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Bold steps

Few other post-war buildings took quite such

bold steps with concrete. All were confined

to a broadly orthogonal aesthetic by the

technology and practices of the day, with

curves reserved for the occasional stair or

detail. This persisted until the Millennium,

when generational change once again and a

range of new tools drove the next phase of

concrete’s evolution.

The fluid form of the London Aquatics

Centre is derived from a conceit of water in

motion, reflecting its purpose and location

in Stratford amidst a number of natural and

artificial rivers. Pre-dating the award of the

2012 Olympics to London, Zaha Hadid

Architects and Arup engineers designed a

building whose sinuous steel, aluminium

and glass upper ‘shell’sits atop a complex,

multi-purpose lower half formed entirely of

finely made, exposed reinforced concrete.

This sweeps along and around the two

main swimming pools, cupping them and

forming the seating terraces as it goes, and

also integrates the entire building with the

surrounding landscape and access bridge.

Below this, the training pool is top-lit by

apertures pierced in its roof, their shapes –

which themselves echo the liquid form of the

podium – morphing as they progress across

the plane of concrete.

The building, then, suggests several paths

for concrete’s future. Its compositional

flexibility is yielding new mixes with higher

strength, greater resistance to discolouration

or a smoother final finish.Deployed via

parametric modelling and advanced digital

structural analysis, concrete can now achieve

an elegant permanence never previously

seen. Largely decoupled from the tyranny of

ideology, its second hundred years seem both

solid and indeterminate.

Further information:

How to read London: A crash course in London architecture

by Chris Rogers is now available from Ivy Press. Visit: .

The Aquatic


undulating roof,

160m long and

up to 80mwide,

is based on the

concept of a giant

wave sweeping up

from the ground.