Arena Group and London 2012

Temporary overlay is often the unsung hero of major sporting events, writes Rachael Church-Sanders, editorial director at Major Events International. Not so at London 2012 which set the benchmark for scaling down the permanent build associated with the Summer Olympic Games and instead using a sustainable solution to counter previous claims of gigantism attributed to the International Olympic Committee’s crown jewel event.

Overall, London 2012 utilised temporary structures equivalent to the number of permanent structures built for the last three Summer Games, including 250,000 modular seats, 165,000m² of tents, 140 km of fencing, 250km of crowd barriers and 100,000m² of temporary sports surfaces.

Working with LOCOG partners design and overlay architect firm Populous and engineering design consultancy Atkins, overlay specialist Arena Group was commissioned to supply and build temporary overlay for beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade as well as at ExCel for weightlifting, boxing, fencing, table tennis and judo. Arena also took care of media desks across the whole of the Games and built two-storey temporary hospitality facilities at Eton Dorney, Greenwich and Horse Guards Parade for Prestige, the official hospitality partner for London 2012.

Being involved in London 2012 was always a priority for Arena according to Joe O’Neill, global head of overlay and event services at the company: “We saw London 2012 as being very much as a springboard for our future,” he explained. “Our credibility was never in question but we wanted one big iconic bid to give us our moment to shine. The project has already done wonders for us internationally. It has given us profile and a track record for future work on this scale.”

Arena was given just over 30 days to turnaround Horse Guards Parade from a blank canvas into a competition venue suitable for both spectators and elite athletes. O’Neill said: “We demonstrated that we were confident and capable and could put an effective team together to deliver a turnkey contract on budget and on time. It was an incredibly ambitious timetable but we relished that fact it was tough and that we could deliver.”

Arena transformed Horse Guards Parade into an 18,000-seat venue similar in size to Wimbledon's Centre Court. “We used our seating hardware to maximise the skyline as a world heritage site with 10 Downing Street [the UK Prime Minister’s residence] as a backdrop,” added O’Neill. “We supplied all the overlay, the sand, the scoreboards, seating, electrics, tents and water to the venue.”

With legacy now a buzzword for major events, O’Neill was keen to highlight the legacy for Arena Group itself and beyond: "Some of the Horse Guards Parade seats will be integrated into our UK business model and contracts but the majority will be used for the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil and for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics," he revealed. “Acquiring all this new inventory means we can service future major events and deliver best practice. We also now have sustainability accreditation which is an important legacy for us as a company.”

In addition to Horse Guards Parade, London 2012 also created three other sustainable temporary venues: Hyde Park, home to the triathlon and 10km open water swim events which held 3,000 spectators; the 20,000-seat North Greenwich Arena (O2 arena); and Greenwich Park, home to equestrian and modern pentathlon, whose 23,000-capacity grandstand was constructed from plywood, aluminium and steel, and held above ground by over 2,000 pillars.

“London 2012 has shown the world that temporary, sustainable venues can be used both successfully and iconically. More importantly it has shown that major events can be held without the spiralling costs associated with permanent structures that might not even have a use in the future,” concluded O’Neill.

Whilst temporary venues quickly disappear when a major event is over, Arena Group has demonstrated through its successful work at London 2012 that the overlay company will be part of a sustainable future at major sporting events for many years to come….

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