Is simple design a fast track to a sustainable future?

Champion cyclists need a world-class track and a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius to break world records. The London Velodrome can stay warm inside without using its heating system. It’s all down to innovative engineering and sustainable materials.

Image: London 2012

The Olympic Delivery Authority wanted to create the greenest Games ever. The London 2012 Velodrome, the venue for many cycling events, was built as sustainably as possible.

Image: Flickr/adambowie

To be sustainable the Velodrome must be useful long after the Games. Running costs – heating, lighting and water – are kept down.

Image: London 2012

To reduce the need for electric lights, the roof has a series of long windows that allow natural light in. The Velodrome can operate using only natural daylight for most of the year.

Image: London 2012

The wood cladding on the ceiling and walls is a pale colour to reflect light.

Image: Flickr/pekha

Electric lights highlight the track rather than the spectators. All eyes are on the action while the audience stays cool.

Image: London 2012

The roof collects rainwater to be used in the toilets and to water plants and grass surrounding the Velodrome.

Image: Flickr/kavitakapoor

During a rainstorm, the roof can handle up to 800 litres of rainwater per second! In one minute it could collect enough to flush the toilets around 5000 times.

Andrew Weir
leads the structural engineering team at Expedition Engineering that helped to create the Velodrome. He explains why it is one of the most sustainable structure of its kind.


What makes the Velodrome so special?

‘The Velodrome is the most sustainable ever! I’d always wanted to work on an innovative public building like this. And the teamwork between the architects and us engineers was fantastic. Teamwork was vital to create this ground-breaking building. It’s unique, efficient and the design looks great too!’



How did you make the building so sustainable?

‘We worked really hard to keep the Velodrome’s ‘carbon footprint’ down. This includes the amount of carbon emitted to produce and transport the materials, build the stadium and ultimately to run it. We kept the use of materials to a minimum and even used the lowest carbon option, mainly ships and trains, for transportation.’



How did you limit the use of materials?

‘The 6000 seats were wrapped tightly around the track to kept the building compact. We then stretched a complex net of steel cables – that looks like a tennis racket – over the interior. This ‘shrink-wrap’ effect kept down the amount of materials used. This taut steel net also gives the building its characteristic curves.’


World records need 28 °C – how do you maintain this?

‘There are no heaters – the crowd keeps the air warm. A person gives off up to 100 watts of heat, the equivalent of a light bulb! We used mathematical models to understand heat flow in the building. The heat is kept in with a lot more insulation than current government regulations require. If it gets too hot vents open.’


Surely 28 °C is uncomfortably hot for the spectators?

‘Air conditioning is great if you want to destroy the planet … Most cycling events are in winter. It’s only at the Games this summer that heat could be an issue. Spectators shouldn’t get hotter than around 3 degrees Celsius above the outside temperature … Let’s hope they dress appropriately.’



What influence will the Velodrome have?

‘I think people often see green buildings as being strange-looking and expensive to build. Hopefully the Velodrome will challenge opinion. Because it is minimalist, it was relatively cheap to build – and will be to run – so should be in use for a long time.’




Is the Velodrome the stadium of the future? I gathered some interesting views…

Jim Blakemore, Bikeworks

‘The old Eastway cycle track, where many Londoners used to cycle, was redeveloped to make way for the new Park. We’d be keen to use the Olympic Park and Velodrome facilities to continue working with disabled people. It would be great if the facilities were subsidised so they become accessible to all Londoners.’


Patrick Field, London School of Cycling

‘Some say that the Olympic Park is built on ‘wasteland’ – that’s inaccurate, and a bit disrespectful! Will it benefit London’s cyclists? Well, the Velodrome is largely symbolic, and unlikely to have much impact on everyday riders. The surrounding Velopark – if built as promised – will be more inclusive and might attract more Londoners into the sport.’


Chris Bannister, Hopkins Architects

‘I coordinated the Velodrome design team. The same creative design and engineering rigour that goes into the manufacture of racing bikes manifests itself in the building. The venue’s distinctive form has emerged from an integrated design team approach which focused on the performance and efficiency of every aspect of the building.’


Shaun McCarthy, Commission for a Sustainable London 2012

‘The Velodrome is a sustainability star from beginning to end. The design is deliberately lean, including a lightweight, timber-clad cable net roof, which saves significantly on structural steel. This is very energy- and water-efficient, incorporating rainwater harvesting and letting natural daylight into the structure. And all the timber is from certified sustainable sources.’

This article was originally published as an interactive document in the Antenna gallery at the Science Museum.

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