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2012 velodrome vision unveiled

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
  • The velodrome for the 2012 Olympics is the first venue to open in London ahead of Games
  • Cycle track requires 56km of surface timber from sustainably-sourced Siberian pine
  • Lead architect Mike Taylor says the inspiration for the arena came from the bicycle

London, England (CNN) -- Boasting 6,000 seats, a 360-degree glass viewing concourse and an elliptical race track which required 56 kilometers (35 miles) of surface timber from sustainably-sourced Siberian pine for its construction, the velodrome for the 2012 London Olympics has been unveiled as the pride of local organizers.

Pressure to deliver is always a concern for the host city of the quadrennial Olympiad -- with Athens and Atlanta being notable illustrators of the struggle endured in 2004 and 1996 respectively -- and it is a demand keenly felt in the capital of Britain, 18 months before the start of the latest edition of the iconic Games.

Olympic Development Agency chairman John Armitt said the completion of the venue marked the site's "biggest milestone to-date," emphasizing the ambition of all associated with event to maintain the "on-budget, on-time theme" set by the velodrome.

Whether this goal can be achieved has yet to be seen but lead architect for the cycle-center project, Mike Taylor, told CNN he felt the aesthetic challenge set for his team had been met.

2012 velodrome opens in London

"[The aesthetic] was fundamental, because most velodromes end up being on a piece of government land somewhere. This site was always going to be in the Olympic Park, so ... we designed it [instead] for legacy.

"We put a ring of glass all the way around the venue because we thought we could landscape the park up to the glass, allowing anybody to walk up and look in to see the cyclists," Taylor, of Hopkins Architects, said.

Creatively, the team tried to use the vehicle at the center of the building's function as inspiration; namely the bicycle.

"We hadn't designed a velodrome before, so at the beginning we sat down with the engineers and looked at it with a clean sheet of paper, and I think that was a big advantage," Taylor said.

The roof is an incredible piece of engineering. [100 tonnes of steel] is held up with cables that are only 36mm in diameter
--Mike Taylor, velodrome team leader of Hopkins Architects

"We decided to base everything on the bicycle -- so the engineering would be infused with that sense of efficiency and lightness. The roof, for instance, is held up with cables that are only 36 millimeters in diameter, [but] there's 100 tonnes of steel in the whole roof, so it's incredibly efficient.

"On top of that, we have daylight streaming in, very sustainable [lightning]; the model of the bike has been reapplied to the architecture and engineering of the building in this way."

The echoes of strength provided to the wheels of a bike via the tension of its spokes with the construction of the sweeping roof is obvious, but it proved to be only the first of many hurdles to be crossed in the design and construction process.

"The track is a real piece of difficult furnishing to build. It's 250 meters long, it's made up of 40 by 40-millimeter sections, five or six meters in length, of Siberian pine which was specifically selected because the trees grow very straight," Taylor said.

"It's got no expansion joints in it, so when it's hot and dries out it tends to move up and down, so it sits in a concrete bowl, almost like a piece of furniture."

The smooth curves of the new oval track, with its vertiginous banks at either end, was designed by specialist Ron Webb. And though the British cyclists -- four-time Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy among them -- who tested out the decking for the first time seemed happy with the results, Taylor could only look on with envy.

"I'm a cyclist myself, we're all dying to have a go, but today it's their turn."

The plan is for the $150 million stadium to remain at the center of British cycling once the Olympic Games have finished. London 2012 will also have a road-cycle circuit, mountain-bike track and BMX layout to create what is hoped will be an "all-in-one" cycling hub for all disciplines.