Olympian canvas

London 2012 has so far emerged unscathed by Government cuts, with design briefs still being put out to tender and the concepts that have already made it past the commissioning stage approaching realisation. Tom Banks reports

With the Olympics now less than two years away projects are still being put out to tender – the latest is a Design Council-backed London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games search for an Olympic torch designer.

Initiated today, the torch tender comes as the Olympic Delivery Authority’s head of arts and cultural strategy Sarah Weir says that new tenders for the Olympic Park are still being put out, and confirms that ODA-commissioned tenders remain unaffected by wider cuts and are on track to be delivered.

The torch brief will require a design which can be worked up into 8000 copies, used to relay the flame which is ignited in Olympia, the Greek home of the Olympics. Torches carried at dusk need to be rested overnight and will be stored in a cauldron to hold the static flame. This will also fall under the brief’s remit.

A bowl which holds the flame alight over the course of the games may become part of the stadium brief and won’t need to be considered by entrants. Locog will work with its Ceremonies team and the ODA to deliver the bowl brief.

Designers and consultancies now have three weeks to submit expressions of interest through www.competefor.com and, according to a Design Council spokesman, ’Product designers with an international pedigree should apply.’

A Locog advisory board will shortlist five entrants in September. They will be paid to work up a creative concept before a winner is chosen in October.

Weir, meanwhile, says she will oversee a legacy tender for the design of ten permanent bollards to act as ceremonial marker points. ’They will denote where the Olympic site once was,’ says Weir, adding, ’We’ve already done some feasibility work.’

ODA-steered Olympic Park commissions continue to roll out and Weir reveals she has just appointed an unnamed Italian artist to create a lighting installation for a plaza outside the handball arena, although the project’s direction is yet to be fully determined.

Last week United Visual Artists was experimenting with techniques for a larger lighting installation at the basketball arena, which, it says, will use the facade as a canvas designed to develop during the games in response to different levels of activity.

UVA creative director Matt Clark says he is still finalising the design, which changed from his initial proposal as the design of the building developed. Clark says, ’Our initial proposal was based around animated content projected on to the surface, but we’re finding now that light sources and form are more interesting resources than digital content.’

He says that although plans need to be refined and may change again, ’shadow play will be the direction we develop, making the building look like it’s breathing by playing with its geometry to give the illusion of depth’. A concourse within the outer shell will extend the reach of the lighting installation to visitors inside.

Other Olympic Park commissions are well underway. The ODA has commissioned Jason Bruges and Martin Richman to design entrance-point installations integrated into bridges and tunnels in separate briefs.

’Initially, the brief was for one artist to get ten bridges, which became five each for Jason Bruges and me,’ says Richman. The final brief saw Bruges offered two underpasses and one bridge, and Richman one bridge andone underpass.

Richman’s bridge will be clad in a symbolic spiral pattern – ’a metaphor for the energy of the games and the unity of the people,’ he says. These are set in a clear and silver resin, comprising crushed glass and crushed CDs.

The bridge will be reduced in size after the games and shored up with gabion baskets, normally found filled with rocks to support banks. ’I’ll be filling them with glass rocks and illuminating them,’ says Richman. These will be backlit and made from reconstituted glass.

His spiral pattern is continued in the underpass, where ’concentric eddies and swirls’ formed from polished glass beads will displace light, Richman says.

Bruges, meanwhile, has been designing an interactive bridge installation which will allow visitors to ’race’ Olympic athletes.

The Fast Faster Fastest installation is based on a button-operated road crossing, designed to set in motion a series of amber-coloured LEDs representing past Olympic records, which race across the bridge when activated by the visitor.

Operators will be encouraged to pursue the lights which illuminate at the rate and speed of selected record holders. Bruges promises that the experience will be ’multi-sensorial’ and incorporate audio trackers and tactile strips into the bridge parapet.

Winning times from the 2012 games are likely to be programmed into the bridge as an act of legacy. Like Richman’s bridge, Bruges’ 100m-long bridge will be reduced in size after the games, but remain an active installation using ’replaceable technology from traffic management systems’, Bruges says, to ensure longevity.

Two underpasses, U03 and U07, are now also being developed by Bruges. Both are conduits for canals and will feature towpaths for pedestrians.

Bruges says all buildings and structures in the park are united by human pace, and that his installation has been inspired by the etymology of the words ’stadium’ and ’marathon’, which are both units of measurement.

The commonality that Bruges refers to is found in the briefs set out by Weir and the ODA. Weir says, ’They’re all integrated into the park, not standalone projects rooted in place. Making art, design and engineering integral to the park has been our guiding principle. None of them would work anywhere else. They reference the history of everything that has happened here and everything that will happen.’

Concrete art

  • Turner Prize-winner Grenville Davey is designing a concrete retaining wall that will incorporate bronze and aluminium sculpture
  • Artists Claire Woods and DJ Simpson are designing one side each of a concrete wall in the south of the Olympic Park. Simpson will gouge out the wall for his design
  • Students from the Royal College of Art have just completed the Cloud Bridge on Angel Lane in Stratford, where a stencil-applied design can now be found on a concrete wall

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