Architecture Case: London 2012 Stadium


Populous is a global design firm, specializing in building sports venues worldwide.

However, its London office was involved in the design of the London 2012 Olympic stadium from the early days of the city’s Olympic bid.

Team Populous which comprised, Populous and the firms, Allies and Morrison and Lifschutz Davidson and Sandilands, was responsible for designing each Olympic venue. But none was more high profile than the Olympic stadium itself.

The design brief for the stadium was to create the most sustainable Olympic stadium in the history of the Games, and reduce the amount of steel and concrete needed.

This was in part because the site needed to be constructed to cater for 80,000 seats during the Games, but to be reduced after the Olympics to a more sustainable 25,000 level post-Games. 

To achieve this balance between the immediate needs of a large Games stadium against a long-term, small-scale venue, the firm adopted a theory of ‘embracing the temporary’. This meant exploring form, materials, structure and operational systems to bring a structured palette of elements into a cohesive design.

The key sustainability criteria of ‘reduce, re-use and recycle’ were adopted to create a compact, flexible and lightweight design. The main stadium structure was light and elegant and used only 10 per cent of the steel weight used for the Beijing stadium. 

The fabric roof was based on the engineering principles of a bicycle wheel and was redesigned to enable the use of ‘found’ steel. Similarly, the facade of the building was composed of a lightweight fabric ‘wrap’.

The Games were a catalyst for urban regeneration in East London, fast-tracking 25-30 years of planned work into just a decade and creating the largest new park in the city for over 100 years.

The firm’s expertise and successful track record in creating sports venues has helped it secure other business to build high profile facilities.

For instance, Populous designed the main stadium for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, and has completed another job in the country in Kazan.

The new stadium, which has already hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of 2013 Summer Universiade (World University Games) – the second largest sporting participation event in the world – is to become the home of the Russian Premier League football club Rubin Kazan.

The form of the Kazan stadium is influenced by its proximity to water and the city’s famed riverscapes, representing a water-borne flowering plant that has floated down the river from the vast and fertile hinterland and taken hold in the meadow.

In 2012, Populous joined a design team led by HOK to develop the masterplan for the Expo in Dubai – themed “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”.

Dubai has now been chosen as the site of the 2020 World Expo, which is expected to draw more than 25 million visitors from October 2020 through April 2021.

The Dubai Expo plan looks to the future while paying homage to Emirati culture and heritage. The design features three separate pavilions symbolizing opportunity, sustainability and mobility, with “innovation pods” and “best practice areas” in each thematic zone.

These three zones emanate from a central plaza named the Al Wasl, a historical name for Dubai meaning “the connection”. Inspired by the layout of a traditional Arabic “souk,” or marketplace, the design places larger pavilions to the perimeter while clustering smaller exhibit spaces toward the centre of the site.

London 2012 Stadium Credits:

Company name



Olympic Stadium


Project team

John Barrow

Senior Principal

Megan Ashfield