Currently, for most local people, the Olympia Venue in Hammersmith exists in the background as a large grey blob. The paint-job on the Art Deco frontage couldn’t be worse. The only time local people notice Olympia is when it causes traffic chaos.
The new owners of Olympia plan to change all this. They want to open the site back up into its separate, listed, historic buildings. They want to create public spaces within and around these lovely buildings over a 14 acre site.
What they plan sounds very good:
- Underground loading to take traffic off the street;
- Olympia Way pedestrianised – as per this picture;
- New public green space opening on to Blythe Road;
- A glass-topped roof terrace with restaurants and cafes;
- New indoor spaces including two hotels, theatre and cinema venues, community space, independent retailers, and new offices.
Look at it all here – scroll right down for the most important visuals.
The involvement of Thomas Heatherwick of Routemaster Bus and Olympia Flame fame should make us all feel glad. Have a look at some of his other projects here
What could possibly go wrong?
My main concern is that treating the 14 acre site too much as a single “destination” with similar design themes could end up too much like a theme-park. Too much cohesive good-taste piled too high could bite its own tail in the form of kitsch…..
Here are some things Olympia’s owners could do to avoid this.
1. Break the scheme into its constituent parts and settle these into the wider landscape
I’m worried that there is too much of a theme running through Olympia’s plans – being the curved Deco-like echo. Have a look at all the pictures to see this.
Olympia could consider breaking out the scheme into its separate parts and ensuring that each building is beautiful in its own terms. Why should they all echo each other in an overly internally referential way? Each building should make references to the wider architectural heritage not just to each other.
2. Design the whole thing for 30 years hence
We know that the original Olympia buildings will look fantastic in 30 years – because they do now – apart from the horrible paint job on the Deco frontage. But what about the modern additions? I have never seen a modern building that has aged well. That is because they don’t seem to be able to settle into themselves. They are made of stiff materials and they remain perpetually stiff and upright even as they get old. They develop the quietly sad look of someone aging who is unable to let go of youth – like Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice. This could be avoided if the architects specifically think about how the buildings will look in 30 and 100 years. Here on the right is one of the buildings opposite Olympia. What underlying principles helped this architect get it so right? Here is a picture of another building down the road from Olympia. What were the architect’s hopes for this building? They at least could have built in grip holes for ivy.
3. Make sure there is plenty of space for local people
No community likes a large space at its heart which they perpetually walk around, not into. The local community offering will be vital to give Olympia a beating heart.
My preference is for a local museum and arts and history hub. I’ve joined class trips where children, parents, and teachers suffer for a day visiting the Science or Natural History Museum. Nobody says but everybody knows that nobody learns anything. It’s noisy and stressful and barely even pleasant.
There is so much history and art history locally – let’s create a space for it. Having school kids coming and going from Olympia on a daily basis will really give it a beating heart. As will providing a meeting place for all the older people, who generation after generation, work to preserve the things they have loved.
4. Design in spaces for teenagers
As a local councillor I sat in meeting where we “designed out” anti-social behaviour. Sometimes these meetings fairly overtly attempted to “design out” teenagers.
We lock our local parks at night and I’ve always wondered where teenagers are actually meant to hang out.
Our teenagers are Olympia’s future customers and future staff. Olympia would be doing all of us a great favour if they designed in places – eg along Olympia Way – for teenagers to be able to hang out, having bought a coffee or nothing. The current mock-ups of the new Olympia Way look a bit blank. We need some designed-in hanging-out space – something Thomas Heatherwick is clearly perfect for.
5. Design in spaces for mothers and young children
There are lots of pockets of green space in Avonmore, Brook Green, and further north. But most of these are small and only one has a decent playground. When you are a mother at home with young children, you generally don’t want to go and sit in a peaceful green space and stare at the grass. After watching The Little Mermaid in the morning, like Ariel you want to be where the people are. So it would be good to put in seating / play equipment for carers and kids. I like the yellow seats along the South Bank that kids can also climb on. I love this spiral in a local school – this is perfect for mothers, kids, office workers to eat their lunch. I know Mr Heatherwick “could make us something like this but better. It even echoes the Olympia curves….
Our aim should be that Olympia becomes a place where local people hang out on a daily basis. We also want to know that it will look beautiful now and in a hundred years. Build it and we will come.
Update to post: new round of consultations – invitation as follows:
“The next round of consultation on… the future of Olympia… will take place… on the 14th and 16th August between 4pm and 8pm and 18th August between 11am and 3pm.
The consultation … will provide an update on the progression of design for the new theatre and performing arts space, public realm, offices, hotels, cafés and restaurants, as well as providing further detail on traffic management and how we have taken your feedback on board and into the proposals and overall vision for Olympia London.
The consultation will be held in the Upper Pillar Hall, which can be accessed via Pillar Hall’s main entrance opposite the Overground station on Olympia Way. We realise some people may be on holiday as it is August, therefore if you are unable to attend… please contact our community engagement team who will be arranging additional dates in the weeks following. They can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0207 592 9592.”