Experiments with Blank Typologies: London Olympics, Lea Valley

Contemporary building technologies and the need for totally controlled environments have generated a growth in size and number of typologies that require an essentially \”blank\” envelope, distinct from those of the building interior. Other large scale buildings, such as auditoriums, museums, sport halls and storage buildings, present a similar degree of \”blankness,\” though they involve a greater contact between the interior and exterior. As the traditional justification for a facade is diminishing and the border between the exterior and interior is increasingly indeterminate in these large blank buildings, the building envelope has become an opportunity to expand the performances of the envelope to deal with extrinsic as well as intrinsic functions. The building envelope can explore an expanded materiality that includes not only wood, steel and glass but also time, organization, economy, schedules, functions and desires, which can be combined together to produce new images and effects. In this context, a discussion on ornament is increasingly relevant as the traditional functional basis for designing envelopes is losing ground. Ornament can be understood as the figure of order and shape that emerges from these material aggregates, as an expression of resonance between \”material\” and image. Unlike dicor, ornament is not determined by a final state or performance of the envelope that is determined a priori, like the \”construction of meaning\” or the representation of symbolic content extrinsic to the object, though these can contribute to contingent forms of signification. Whether expressions of the building envelope emerge through the thinness of the skin or the depth of the building, they add perception as a material to be worked with. The studio will use the site of the 2012 London Olympics as a case study to explore the architecture of a number of blank buildings.The masterplan for the London Olympics is based on exploring consistency between planning and design qualities, in order to overcome the traditional detachment of planning and design that turns urban form into a superficial quality. The master plan is developed on the basis that design is not a contingent layer that \”dresses\” a project, but an intrinsic quality of the planning process. The main feature of the master plan is a park that integrates the vast amount of infrastructure on the site with the Olympic venues, excluding those that are either too large to be designed as accidents of the landscape and temporary structures that will be dismantled after the Games. The remaining structures that are external to the park topography all require a blank envelope. The studio will explore the potentials of these enclosures beyond their \”core\” functions. The venues to choose from will be: International Broadcasting Centre (IBC), Retail Complex and parking garage, Electricity substation, and Olympic stadium.