diamond geezer

 Friday, July 06, 2012

London 2012  Around the Olympic Park
  5) Westfield to the Bow Roundabout
  15 more photographs here; map here


Leading off from the quiet end of Westfield's estate is Montfichet Road - a sloping curve on concrete stilts. It's not quiet when shoppers' cars are entering and exiting this way, but there are none of these at the moment. Instead a steady stream of pedestrians spills along the elevated pavement, looking for the ideal spot to stare or point a camera across the Olympic Park. The height of the wall has been raised recently, leaving only two spaces where it's possible for someone of average height to get a decent view. A more than decent view, to be honest, with a broad panorama revealing three iconic Olympic venues as well as all the kerfuffle of the backstage services laid out below.

The Aquatic Centre appears in close-up, its two grandstands rising steeply to the cheap seats at the top. The curved lines of Zaha Hadid's integral design are mostly concealed, but full architectural splendour will be revealed once the reduced structure is handed over as Newham's legacy swimming pool. On the building's grassy snout, five Olympic rings are being installed. Less thrillingly, the flaps of one of the tents at the foot of the main staircase have been drawn back, revealing nothing more inside than a couple of Coke-branded refrigerators. The majority of activity is concentrated in the foreground, where scaffolding is being erected, containers have been stacked and a temporary village is establishing. To shield one particularly ugly (but permanent) utility building, artist Claire Woods has designed a colourful tiled fa├žade - could be a map, could be abstract woodland, could be anything.

Further to the left, one end of the Olympic Stadium pokes out beyond a strip of parkland. A pure white wrap, untainted by chemical sponsorship, dangles down around the exterior like the teeth of a very sharp comb. Again there's what looks like a posh caravan site close by, plus a ring of purple booths from which food, beverages and souvenirs will be dispensed. A tall magenta tower is the most striking recent addition to this end of the Park. It appears to be an observation deck for security guards, or whoever, but is also plastered with useful directions for spectators (Greenway Gate ↑, Copper Box →). The red-coiled Orbit rises alongside, from here deceptively much taller than the Shard, and also 40% cheaper to ascend. But the view from this observation deck includes the sprawling mess of tents and boxes down here, so the experience may be far more like looking down on Legoland than you'd expect.

As Montfichet Road descends, so the Olympic Park fades behind a wall of tiles and metal mesh. A pair of security staff guard the rising barrier wedged into the roadway, then there's a roundabout affording one last lingering view of the Orbit (and its associated McDonalds). When I think of the dead end scrap yard and railway sidings that used to be here, the transformation is nothing short of astonishing. South of the railway, beyond the big yellow "This access will be closed to pedestrians and cyclists from 1 July" sign, life continues almost as normal. Residents of the Carpenters Estate wander home with plastic bagfuls of shopping, alongside incomers returning to their flats in the dour newbuild blocks across the road. In a fortnight they'll have a new Tesco on their doorstep, as the supermarket chain nudges into Stratford by taking the ground floor of a 43-storey skyscraper. But whether the 'Halo' can clad its top three lofty storeys in time before the Games, that's yet to be seen.

Stratford High Street's been given a major brush-up of late, including planters, hanging lamps and still absolutely no cycle lane. Old garages and warehouses have been knocked down to be replaced by tile-fronted apartments, plus a couple of budget hotels in which glum looking families pick at all-day breakfasts sat behind pavement-level plate glass windows. London 2012's Southern Transport Mall is across the road beside the Greenway, linked to the Park via a temporary six-lane footbridge. It's firmly sealed off at present, as is the new at-grade pedestrian crossing, denying local residents access to Games-time-only infrastructure improvements.

Blue Badge guides continue to offer Olympic tours even though the Park's nearly all sealed off. I passed seven such groups on Sunday, including one listening attentively beneath a Cadbury's billboard trying to imagine what they might have seen more clearly a few weeks ago. There is a decent glimpse of the Stadium up Blaker Road, and from a brief spell of Bow Back River towpath past the redundant City Mill Lock. But Pudding Mill Lane's now a dead end unless you're going to the DLR, and there's just one week left there before that's lost too. The army are out in unexpectedly high numbers along Marshgate Lane - mostly younger cadet-types, for whom standing semi-attentively beside metal gates must be hugely easier than training for war, and hugely less satisfying.

The far end of Stratford High Street, alongside the flyover, will be a key section of the Olympic Route Network. Two eastbound lanes will be whittled down to one and the westbound contraflow restricted, entirely necessarily so, but with miserable consequences for both private and public transport. The Games Lanes here have yet to be painted in, but a forest of signs has been erected, if not yet fully revealed. I can't see the car wash by the Lea staying open during what might have been its busiest ever fortnight, nor the former carpet warehouse alongside being hired out as a temporary logistics hub.

Which brings my six mile circumnavigation back to where it started, beside the closures notice at the Bow Roundabout. During the week it's taken to write about it, something major's changed here and an unexpected artwork has been installed. On either side of the central circle are two large chunks of dirty metal, each spelling out the letters B O W, finally giving this junction some smidgeon of a sense of place. Long rectangular planters are being embedded alongside, to be filled with attractive vegetation in due course, with "accent lighting" scheduled to be added next week. It's always all change around the Olympic Park, but my manor's transformation has never seen a summer like 2012.


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