Zaha Hadid Aquatic Centre: What’s all the fuss about the Seating Sightline?

“Architect Zaha Hadid has denied her design for the London 2012 Aquatics Centre is to blame for the 600 tickets sold to Olympic spectators unaware they’ll have a restricted view of the top diving events. 

“The brief for the building from LOCOG was to provide 5000 spectator seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m diving platform events,” says a statement from Zaha Hadid Architects. “The centre actually provides over 8000 seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m platform events. This is more than 3000 additional seats than the brief required. LOCOG approved the sightline studies and seating layouts over two years ago.”

Well, this intrigued me, for a project this size and magnitude I would think the number of design reviews, meetings, presentations in addition to the size of architects and engineers teams involved would have been able to figure this very basic viewing angle requirement very easily!

But as usual in our field there are many sides to a story, let’s review the facts;

Zaha Hadid Design was selected from about 200 firms worldwide that submitted designs to the London Development Agency;

“A concept inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion creating spaces an surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of  the Olympic Park.

An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a wave, enclosing the pools of the centre with its  unifying gesture.” Zaha Hadid Architects.

The Zaha Hadid designed Aquatics Centre is located in the south of the Olympic Park and is the main gateway into the Games;

  • Project Area15,950 sqm (Legacy), 21,897 sqm (Olympic);

Cost of construction GBP 269 m;

  • The roof which is 160m long and 90m at its widest point is a steel structure weighing over 3000 tonnes;
  • The centre has 9000 tonnes of steel and the hardwood ceiling is made up of 37,000 individual strips;
  • Over 850,000 ceramic tiles have been installed in the pools, pool sides and changing rooms;
  • The centre will have a capacity of 17,500 during the Games, after the Games the side seating wings will be removed and the venue capacity reduced to a maximum of 2,500;
  • The centre will provide  2 (50 m) swimmig pools with movable floors, a diving pool and diving area, The pools hold together a total of 10 million litres of water;

Construction started in June 2008 with over 3,650 people working on the venue.


It has been called “vast turtle waving over-sized flippers’ and “UFO Crash”,  the centre has also received vast acclaims from some calling it London Olympics’ most majestic space: the most potent, the most charged. It is also 2012’s most difficult child, the first venue to be designed, the last to be finished”, and a lot of criticisms from others, including the fact that is too extravagant and too expensive.

The fact however, is UK needed Zaha Hadid’ Aquatic Centre Design which had a big impact on the OIC’s decision to choose London as a venue for the 2012 Games.

We won’t see the real building until the Games are over and until the wings that were added to accommodate the additional seating are removed.

Notwithstanding all that, let’s now go back to our original question, Who is to blame for the seating sightline saga;

From where I stand I find it incredibly difficult to believe that such teams of expert designers and engineers can get the primary design criteria for any such venue “the sightline” wrong!

Is it Form first, will think of Function if we have to, by the architects? Possible since these additional wings have made the architect not “very happy”.

Is it a client compromise knowing these are temporary seating for 2 weeks? May be; but adding to the refunds from previous days and 2400 seats that are now not put on sale make it an expensive compromise!

All I can say is it’s a grey area and we won’t know who is responsible until and if  an official statement is put out there.

Zaha Hadid Architects were quick to deny responsibility claiming they worked the client brief,   I am wondering if the brief included “provide seats with no views of the diving platforms”?

The Games will be over in a week time, the centre restored to its original design, people will soon forget about this, but one question remain, at least for us in the design and building industry,  Whose decision was it to provide a Viewing Venue With No Views!