By the time the summer Olympics conclude in London (the games begin July 27), the village garden's fame may only be second to Eden. Already, the hyperbole is being tossed around like an Olympic hammer: The most ambitious public planting ever; The largest garden to be built in Europe in the last 150 years; The largest new urban park in the U.K. in the last 100 years; The largest perennial planting anywhere; The lofty Orbit Tower is the UK’s tallest sculpture; The lead planting designers are two of the most innovative, cutting-edge plantsmen in the world: James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett; and on and on.
The park covers 500 acres of East London, rehabilitating land that was once an industrial park. As with many former industrial sites, the area required significant clean up: 1.4 million cubic meters of contaminated soil was excavated (then run through five enormous soil washing machines to wash the soil and filter out oil, tar and heavy metals—10% of the soil was removed) and 98% of the material from the 200 demolished buildings on site was reused and recycled (including 80 lampposts, 2 tons of red bricks, and 76 tons of paving stones). There was also the olympic undertaking of eradicating every trace of the invasive Japanese knotweed (an introduced specie of bamboo-like Class-B noxious weed) that responsible for clogging the river Rea that runs through the property and erodes its banks. A river famous for its polluted condition going back to the days of Charles Dickens. The site promises to be the greenest Olympic park ever built.
The space is being designed for a legacy of generations. Temporary venues will be transformed into downsized permanent ones, new roads and bridges have been constructed for the long term benefit of the local neighborhood, and as seen in the rendering below, the park itself has been designed with an eye for recreational use giving access to open space with a network of tow paths, 3 km of walking trails, and cycle-ways.
More drawings of the proposed site available here.
As with any public work of sculpture, the Orbit Tower has received its share of controversy. Critics have called it "a roller coaster gone awry" and "the Godzilla of public art." Defenders have pointed out that St. George's Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower were both hated in their time too. On the upside, at nearly 4,500 feet high (72 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty) the tower offers panoramic views of the city. This "instrument of viewing" wraparound observation deck offers a pair of huge concave mirrors to create a kind of observatory of the city. Designer Anish Kapoor understood the sculpture wouldn't likely find universal love, admitting that the structure's bold design is "awkward. ... It has its elbows sticking out in a way. ... It refuses to be an emblem." The truth of that statement remains to be seen. We'll see if the Orbit replaces Big Ben and the Tower of London as icons on post cards anytime soon.
More tower details here.
As with any public work of sculpture, the Orbit Tower has received its share of controversy. Critics have called it "a roller coaster gone awry" and "the Godzilla of public art." Defenders have pointed out that St. George's Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower were both hated in their time too. On the upside, the tower does offer panoramic views of the city. Designer Anish Kapoor understood that he was not entering territory destined for universal love, admitting that "it's awkward. ... It has its elbows sticking out in a way. ... It refuses to be an emblem."
The tower will be at the heart of a new 560-acre park, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, that includes a lush river valley and a tree-lined promenade. The park will open in stages starting in July 2013 and finishing in early 2014.
The mission of the garden was to be sustainable, bio-diverse, and beautiful. The annual and perennial wildflower meadows alone cover over 10 hectares of land—an area larger than 10 football fields, or pitches as locals call them. The plantings have been divided into four zones representing the history of plant introductions into Britain: Europe, America, Africa and Asia. The plan for the garden was to have all the surrounding wildflower meadows blooming in a glorious gold simultaneously, effectively wrapping the stadium in a golden blanket. The blooms in turn will attract butterflies and bees, along with the schema, will give the space an aura of Olympic spirit under the gleam of a floral smile.
Visually, the garden's style is very much in the flowery English tradition. Conceptually, the planting reflects the years of work that professors Hitchmough (we first wrote about him here) and Dunnett have invested in understanding the nature and sustainability of meadows. Their cornucopian mixture includes thyme, calamint, origanum, viper’s bugloss, wild carrot, musk mallow, several species of geraniums, devil’s bit scabious, red clover and great burnet.