Basketball Arena - London 2012

Project details
Architect: Wilkinson Eyre Architects
Contractor: Volker Fitzpatrick
Client: Olympic Delivery Authority

The Temporary Basketball Arena was the main venue for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games providing 12,000 seats for the Basketball heats and Handball finals and 10,000 seats for the Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby. It was the third largest venue in the Olympic Park and one of the largest temporary venues built for any Games. The arena had to be lightweight, low cost, simple to erect and sustainable in terms of its legacy once the Games were over.

Wilkinson Eyre devised a 30 metre high steel portal frame comprising a variety of configurations that, once erected, was covered by a lightweight, recyclable PVC membrane creating a distinctive white ‘box’ with a high degree of surface articulation.

The roof fabric includes an interwoven black-out layer, ensuring that no daylight penetrated during game sessions, maintaining fully controllable internal lighting for the media. The walls of the arena envelope were designed to be visually opaque but allowing 5% of available daylight to filter through during the day and architectural backlighting to glow out during the evening. 

The expression of the building was derived from the play of sunlight and night-time theatrical lighting across the fabric surface. Wilkinson Eyre worked with United Visual Artists, specialists in concert lighting and installations to create lighting and colour changing effects for the evening games. The result was a dynamic illumination which at night employed techniques that changed the white surface into a variety of saturated colours and strong silhouettes of the sub-structure using coloured back lighting of the membrane with programmable gimbal fittings. 

The façade created an aesthetic that was distinct from the permanent venues and one which celebrated the temporary nature of the construction with a strong scenographic quality.

Cladding the Arena:

While the majority of the structural steel scheme design had been completed, Base’ expertise was called on to refine the design detail to ensure that the vision could realistically be built within the constraints of the site, timescale and available budget. The brief was to pattern and fabricate the membrane facade and roof - all 20,000 square meters of it - and install it on site with the highest quality of workmanship, ready to showcase the London 2012 Games to the world. 

A great deal of time and effort went into ‘designing out’ installation issues on the factory floor. The facade was made up of a series of three basic 6m x 25m panels and three reverses of these featuring in a random pattern around the facade - 70 panels in total. With each panel being dead fit with no room for adjustment, the team needed to satisfy themselves that all the shapes would work in situ and would be tensioned correctly with no hint of a wrinkle prior to fabrication and despatch. The manufacturing department and installation team worked together to create no less than five full scale prototypes, each refined a little more than the last, ensuring that they would be able to progress and install the entire facade without having to tension each individual panel on site. 

The 20,000 square metre facade and roof were delivered on time and on budget in just 90 days. Overall the Basketball Arena was recorded as the quickest Olympic venue to be built.