Hi James, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. First off – what exactly is overlay?
Overlay is everything you do to adapt an existing building or construct a new temporary building to make them ready to host an event. This includes seating, tents, cabins, toilets, fencing, temporary power, flags, banner, PA systems, lighting, rigging – basically everything that is essential to putting on the show.
Can you give us an idea of the scale of the London 2012 overlay project?
We have to install over 200,000 seats, enough tents to cover the whole of Hong Kong and enough toilets to service the entire population of Malta – these really are huge figures we’re talking here.
Is it true that Glastonbury isn’t taking place this year due to the demand for portable toilets?!
No – in fact we’ve gone to a cabin supplier who are building a lot of new cabin toilets especially for us. After the Games, this new stock will then go back into the events industry or onto construction sites. So contrary to what most people think, we haven’t exhausted the world’s supply of toilets!
Which is the most challenging venue in terms of overlay?
There’s several ways you can look at that. We’ve got a very big challenge in Greenwich Park, for example, because we’re trying to deliver that venue in the most sensitive way possible, avoiding any impact to the historical fabric of the park, while trying to keep the park open for as long as possible.
Horse Guards Parade is also a real challenge because we don’t get the site until after the annual Trooping the Colour – giving us just 36 days to build a 15,000-seat arena.
But on the whole, I would say probably the most challenging is delivering the Olympic Park, just because of its scale, complexity, and the number of different projects underway there. There’s about 60-70 overlay projects needed to get it ready.
Which venue are you most excited to see completed?
Horse Guards Parade – because I think the location of it and the fabulous views that spectators will enjoy of White Hall, the London Eye, sitting in amongst St James Park, alongside The Mall – that’s what London is all about. You can just imagine he fabulous aerial shots taking in Big Ben, Westminster, Downing Street – and then there’s this Beach Volleyball competition happening right in the middle of all that.
How long does it take to install overlay at a single venue?
As I mentioned earlier, there’s different types of overlay: one is applying overlay to an existing building. That can take two to three months for major builds, such as taking exhibition centres like ExCeL or Earls Court. Where we’ve got existing venues such as Wimbledon or Wembley Stadium, these are already set up for their respective sports – so only take a matter of weeks.
But then we’ve got completely new builds like the Riverbank Arena, Greenwich Park and Horse Guards Parade – here we’re talking about 15,000-plus seater venues. With the exception of Horse Guards Parade, they’re about a four-month build.
How long will the overall project take to complete?
We kicked off the overlay project in October 2011, starting work on all the Ceremony installations in the Olympic Stadium. So overall the project will run for about nine months.
Is all overlay temporary?
Yes, the nature of the equipment means it’s all temporary – we hire the equipment, it’s installed in the venue, then comes out and goes back into the supplier’s stock. But we have been working with some venue managers to try and ensure legacy installations. For example, where we’ve put in power water, toilet facilities or fences and an existing venue has requested they be kept in legacy, we’ve purchased the stock, rather than hired it, with contributions from the venue owner.
How quickly will everything be brought down after the Games?
Most of the overlay will be taken down and cleared away by the end of November 2012. But there are a number of venues – particularly on the Olympic Park – that will take a while to decommission. Most of the Olympic Park venues will be completed by the end of the year, and then we’ve got venues like Greenwich Park where we’ve got grass and ground reparations to do, which will take us into early 2013.
What has London 2012 done differently/new in terms of overlay?
I think one of the key things when you’re doing overlay and temporary installations at this scale is not to take risks and try to create something completely unique – we need tried-and-tested systems because of the timescales and pressure on us to finish these venues.
Although you might say we’ve been quite innovative at Greenwich Park, for example, where we’ve effectively built the arena deck on stilts. The idea behind this is that we minimize the impact on the ground beneath and reduce the site’s environmental impact by eliminating the need for materials to fill the space under the deck.
What we’re doing in places like Greenwich Park and Horse Guards Parade has never been done on this scale before – and it really allows us to show off the city to the world. That has brought with it a unique set of challenges – in terms of the number of people attending events in these locations, and the logistics of building the venues in busy tourist spots. We’ve done all this because our vision has always been to use the city as a backdrop for the Games.