History Trees

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, 2012


“A tree marks time. This artwork will grow year by year, transform as the seasons change, reflecting the evolving nature of the Olympic Park. These trees embrace metal rings which have been engraved with a record of the site’s history, held in the branches for successive decades to come.”
Ackroyd & Harvey 2012

A major public art commission consisting of ten semi-mature trees – each supporting a large bespoke metal ring within the canopy – have been planted to mark the ten major entrances to the new 500-acre Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  The commission, entitled History Trees, has been funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and Arts Council England and will act as a permanent reminder of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The ten trees will reach full maturity over the next 25-30 years reaching up to 18 metres tall.  Each tree holds a large ring, engineered from either bronze or stainless steel and weighing up to 500kg, securely suspended within the tree canopy.

The rings are six metres in diameter and engraved on the interior face with text capturing an archive of history from each location. The tenth tree – a Metasequoia – holds a bronze ring inscribed with local residents’ recollections of the area. The shadow cast by this ring has been permanently captured by a bronze inlay on the ground, and each year the shadow and ring momentarily align to commemorate the opening date of London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Inscriptions on rings:
0102030405,
0607080910

Typography

The typeface chosen: Akzidenz-Grotesk

Rationale from Harry Pearce at Pentagram:

“This is one of the world’s most wonderful sans serif typefaces. Originally created in 1896 even the ‘ubiquitous’ Helvetica is a derivative of this.

You mention that sans serif typefaces dominate the site, so I thought we should at least use one in its truest form. Akzidenz-Grotesk comes in so many beautiful weights and cuts. Here we have only used the condensed version as it allows us a wonderful height of type form when within the band.”

The typographic layout chosen reflects the notion of ‘data stream’: two closely placed bands of uniform text where different epochs and detailed episodes of history can rest next to each other, represented in the same size typeface, democratically displayed.

The choice to use only capital letters is because lower case typography never looks correct running around in a circle, particularly when it has a close relationship with a clean edge such as the edge of the ring. Using only capitals the typography runs evenly and beautifully, the eye can follow the simplicity of the form in relation to the ring edge.

Location of trees

 

 

  • 01.  Access Approach: Tilia tomentosa (Silver lime) has been planted at the south of the site close to where the Greenway crosses the Waterworks River.
  • 02.  Stratford City Approach:  Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) is located to southeast of the Park, forming the main entrance/exit point.
  • 03.  Olympic Village Approach:  Quercus cerris (Turkish oak).
  • 04.  Eton Manor Approach: Tilia europaea (Common lime) is located between two bridges on the Eton Manor site.
  • 05. Waterden Road Approach: Liquidamber has been selected for an area accessed off the Lea Interchange and Temple Mills Cut, along the western edge of the Olympic Park.
  • 06.  Hackney Wick Approach: Corylus colurna (Turkish Hazel) is planted at a plot close to the bridge link over the River Lea into the Park.
  • 07.  Monier Road Approach: Platanus x acerfolia (London plane) is planted at a key entry route into the Park from the south-west, particularly for residents of Tower Hamlets.
  • 08.  Western Access Approach (Greenway): Fraxinus excelsior (Common Ash) is planted in the south-western corner of the Park – an area of protected wildlife habitat.
  • 09. Carpenters Road Underpass Approach: Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’ (Copper Beech) will be planted at the south-eastern edge of the site. The area, which lies below the Great Eastern Main Line railway, will form an important entrance into Park in both Games and legacy.
  • 10. Temple Mills Approach: Quercus palustris (Pin Oak) has been chosen for the northeast of the Olympic Village, Temple Mill Lane and a bridge. This will form a main connection over the railway from Leyton into the site.

Management Team

Adriana Marques, London Legacy Development Corporation
Elizabeth Newell Art Consulting

Design Team

Benson-Sedgwick Engineering Ltd
Expedition Engineering
Hillier Nurseries
Pentagram

Funded by Arts Council England

View press release
London Legacy website