access routes and methods. To accomplish this, specific accessibility designs were introduced, such as making the corridors large enough for two wheelchairs to travel side-by-side and having a Changing Places toilet – a toilet with a hoist – and no segregated seating in venues for disabled people to allow wheelchair users to sit with their friends and families.
Appropriate sight lines and viewing standards for each of the sport disciplines required within each of the venues for all modes (Olympic, Paralympic and legacy) have been emphasised to ensure appropriate levels of accessibility for all.
The aim, where possible, has been to provide gradients of 1:60 across the primary movement corridors and to ensure ease of access to all venues and facilities. The bulk of the Paralympic venues are set in two zones – Olympic Park Zone and the River Zone. The two zones are within 15 minutes of each other, minimising travel times and disruption for Paralympians.
These inclusive design principles also apply to the residential units that house athletes in the Olympic Village during the games. All homes in the Olympic Village have been built to lifetime homes standards, and 10 per cent of all housing in the Clays Lane portion will be fully wheelchair accessible post-games.
For the first time, however, a permanent new venue – the Olympic Park tennis centre at Eton Manor – has been built specifically for the Paralympic Games.
Eton Manor will host the wheelchair tennis with nine competition courts and four courts for warm-up. The capacity is 10,500 and includes a 5,000-capacity “show court.” Eton Manor previously acted as a temporary base for the Construction College East London, a training centre for people hoping to work in construction. When the college moved to its permanent base in 2009, many students stayed on to work on the Olympic project.
The major design challenge for the engineers, Arup, was to minimise adjustments between the three venue modes; temporary training pools for the Olympic Games, the Paralympic tennis venue and then a legacy tennis centre and hockey pitch.
A landscaping levelling exercise led to built-in accessibility, while the use of modular raised pools reduced cut and fill. The lightweight steel and aluminium frame and PVC structure built for the Aquatics training pools is the only enclosure of its kind to house three Olympic-sized 50 metre pools in Europe.
For future use, the 50 metre pools have been designed with coupled water treatment kits that can be divided into two 25 metre pools. The project shows sustainable design and flexibility needn’t cost more if you have transformative, efficient solutions.
The naturally-ventilated main building has been built using recycled and sustainable materials wherever possible. The indoor tennis hall is clad with western red cedar and the roof structure incorporates the longest single span glued laminate timber beams in the UK, along with polycarbonate roof lights which give dramatic unobstructed views and natural light for the indoor courts.
The tennis courts were started by firstly laying a black-top hard surface. The striking blue acrylic, which can only be laid during the summer months as it is weather dependent, was then laid over the top and took just two months to finish.
In total this year’s Paralympic Games will feature 4,200 Paralympic athletes participating in 20 sports in 21 venues. With the Games close to a sell out, it certainly seems to be living up to the ‘accessible to all’ tag.