As I caught my first glimpse of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from the window of the DLR from Stratford it was hard to imagine the immaculate park I’d last seen last summer. On 28th July 2013, the first day of competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the site had been full of people and colour. Now the vivid pictorial meadows and immaculate lawns had made way for site huts and hoardings and the Aquatics Centre was clad in scaffolding as the additional temporary seating sections added to Zaha Hadid’s stunning building were removed. However the layout of the park was still recognisable, and seeing the iconic outline of the Olympic Stadium gave me goose bumps as I remembered the sense of expectation and sheer excitement of that sunny day in July.
I’d was on my way to take the Park in Progress tour, which ran from March to June 2013, to see behind the scenes of the £292 million transformation of the Olympic site into its final form. As the whole area was a busy construction site so we were transferred by bus from the tour site office to the ArcelorMittal Orbit where we had a panoramic view of the Park and the wider city.
Our guide had an infectious enthusiasm for the Park and was keen that we passed on the message that the Park will be a free resource. In an area with a significant deficiency in access to nature the provision of 47 hectares of open green space and habitat is as much about improving the quality of life in the local area as it is about world leading landscape design.
The weather was grey and wet but the view from the 115m tower was still impressive.
I’d been lucky enough to visit the Park in the autumn before the Games and knew that large areas of hard paving had been designed to be temporary. The wide boulevards needed to accommodate the 2.4 million people who visited the Park during the Games are not needed for the final scheme so the final Park design has far more soft landscape. The changes to the layout initially made it hard to spot the places we’d visited but following the route of the restored River Lea helped me orientate myself.
Once we reached the Orbit we had as long as we wanted to walk around the viewing platform and look at the exhibition.
I then walked back down the 455 steps that circle the outside of the sculpture – the walkway is enclosed but you still get glimpses of the view as you spiral your way down.
If you would life to visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park the North Park re-opens in July for the Open East Festival on 27th July. You can view the timeline for the transformation on the excellent No Ordinary Park site