Remembering The London 2012 Opening Ceremony: Five Years On

On 27th July 2012, the sporting community in Britain and across the world stopped to witness one of the most spectacular Olympic Opening Ceremonies ever conceived. Marking the start of a fortnight which would change the sporting and urban landscape across the country, Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony was a celebration to encapsulate a decade of planning for the Games. Five years on, Populous Principal Megan Ashfield takes us back to that night, through her experiences as a designer on this unique project.

When you work on stadium projects, you’re never short of statistics, but the Olympic Games are always special. Twelve days of events, 80,000 seats in the stadium and nearly a million visitors, staff, volunteers and athletes through the gates, all starting with the Opening Ceremony on a warm summer’s evening. After five years of design and construction – drawings, diagrams and meetings – that’s the point when you realise what’s been achieved and just how many people around the world are settling down to watch one of the biggest broadcast events on the planet.

Lord Coe always said that ‘London would be different’ from previous Olympic Games. A key creative approach to the Olympic Park development was to make the park itself a venue, in a long tradition of London landscape entertainments from the medieval frost fairs on the Thames to the Crystal Palace exhibition in Hyde Park in the 1850’s. For so many years, the park construction site had been hidden behind hoardings and now it could be opened to the first lucky visitors.

After one of the wettest spring and summer seasons on record, finally the sun was shining and the park could not have looked better. A green, lush and tranquil English landscape setting, carpeted with wild flowers as the most spectacular backdrop to all the new venues. Walking through the crowds, dawdling along banks of the waterways, everyone was commenting on how beautiful the park looked, and how unexpected that was for sports venues – a whole new event experience.

As dusk gathered, the colours of the flowers were supplanted by the coloured lights of the stadium. The sense of anticipation grew, drawing people in and finally, all the secrecy surrounding the ceremony arrangements was over and it was time for the party to begin – wild action, exuberance and endeavour focused into the centre of the bowl. An incredible experience for a designer.

Five years on from that day and the work hasn’t stopped. Populous has designed and completed the transformation of the London Stadium into a multi-purpose venue, and seen the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park open fully to the city, attracting major new investment and facilities. From an industrial wasteland to international sporting events, a spectacular park space and a new urban quarter within a decade, it just shows what can be achieved when you bring people (and places) together!

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