How did you set out to achieve the green goals for the London Aquatics Center? 

A lot of the building materials came by ship or rail rather than car or truck, which reduced carbon emissions. And a lot of thought went into the construction process. We used local suppliers for building materials, and we used recycled materials.

Were there any special or unique challenges?

Sensitivity to diversity was key to the pool’s long-term use after the Olympics. We had a dialogue with local minorities, the elderly, and various ethnic groups to ensure that there was, for instance, enough space for wheelchairs, easy bathroom access, and appropriateness for certain cultures. We wanted to make sure we didn’t overlook anything, and we included everyone … rather than having a building or a park dropped in place and being told, ‘Go use it.’ As a result, the pools and changing rooms allow subdivisions so you can screen one part of the pool off, for example, for all-female swimming.

The roof structure for Zaha Hadid Architects' Olympic aquatics facility won a Structural Steel Design Award. Materials manufacturers were required to ship products to the site via rail instead of truck.

What are the biggest sustainability concerns for building a permanent pool structure?

Key was how to keep the building as insulated as possible, reduce air leaks, and minimize heat loss. It’s a very air-tight building. We had a target of five cubic meters per hour maximum air leakage. It was also our ambition to design a building with great longevity that doesn’t need extensive reworking later. This is important because pools in general often don’t have funds available for extensive cleaning and refurbishing.

How do you think design itself impacts the Olympics? And how do the Olympics affect the design of host cities?

From the beginning of the design process, there was a lot of press exposure promoting the sustainability goals, and in the wake of this, a lot of little changes have occurred. For example, in July 2010, a bike-hire scheme was introduced, designed to encourage thousands more cycle journeys in central London. There are more bicycle lanes throughout the city, and more work has been put into the development of parks in general. With the announcement of being the greenest Olympics ever, people became more aware and … generally proud to participate.

Did the City of London file for LEED certification?

We have something similar here called BREEAM—the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method—and the aquatics center received an Excellent [the second-highest rank]. This was also a brief requirement.

What are you most proud of about this project?

That we could maintain all key design features while having to deal with requirements that weren’t in the original design. There were unexpected challenges such as the sustainable concrete mix. To bring all those different aspects together without losing key features of the design is what we are most proud of.

"Using concrete with high replacement material was a new experience for us," says Sara Klomps of the GGBS cement replacement used for nearly half of the structure. This move significantly reduced CO2 emissions.

What is the one sustainable thing that you wanted to do but were not able to do and why?

Rainwater harvesting and the usage of triple glazing are good examples. These things were not affordable within the budget at the time. Also eliminated for budgetary reasons [was] a timber structure for the roof rather than a steel structure. That would have been amazing.

Did you conceive any new ideas—green or otherwise—while working on this project that you hadn’t tried before?

Definitely. Using concrete with high replacement material was a new experience for us. Also, the concept of trying to get manufacturers to change their shipping processes. One very positive thing that came from this was that we realized if it’s in their brief and they want the job, [companies] will do it. We had positive experiences with it. Next time, hopefully, they will be less inclined to say no.