In 2007 Glasgow based NORD were appointed to work with the Olympic Delivery Authority to develop a strong contextual approach to a key utility building within the Olympic Park. NORD’s resultant electricity substation, which supplies all the electricity needs for the Games through a network of 80 miles of new underground cables, was the first built structure to emerge from the site of London’s 2012 Olympics.
According to the architects the building is not designed as an event in its own right but as part of a number of buildings that form the fabric of the Olympic site itself. In terms of the building’s distinctive monolithic and monumental form, which derived from the decision to mount the cooling equipment directly above each transformer, this is a celebration of ‘honesty and functionality’.
Alan Pert of NORD explains: ‘A key consideration in the development of the design is that the electricity substation is largely a building containing plant and equipment. Access is restricted and the connections to the building are purely visual and from a distance. It is for this reason that NORD have approached the building mass as a sculptural form, where the singular use of one material – brick – has been explored in relation to the building’s function and context.’
‘The choice of brick makes strong reference to the local post-industrial environment as well as giving a formal and urban character to the existing buildings adjoining the site. The brick is reinterpreted as a landscape where the surfaces; ground planes, walls, roofs all seamlessly connect. This sculptural wrapping of one material is a reference to the panorama of the site and the sense that you are surrounded by a continuous industrial landscape.’
A ‘brown roof’ system, where a thin layer of crushed brick and gravel obtained from the site itself, covers the roof. ‘A key part of the surrounding infrastructure is the new land bridge to the East of the site and the relationship of this to the electricity substation both visually and physically has informed our approach to the material application on the roof,’ explains Pert. ‘Other key considerations were those of biodiversity and the knowledge that industrial brownfield sites can be valuable ecosystems, supporting rare species of plants, animals and invertebrates. Another example of this is, Laban, a centre for contemporary dance in London, which has a brown roof specifically designed to encourage the locally rare Black Redstart.’