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November 15, 2011

London 2012: Olympic accommodation

The construction of hotel rooms and other housing in London is booming in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games. Elisabeth Fischer explores the designs that will accommodate athletes and visitors at one of the biggest events in the history of the British capital.

By Elisabeth Fisher

With less than nine months to go until the official opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the organisers’ construction activities are close to reaching their end.

"This is contemporary architecture at its most playful, beguiling and thought-provoking."

The pitch and running track in the Olympic Stadium have been laid down, the swimming pools in the Aquatics centre are filled and the landscaping of the parklands has been completed, with test events at all new venues fully underway.

The months in the run-up to July 2012 will now concentrate on providing accommodation to the overwhelming number of people expected to come to the British capital in summer.

Be it the thousands of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials, or the more than 500,000 spectators expected to visit London in the course of the Olympic and Paralympic Games – the need for extra rooms and temporary housing is enormous.

Beds for athletes: the Olympic Village

While the international design build community usually recognises the importance and longevity of big venues such as Olympic stadiums, barely anyone identifies the significance of Olympic villages that pop up in the course of every games.

The one for London, once completed in early 2012, will consist of 2,818 flats, forming an integral part of the success of the Games.

Located in the Olympic Park, with views of the most important venues, it will house more than 17,000 Olympic and 6,000 Paralympic athletes and officials.

Spreading across 11 individually designed residential plots, the village includes a complete neighbourhood with shops, restaurants, medical, media and leisure facilities. The flats and houses amount to 1,379 homes of which nearly all have private courtyards and car parking.

The apartments have been built according to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4 and are designed as functional, light spaces and open-plan layouts ranging from studio apartments to four-bedroom townhouses.

The £1.1bn project, carried out by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), can be expanded by six future development plots with the potential for 2,000 open market homes to be developed. Just like every other Olympic location, the village is set to create a ‘long-lasting legacy’ in east London. After the Games the apartments will be adapted for permanent use.

Of the apartments, 1,379 were purchased by Triathlon Homes for £268m in 2009. They will become affordable housing, such as shared ownership or socially rented apartments.

The remaining 1,439 properties will become private housing after being bought by UK developer Delancey and the Qatari Diar real estate investment company for £557m in August 2011, together with the six adjacent development blocks.

ODA chief executive Dennis Hone said on the occasion of the completion of the first 2,000 flats in October 2011: "It [the Olympic Village] represents one of the strongest legacies of the Games, building a new community that will enhance our capital city and the lives of its people in the decades ahead."

London’s hotel construction boom

The wave of newly built constructions does not cease with the Olympic venues but London’s hospitality industry has also been shaping up, looking forward to an enormous boost in revenues in 2012. East London is traditionally not the most attractive area for top-class hotels and the majority of well-established hotels are located in the West End.

But the area has benefited from the boom in the industry: the recently opened Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green and the Andaz Hotel in Liverpool Station have already changed the picture of the typical east London accommodation.

"Data shows that London has more hotel rooms under development than any other city in the world."

Data from hotel industry analysis firm STR Global shows London has more hotel rooms under development than any other city in the world:, as 8,394 rooms were in the active pipeline in late 2010 with 3,682 actually under construction. The investment is so big that PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) accountants have even warned of over-construction that could eventually damage profitability after the Games, as the Olympics will only last a few weeks and it will be important to be able to fill the hotels afterwards.

However, even the official hotel services provider to London 2012 Holiday Inn, part of InterContinental Hotels Group, is taking part in the construction activities in the British capital. In May 2012, just in time of the Games, the group is scheduled to open two new hotels in Stratford, including the Holiday Inn London Stratford City with 188 rooms and the Staybridge Suites London Stratford City, a 162-suite hotel.

The latter is an extended stay hotel with the purpose to bridge the gap between regular hotels and serviced apartments for guests that stay from one week up to a few months – ideal for the time of the Games. It is located above the Holiday Inn on the 11th floor and overlooks the Olympic Park and the Westfield Stratford City development.

IHG acting president for Europe, Middle East and Africa said in June 2011 the development of the two hotels in Stratford will place Holiday Inn "at the heart of this momentous sporting event. Looking forward, the hotels are part of the regeneration of east London, allowing Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites to be part of the Games’ legacy."

One hotel a month: Travelodge

A very special countdown to the Olympic Games in July has been created by Travelodge. The group is set to open a total of ten hotels – one hotel a month – at a total cost of £223m in the run-up to the Games, adding more than 1,000 budget rooms to London’s accommodation capacity.

Travelodge chief executive Guy Parsons said in a statement in October: "With the Olympic Games fast approaching, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to promote British tourism and with millions of tourists expected to visit our capital city next summer, the need for budget accommodation will be at its peak. By July 2012 we will have 54 hotels and 7,705 rooms and will remain the biggest hotelier in London."

The group has started its monthly opening with the launch of the £7.5m London Bank Travelodge in October, followed by the opening of the £4.7m, 96-room hotel in Cricklewood, located only miles from the Wembley Stadium and Arena.

Many of the properties will be located within walking distance of the Olympic venues, which includes a 188-room hotel in Stratford and a 131-room property at London Excel.

Living Architecture: A room for London

"The apartments are designed as functional, light spaces and open-plan layouts ranging from studio apartments to townhouses."

The soaring demand for hotel rooms has also been picked up by the London 2012 Festival, a line-up of cultural events taking place throughout 2012.

As part of the festival, Living Architecture, a social enterprise dedicated to the promotion and enjoyment of modern design build, has organised the Room for London competition with the goal to construct a temporary one-bedroom apartment on top of London’s Southbank Centre.

London studio David Kohn Architects and artist Fiona Banner have won the competition and designed a boat that, perched on the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof, will appear to have grounded there from the Thames below.

Made from wood, the boat has a lower and an upper deck and looks over London, stretching from Big Ben to St Paul’s cathedral.

The extraordinary hotel is open to the public for three weeks every month in 2012 and can be booked for one night only. On arrival, a nautical flag will be raised to signal occupation and visitors can fill in a logbook on the bridge of the boat.

Living Architecture states on its website: "This is contemporary architecture at its most playful, beguiling and thought-provoking." For London, it might be just another room to be filled after the Games.

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