‘Delivering London 2012: parklands and waterways’, the Institute of Civil Engineers report describes the rational behind the landscaping and waterways regeneration of the Olympic Park. The parklands and waterways are the natural, living heart of the Olympic Park in London.
“The Olympic Park in London, site of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, is an integrated landscape, ecological, engineered and built infrastructure project comprising parklands and venues, restored waterways and a wide range of habitats for wildlife and people. The waterways running through the heart of the park provided both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because they were largely derelict, polluted, inaccessible and prone to flooding. An opportunity because, lying at the very heart of the park, if designed and restored in the right way they would characterise the Olympic Park.
London 2012 Olympic Park, Source: LDA DESIGN
Significant enabling works were required to repair and reinstate the waterways infrastructure, particularly in the south part of the park where hard concrete river walls and flood defences were affected by years of neglect and under-investment. The master plans established that 5·5 km of waterways would be restored, designed to manage flood risk, enhance biodiversity and ecological connectivity.
The northern parklands are focused on the centrally located River Lea. They are more open and ecological in character than the southern parklands, with a more dramatic landform in keeping with the scale of the park. They provide the landscape context for venues and infrastructure, as well as direct visual and physical access to the river’s edge.
The southern parklands are much more urban in feel because they are constrained by the canal-like Old River Lea and City Mill River surrounding the Olympic Stadium ‘island’. The banks to these two rivers extend the ecological landscape of the northern parklands, configured as naturalised river valley slopes . The western bank of the Old River Lea has retained vegetation of willows and reeds.
The creation of a new lock reduced flood risk by controlling the water levels in the park, turning what had previously been tidal into a locked system and creating the opportunity to establish new habitats along the river edges. One of the key decisions in the design of the northern parklands was to culvert the Channelsea River. This allowed the slopes down to the river to be laid back, allowing greater and easier access to the river, better visibility of the river and the creation of much more diverse and larger contiguous habitats.
Boats now travel through Three Mills Lock, the first new lock to be built in London in over 20 years. The new lock at Prescott Channel, Bromley-by-Bow, opens up the Bow Back Rivers, a network of waterways in and around the Olympic Park for the first time in decades, creating a green gateway for freight barges to enter the Olympic construction zone.
The River Lea in the northern park – largely inaccessible prior to the games – now accessible to the public in legacy. As part of the cleaning up and restoration of the river, two ‘wetland bowls’ have been created planted with reeds, rushes, sedges and iris, and with channels as refuges for fish during flooding and for their spawning.
Waterworks River is the flood channel in the southern park. As part of the flood mitigation works, it has been widened by 8 m to increase flow capacity. The 8 m widened strip is planted with marginal aquatic plants to ensure the river works is an ecological corridor and to enhance its visual appeal. Ramps have been built to provide access from the river walk to river level. This will support future long-term use of the waterways by boats, anglers and others.”
Previously, Landscape Interface Studio, Kingston University worked closely with Canal and River Trust, one of 17 partners on the EU Interreg IVC project, “Waterways Forward”, which focused on European policy in relation to inland waterways. Andrew Stumpf, Head of National Programmes at Canal and River Trust, talks to Landscape Interface Studio about the Olympic site and the contribution of canals and waterways to the Olympic Park’s landscaping.
Further reading: Water unlocks low-carbon route to London Olympics