Seeing Queen Elizabeth
Olympic Park through
“Learning our moves, we all started to feel the Park very differently. Everyday elements became something to move over, climb or jump, as it is for a child. For a night, bleachers, ladders, bollards, gabions, bridge abutments and railings became our playground.”
Rob Aspland, Director, LDA Design
How do we see the places we live, work and play in, as well as design through new eyes? By experiencing them differently. So, when it came to celebrating the anniversary of the Olympic Park for LDA Design director, Rob Aspland, this meant … parkour.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is celebrating its tenth anniversary. LDA Design has remained closely involved since its opening, but now seemed like a good time to invite others to enjoy the park with us and help us see it through new eyes.
We couldn’t think of a better place to start than with parkour, and we asked Parkour Generation, who are based in east London, to lead the way.
The Park is designed to be a good space for everyone, whether you are a parent with young children from Maryland or visiting for a concert. But with a focus on parkour, we were able to explore a layer of engagement with the landscape that we didn’t design for.
Most of us will have come across parkour at some point or other, maybe on YouTube or while waiting for a bus. Parkour Generation impress because they work with people of all ages and abilities, encouraging them to use space on their doorstep to develop fitness, balance and strength. It struck me that our urban landscapes are there for all of us to engage with physically.
“In seeing the Park through new eyes, we realised how much playfulness can mean to all generations.”
Learning our moves, we all started to feel the Park very differently. Everyday elements became something to move over, climb or jump, as it is for a child. For a night, bleachers, ladders, bollards, gabions, bridge abutments and railings became our playground.
Parkour practitioners have always used what is already there, in the built environment, so the jury is out on whether we should or even could be designing urban spaces for parkour. However, for this activity, variety will always be the mother of invention. Our parkour leaders questioned why the alignment of components like seating is so often overly regular and symmetrical. They pointed out that even the simple juxtaposition of a bench and a lounger seat creates far more opportunities for parkour moves than multiple seats of the same style.
Parkour began in Paris’s deprived suburbs, the Balieau, with people wanting to get as fit as they could, claiming spaces not specifically designed for them as their own. It has a lot to teach designers about inclusivity and ownership of public space. We had first-hand experience of how suspicious even a handstand can be to those responsible for managing public space. Concern about personal injury and liability may not entirely explain the levels of control and restriction in so much of our urban realm.
As designers, we think a lot about creating child-friendly places and how to turn the playground inside-out. The reverse of off-the-shelf playgrounds which are kit, fence, carpet (KFC) is to make all public realm safer and more playful. Tim Gill expands these ideas quite brilliantly. In seeing the Park through new eyes, we realised how much playfulness can mean to all generations.
Rob Aspland was part of the LDA project team responsible for the final landscape masterplan for the Olympic Park and the subsequent transformation of the Park into what we see today. He is currently working to transform Westfield Avenue in Stratford, amongst lots of other projects.
With thanks to Parkour Generations. Photos by Harley Jaffar.