Every component of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park tells its own, distinctive part of the larger regeneration story that continues to unfold ten years after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That of Here East, the collective name for the two large buildings that housed the media during London 2012, is as revealing as any of the politics, finances and planning considerations that have shaped the Park as it is now.
Their very location took time to settle on, sketched as they were in different places in early versions of Park plans before ending up in Hackney’s territory next to the Lee Navigation Canal. As with the Olympic Village, the original intention was for the private sector to build the facilities, and consideration was given to dismantling part if not all of them once vacated. In the end, also as with the village, the Olympic Delivery Authority had to use its public funds for the buildings’ construction, and their legacy fate was not fully confirmed until after the Games were over.
The ambition of the Park’s original legacy chief Margaret Ford, the then Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe – now Sadiq Khan’s deputy for planning – and the then Mayor Boris Johnson’s Olympics adviser Neale Coleman was for the buildings to accommodate a mix of tech and media companies and educational institutions.
Ford has described the search for suitable tenants as the biggest challenge she faced – bigger even than finding occupants for the main Olympic stadium. A plan to move the set of EastEnders from Elstree to the new East End setting was painstakingly devised, only for the BBC to pull out late in the day. As the Games approached, a company called iCITY, backed by property giants Delancey, was being lined up to take over the buildings and realise the tech hub vision, and the fledgling BT Sport was set to take a big chunk of the cavernous space in the larger of the two buildings, the vast Games-time International Broadcast Centre.
Daniel Moylan, the single-minded Kensington & Chelsea Tory Johnson had chosen to chair the newly-formed London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), replacing Ford, was convinced the buildings should be knocked down and housing built on the site instead. A revolt against Moylan by LLDC board members led to his replacement by Johnson himself, although it was Coleman, formally the deputy chair, who did most of the work the role required.
BT Sport signed the deal, a data storage firm joined them in taking broadcast centre space, iCITY’s final plans were approved in February 2014 and chief executive Gavin Poole of what from then on was called Here East embarked on the long-distance task of attracting a mix of tenants to the smaller former Main Press Centre.
What stage has the project reached today? The Here East campus, as it is now often termed, has ended up playing a big part in ensuring that no tumbleweed blows across the Park “in legacy”. Ninety-five per cent of its space has been let and around 5,400 people work or study there, including 1,800 with the Here East branches of four universities: University College London, Loughborough, Staffordshire and Liverpool Media Academy.
Other organisations there range from the Wayne McGregor dance company to Plykea, which designs cabinet fronts and worktops for Ikea kitchen units. An esports cluster is forming. The innovation centre Plexal forms the heart of the ground floor of the former press centre, whose cafés look out across the water and attract visitors at weekends.
Here East’s 10th anniversary impact report includes early material from an assessment by Oxford Economics that around one third of Here East’s “induced GVA” has gone back into the four boroughs with land inside the Park – Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest – and about 15 per cent of its UK-based procurement spending takes place in them.
The data storage centre or “server farm” never got going, but its place is being taken by what Deloitte’s Jeremy Castle, a ten-year contributor the Park’s evolution, described at New London Architecture’s Beyond Legacy event held at Plexal last week as “something that will probably be much more exciting”.
He was referring to the Victoria and Albert Museum moving its massive reserve collection of 250,000 objects there and making them accessible to the public for the first time. The V&A East Storehouse at Here East will be a short walk from the new V&A East Museum at the Park’s East Bank culture and education complex and is expected to open in 2024. It will be hard to argue that Here East has been anything other than a considerable success.
Dave Hill is the author of Olympic Park: When Britain Built Something Big available HERE. Photograph from Here East 10th anniversary Impact Report.
London 2012 Olympic Park: How the Games media buildings became the triumphant Here East