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London's new Olympic smart resource

Image for London's new Olympic smart resourceAdrienne Robins from Quantum PR looks at the latest Olympic legacy and its resource efficiency

Earlier this month I took a tour of iCITY in Stratford, east London – and I’ve got to say, I was impressed. For three glorious weeks in the summer of 2012 these buildings were home to 28,000 members of the world’s broadcast media. They were the hub of Olympic news beamed across the globe from pop-up studios located in a vast aircraft hanger of a building, just a stone’s throw from the Olympic stadium. And then the broadcasters left and the buildings fell silent.

As with the entire Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park site, these buildings, like so many Olympic buildings before them, have the potential to become exorbitant white elephants. Ahead of the Games, many quietly believed that was inevitable. But the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and their wider team have worked hard to ensure that the Park and its infrastructure have a new purpose. And now their vision and determination is starting to bear fruit.

If you’re not a Londoner and/or the Olympics somehow passed you by, you can be forgiven for being bored by or cynical about the whole legacy thing. But take a trip to the site and listen to the plans that are starting to deliver change to an area which desperately needs a regenerative boost, and I challenge you to remain unmoved. The approach taken to iCITY and the wider Olympic Park is important to the resource and sustainability sectors on a variety of levels, from basic building and resource re-use, through to London Mayor Boris Johnson’s bigger strategic vision for a Smart London Plan to be delivered in part from the data centres housed at iCITY which aim to help London progress its smart city status further.

From NBC to BT 

The plans for the Olympic Park’s Press and Broadcast Centres began long before the games got underway. Just a couple of months after the media shipped out, BT Sport announced plans to house three TV studios, a control centre, 20 edit suites and a 160-person audience holding area within the building.

The BT team had looked the length and breadth of the country for a suitable location with great digital connectivity and excellent transport links, and while others fulfilled some of the brief, none were quite so appealing or quite so readily available as the space at iCITY. Almost as importantly, none of the others had been built to facilitate transformation in the way that iCITY could. 

Such was the building’s versatility (and height) that BT built a building within a building, fitting out a state of the art studio like no other in just 18 weeks. The short fit out time (apparently it normally takes 4 – 5 years to get astudio up and running) means that BT Sport is completely state of the art in its truest sense.

It also required the specification team to re-think some of the products used, like the glass under-lit floor in one of the studio areas which, at the flick of switch, turns the space from a life size football pitch into a tennis court and then back to a rugby pitch (as pictured on the previous page).

The floor was considerably cheaper than traditional options and most likely had quicker delivery times. It also allows for far greater creativity, proving that a concentrated and creative mind can sometimes reveal different, better and perhaps more sustainable resource decisions.

BT Sport occupies around a quarter of the space within the largest of iCITY’s three buildings. Further space is being taken by Infinity SDC, who will create Europe’s largest data centre, Loughborough University, which will open a 65,000 sq ft postgraduate campus, Hackney Community College and Tech City Apprentice Academy. In terms of employee and academic resource, the Park will have both in abundance.  An adjacent building (originally constructed as an area in which to brief the world’s media in the event of a crisis situation during the Olympics) is being turned into a 750 auditorium and event space. The final building will provide office spaces, cafes, bars, food areas and also one of Europe’s largest innovation centres, designed to incubate fledgling businesses beyond their first year of operation.

For the circular and sustainable economy, the interest lies not only in the re-use of infrastructure, the recycling of resources and the availability of human resource, but in the focus on innovation and inter-disciplinary approaches. By co-locating academic hubs, an innovation centre, and start-up and fledgling businesses with world-leading creative and digital industries there will be an emphasis on knowledge sharing, idea progression – ensuring that the UK’s renowned ideas economy is translated into practical innovation. With community spaces, innovation showrooms and tenant ‘front garden areas’ the aim is to move away from companies working in silos to ensure that the UK starts to deliver on the ideas developed within the academic sector.

Plans for a Smart London

iCITY also plays an important role in Boris Johnson’s Smart London Plan. His vision is to use the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as a testing ground for new digital technology to be used within transport systems, energy services and also encompassing services such as waste and resource management.

The Plan, which is currently out for consultation, is extensive but lacking in practical detail. Driven by the rapid growth expected within the Capital, the Plan states that by 2031 there will be more than a million more Londoners, working in 750,000 new jobs in London.

London will reach 9 million people before New York – a staggering fact that requires some serious consideration about how key services can be adapted to cope and be sustainable. Not least of these challenges will be waste and pollution. Boris Johnson’s Smart London Plan aims to ‘future-proof’ the city by combining innovation, sustainability and big data.

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of rhetoric at this stage of the plan. For example there’s a vision to promote the use of smart grid technologies, such as through Low Carbon London which considerers how increased demand for electricity can be met by better understanding the data behind spare capacity and turning down consumption at times of high use. A similar approach will be used for smart water metering to better manage consumption and leakage.

Adrienne Robins Quantum PRData will also underpin new markets for London’s waste (we might prefer to see it referred to as resource, but that’s a point we’ll have to work on). Here the plan says that it will “stimulate the use of data and technology to inform the development of new markets for London’s waste to bring efficiencies and scale to the segregation and use of waste as a resource”.

I think we need clarity on what this means – and perhaps look to engage in the Smart London Innovation Network which the plan says will “help clarify and shape market opportunities arising from London’s emergence as a smart city”.

One way of getting involved is through the Future Cities Catapult, a new centre for urban innovation. The Catapult has a focus on the challenge of urban integration: that is how cities can take a more joined-up approach to the way they plan and operate – which is surely at the heart of the resource efficient economy.

An Olympic task

Since the end of the Paralympic Games 18 months ago, the 560 acre Park has been brought back to life. Here’s what’s happened so far and what’s planned for this year.

In 2013 more than 700,000 people visited or used the park including:

  • 12,000 who ran the National Lottery Anniversary Run
  • 16,000 cyclists  took part in the first Prudential Ride London
  • 49,000 people attended the Open East Festival
  • 355,000 people attended seven major music events
  • 180,000 people watched or took part in the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games
  • 18,000 celebrated the first National Paralympic Day.

The north of the Park has been reopened including riverside walks, a playground, a community centre and café; the Copper Box Arena has reopened as a gym and London’s third largest arena, home to three national teams; the first residents of East Village, the former Athletes’ Village during the Games, moved in; and a brand new school, Chobham Academy, and the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health Centre, were also opened.

In spring 2014 the rest of the Park will re-open including beautifully planted gardens, interactive fountains, play areas with giant swings and climbing walls, theatrical spaces and miles of newly accessible waterways. London’s newest Olympic sized pool at the Aquatics Centre will open and four different disciplines of cycling will be on offer at Lee Valley VeloPark.

Later in 2014 homes in the first of the five new neighbourhoods to be built on the Park, Chobham Manor, will go on sale while work will begin on the next two neighbourhoods, East Wick and Sweetwater, as well as on the refurbishment of iCITY. In addition plans will progress for a new cultural centre including the Victoria and Albert Museum and University College London.

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