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Worldcon 2014 in London?

Peter Tyers reviews the venue for the bid to run the World Science Fiction Convention

 

Quick links to the article's key sections
The proposed ExCeL venue - Docklands history - ExCeL Layout - ICC Statistics
Use of space - Hotels - Eating out - Local Transport.

Each year the World Science Fiction Convention is run by a different group of fans and held in a different location to the previous year. A number of groups may decide they wish to run it in a given year so they will publicise their ideas, try to win the support of the general fannish community, and officially enter their bid at the appropriate time. The voting is simple; at each Worldcon the members assess the various bids put before them and vote for their preference for the convention which is to be held two years hence, the only rule being that none of the bids may be for a location within 500 miles of the current Worldcon (i.e. of the voting). This grants the winning bid two years to get the whole thing together and ensures that the Worldcon is not held in the same place each year.

Winning the right to run a Worldcon is not easy and the bidding process often starts well in advance of the voting, sometimes by several years - well, you want to get the Good Folks of Fandom on your side! After much assessment and planning a group of British fans have decided it is time the Worldcon returned to Britain and have announced that they will be bidding for 2014 (see www.londonin2014.org.uk). Their chosen location is London, the ExCeL International Conference Centre to be precise.

London - an ExCeL-lent place to run a World Science Fiction Convention
The Exhibition Centre London, known simply by its acronym ExCeL, started life as London’s newest large exhibition centre in 2000. On my first visit, when it had only recently opened, I was impressed. Large, light, and airy, I thought it had the right feel for a Worldcon. Trouble was that whilst it was a great exhibition centre, it lacked the right sort of rooms for such a large convention and there were no hotels within easy walking distance - but since then a lot of water has flowed under the Thames’ bridges!

In 2010 the facilities were extended by the addition of the ICC (the International Conference Centre) and, equally importantly, hotels have crept up on ExCeL like Ents creeping up on Isengard.

So I was pleased when I heard that the 2014 bid committee had seen the potential of ExCeL - but would the improvements be enough? The committee has organised several guided tours of the place and I joined one in December 2011 to see for myself - and I agree with them. It really is a good site for a Worldcon!

A brief history of the London Docklands and ExCeL
But first, a (very) little history. There was a time when Britain ruled the waves; its military navy was supreme and its merchant navy traded far and wide and lucratively. For hundreds of years London was the country’s most important port and a series of large docks grew to the east, just downstream of the old City of London, where the Thames makes huge sweeping bends. But history moved on, the nature of commercial shipping changed, other British ports became increasingly important, and, over a long period, the big docks of London faded and eventually closed, to be replaced by newer facilities further downstream. The area, which had rather obviously become known as Docklands, fell into disrepair. Indeed, some would say that Docklands became something of a no-go area.

The Government and local authorities responded with a number of schemes to reclaim and revitalise the area. Of these, perhaps the best known is the redevelopment of the West India Docks, especially Canary Wharf, now a centre for many impressive business offices and luxury housing. Indeed, the monolithic One Canada Square is currently the tallest building in Britain and views of it are often used in TV programmes and movies to represent London (along with Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the Gherkin a couple of miles up the River Thames).

(For the pedantic, One Canada Square is (Spring 2012) the tallest completed building. When construction has finished, the Shard London Bridge (more simply known just as the Shard) will be the tallest. For those interested in such things, it is shortly scheduled to open in June 2012 and will have a public viewing and open air deck on the 72nd floor - it should be ready for your admiration by the time of the convention!)

Immediately to the east, across one of those sweeping Thames bends and over on the south bank, the Government built the Millennium Dome, a large, covered exhibition area to celebrate the new millennium. Those exhibits have gone but the iconic building remains and now houses the O2 Arena, venue for many a concert and large event.

Continuing east and crossing back across the bend to the north bank, the Royal Victoria Dock and then the Royal Albert Dock run west-east, transecting the land to the following bend. It was on the northern edge of the Royal Victoria that ExCeL was built, separated from the dock merely by a pleasant pedestrian walkway.

The London Docklands is now a very pleasant area with a great deal to offer … and they have not finished yet!

ExCeL
You may think of ExCeL (www.excel-london.co.uk) as a huge, single-storey shed; this is not entirely accurate but it will do for the moment. It is 600 metres long (about a third of a mile in footric), and about 150 metres wide. The building is open 24/7, though obviously the various events and facilities it houses will have more conventional times. They say it can accommodate over 68,000 visitors at any one time - which is another way of saying that it is more than big enough for our requirements.

A wide corridor, known as the Boulevard, runs in an unbroken straight line through the centre of the building from the east entrance to the west entrance, a walk of some five to ten minutes depending on your fitness and how much of a hurry you are in. The corridor is high, sometimes to sections of atrium-like glass roof, and bright with light from above. There are a number of small (Editor and Dan: rather expensive it has to be said) eateries and coffee bars along its length, although which are open on any given day depends on the events that are happening. There is even a small food store.

The event halls take the form of two vast spaces, one to the north and the other to the south of the Boulevard. Each consists of 22 equal-sized zones (of 2,000 square metres) and, by means of movable walls, these vast caverns can be split into many event halls of various sizes, thus allowing a number of large events to be held at the same time but without interfering with each other in any way.

Now to extend that model of a simple shed. The corridor and event halls are on level 1; you might not have noticed but you came up a slope or stairs to each of the entrances. Level 0 is ground level and there is not a lot there that is relevant to us; it is mostly services though there is a small business centre that some folks might find useful.

Above, up on level 2 along both the northern and southern sides, are corridors off which are over 50 meeting rooms; these are the Gallery Rooms. They are of various sizes and some are configurable. Whilst these rooms are not suitable for a Worldcon as a whole they do provide some extra rooms, slightly away from things, should we need them.

Near the west entrance is the Platinum Suite, which spans levels 1 to 3. It has its own entrance from the Boulevard and is configurable with up to 7 rooms, as well as reception and lounge areas. Again, this is not suitable for a Worldcon as a whole but again it provides additional space should it be needed.

Along the southern edge of the building, at ground level, right next to that pedestrian walkway alongside of the scenic dock, is the Waterfront Quayside Café and Bar.

The last - but by far the most important - feature to mention is the ICC, which will be the heart of the convention. This is at the eastern end of the building and runs from level 0 up to level 3; it is well served by lifts (elevators to some of our readers) and escalators (magic moving staircases). This is composed:
          -level 0 features the ICC Capital Hall (a large, lofty space often used for events and exhibitions) and the ICC Auditorium
          - level 1 is purely the entrance way and forms part of the Boulevard
          - level 2 provides a few 'administration' facilities
          - level 3 is the ICC Capital Suite - home to the main programme.

ExCeL is designed to be as flexible and useable as possible. All the spaces we are likely to use are air-conditioned and supplied with power points, AV points, and all the other facilities you would expect of a modern conference and exhibition centre.

The ICC - facts and figures
The ICC Capital Hall is some 4,500 square metres in size and has standing space for 5,000 people. It has its own catering facilities and is capable of plating up over 5,000 cold dishes and providing nearly 4,000 hot dishes at one time. It can produce over 7,500 cups of coffee (and, we hope, tea) at a time.

The ICC Auditorium is some 4,600 square metres in size and has configurable seating for up to 5,000 people. It has its own Green Room.

The ICC Capital Suite is configurable, by means of soundproof walls (that run all the way to the ceiling!), in up to 17 rooms of various sizes. It can seat 2,500 in total - so lots of space for programme audiences! It has two large corridors (or “reception spaces”) which make for easy movement, as well as lots of space to stop and chat. It has its own kitchen so I’m guessing that supplying coffees and teas between programme items will not be problem.

The ExCeL Campus
ExCeL refer to the area around the building as the Campus. There you will find hotels and restaurants - of which more later.

How the Worldcon will use the space
At this moment, we simply do not know, well not exactly. However, the following is the way the bid committee were talking about it when they showed us round. Needless to say, this is a certain amount of thinking aloud, but you can expect the final event to be more or less on these lines.

We will start at the eastern end of the event halls. N21 and N22, right next to the ICC, will be combined to form a large space to house the Dealers’ Area and the Art Show, along with some of the exhibits (such as the Hugos Exhibit). This room will be secured at night.

Step back out onto the Boulevard and take a few steps to the escalator or lift and descend to level 0. Right next to N22 is the ICC Capital Hall; this will be the social hub for the convention. It will be home to the fan lounge, the fan bar, and fan tables (but note that these will need to be packed up every night, or at least anything valuable removed). It will be the main place for within-the-con catering.

The ICC Capital Hall will also be home to the official room parties - Yes, all the room parties in one place! You will not need to wander from hotel to hotel, queue for lifts, or patrol corridors looking for the parties with enough space to get into. (This is going to give the hosts an interesting challenge - how do you get your guests to stay in your party when they can see the one “next door”?)

Step back out into the corridor and simply cross it to enter the ICC Auditorium. As with everything else at ExCeL, this is configurable to many sizes as the ranks of seating pack flat against the wall (think Ikea on a global scale). When fully deployed there is enough seating for 5,000 (though the con may have it configured for a little fewer). This obviously provides the stage and all the space we could want for major programme items such as Hugo Awards Ceremony and the Masquerade.

Step back out into the corridor again and go up to level 3 and the ICC Capital Suite. There all the programme items will be within moments of each other. At worse, getting from one item to the next can be achieved in just a minute of two (though if you stop for a chat that is your problem).

So there you have it, the whole convention in one compact, though not small, cube-like space.

And if there is not quite enough room… ? Well, there are those Gallery Rooms; writing workshops, for an example, could be held in these, just a few but quiet minutes from the hubbub of the convention, and with a pleasant view out over the water. Likewise, the crèche and 'children’s' events could be in such rooms, as could special 'private' parties (such as the Hugo Winners). And, though it is a longer walk away, there is the Platinum Suite should we need it.

Hotels
Unless you live nearby or have nearby friends to stay with, you are going to want a hotel. The good news is that a number of hotels have clustered around the east and west entrances and all are only a few minutes walk away. It is estimated that, between them, there are enough beds currently on the ExCeL campus to meet all the convention’s needs - and there are more to come. If that is not enough, ExCeL say that including nearby areas brings the total to some 10,000 beds!

Obviously I cannot give any indication of actual prices at this point as they will be negotiated nearer the time by the committee, but either local knowledge or internet research will give you some idea of current prices (for the sake of comparison) and facilities.

Starting at the east entrance and moving away from it:-
          Aloft (4*) this is so close that on a wet day it is quicker to run the few yards than waste time putting up your brolly; those staying there for our visit to ExCeL liked the place.
          Ramada Hotel and Suites (4*) the Ramadas I have stayed in have been good-to-excellent (though not cheap)
          Premier Inn (budget accommodation) from my experience these represent good value for money if all you want is somewhere clean and decent to sleep; they generally have all you need in a bedroom (including en suite) but little else. The latter two are adjacent to each other and less than five minutes walk away.

Starting at the west entrance and moving away from it:-
          Novotel (4*) the only one I have stayed in was very good, definitely upmarket from the Ibis but not as luxurious (or expensive) as some other hotels.
          Ibis (2* ) from my experience these represent good value for money if all you want is somewhere clean and decent to sleep; they generally have all you need in a bedroom (including en suite) but little else.
          Crowne Plaza (4*) the ones I have stayed in have been good-to-excellent (though not cheap).
The Ibis and the Novotel (both belonging to the Accor Group) form a small complex. All three are within five minutes walk.

Note that details of star(*) rating systems vary from country to country so you may want to check for yourself just exactly what you get, but in all systems 4* is 'better' than 2*.

For those wanting something a little upmarket, it is only a few stops westward on the DLR (Dockland Light Railway) to the Canary Wharf area. Here you will find a selection of hotels and apartments (including ones in the prestigious One Canada Square). And, of course, there is the rest of London to choose from.

There are also hotels just next to the campus which we hope to be making use of, such as the:-
          Custom House Hotel (3*)
as well as more budget accommodations.

Then there are the new hotels which are expected to be open on the campus by 2014:-
          Travelodge (budget accommodation) near the eastern entrance
          Park Inn (4*) near the western entrance
There are also plans to bring back the Sunborn Yacht Hotel in the form of a brand new floating hotel (4*) moored permanently near the Novotel.

ExCeL’s web site (www.excel-london.co.uk) has details of many of the hotels both on the campus and in the area and also offers web links to many of them. London In 2014’s web site (www.londonin2014.org.uk) also includes many useful links.

Eating out
There are over 40 places to eat on the ExCeL campus. About two thirds of these are within ExCeL itself with the rest either incorporated into nearby hotels or independently situated. I cannot possibly list or describe them all to you, but ExCeL have provided a handy guide which you can read or download from:
www.excel-london.co.uk/visitors/foodanddrink/refreshyourself.pdf.

Local Transport
You will doubtless want to do more with your visit to London than just attend the con. You might want to take a break and take a trip (or more) into London to see the sights or go shopping, or perhaps stay on after the con and enjoy the offerings of the city. Whatever you do, you are likely to make at least a little use of local transport.

London is famous for its Underground (also known as the Tube) - the railway system which, as its name implies, runs under the city. (Yes, I know, some of it is actually above ground - just live with it!). The Underground has a plethora of lines which snake their way around the city and to its outskirts, and provides an excellent way of getting to most areas. Rather than extending the existing system outwards to Docklands, a light railway was built instead and simply named the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). A map can be downloaded from:-
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/standard-tube-map.pdf.   (If this URL has changed since posting just Google 'tfl' and 'tube map'.)

The DLR runs along the north side of ExCeL and has not one but two stations for it; the Prince Regent station is right next to the east entrance and the Custom House station is right next to the west entrance. If you really wished to, you could use the DLR to get from one end of the building to the other.

The DLR, the Underground, and National Rail are very well integrated. For example, for my visit to ExCeL I arrived by National Rail at Stratford station, swapped platforms, and caught the DLR straight to Prince Regent. Afterwards, travelling onwards to a meeting in central London, I caught the DLR from Prince Regent to Bank, stood on the same platform, and caught the next Tube train inwards.

Then there are the buses. To be honest, London buses have always been a mystery to me. There are many routes and they go all over the place. I suggest you do your own research nearer the time.

Payment for all these modes of transport can be by buying individual tickets, though that tends to be expensive when they are all added up. One option, especially if a lot travelling is to be done in a day, is a one-day Travel Card; this will cover you for all your journeys that day on the DLR, Underground, National Rail, and buses. There is also the Oyster card (a sort of pre-loaded debit card) which allows to you to hop on and off transport at will; it is much used by commuting locals but has its quirks and is probably best avoided by the visitor (and that includes me!) (Editor: And some Londoners don't like it either and prefer the travel card).

You may, of course, have arrived by car. ExCeL offers parking for 3,700 cars with over 2,000 of these underneath the building (and 124 of those are reserved for disabled visitors, who will need to bring their “blue badge” permits). The public car parking is pay-and-display but, like much of London, it is disappointingly expensive: current (2012) prices start at £5 for 2 hours, rising to £20 for 24 hours (and 'blue badge' holders are not exempt). At least some of the hotels advertise parking spaces for their guests; they charge for this facility but it is at a lower rate.

And if you want a door-to-door service, but do not have or want to use your own wheels, there are taxis.

And finally …
I should explain that I am not part of the bid committee; when I say 'we' above, I refer to British fandom as a whole.

This article was written in early 2012 and much of it is culled from my memory of my visit so I apologise for any errors. I must stress that the ideas on how the venue will be used are just that - ideas, current thinking. By the time the event happens, some ideas will have come and then gone away, other ideas will have come along and stayed, some will have been acted on whilst others will have been modified or rejected, but the basic framework looks good.

The voting for the 2014 Worldcon will take place at Chicon 7 (www.chicon.org), the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, running in Chicago from the 30th of August to the 3rd of September 2012. The results will be announced during this event.

For further information here are some web links for you to cut and paste into your browser:
for the London in 2014 bid: www.londonin2014.org.uk
for ExCeL: www.excel-london.co.uk
for general information on Transport For London: www.tfl.gov.uk
for a map of the London Underground (including the DLR): www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/standard-tube-map.pdf
for the Oyster card: www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster.

Concatenation will be posting a detailed article on travelling to and from the Worldcon (including getting from the airports to the convention) and the use of public transport, together with an article on nearby tourist sites to the Worldcon venue. Meanwhile check out our article on western central London and the travel comments we used in an article for the 2010 Euroconference and World Horror conventions on London must see.

Peter Tyers

Peter Tyers started reading Science Fiction when his primary school teacher chose The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe as the class book. He entered fandom as a founder member of the Norwich Science Fiction Club in the early 70s. His con-running career started as a gopher at the ’79 Worldcon (Brighton, England) after which he went on to become a founder member of the BECCON Committee; this ran four conventions in the 80s, culminating in the 1987 UK national convention. It was at BECCON 87 that the first edition of Science Fiction Concatenation was launched and for which he regularly provided photographs in this zine's print years. He was the Official Photographer and a Green Room Manager at both the ‘87 Worldcon (Brighton, England) and the ‘90 Worldcon (The Hague, Netherlands), as well as being the Official Photographer and a Consultant Techie at the ‘95 Worldcon (Glasgow, Scotland); for all three of these his photographic duties included running the Masquerade Photocall. He produced an initial design for the programme and membership database for the 2005 Worldcon (Glasgow, Scotland) though had to miss the event due to other commitments. From the mid 70s to the early 90s he attended many conventions though of more recent years he has concentrated mostly on Worldcons and Filkcons (but is still open to other, interesting looking cons). He firmly believes that conventions should be well run and fun for all concerned; that badly run conventions should not be excused as 'fannish' but seen for what they are - badly run(!); and that the members, guests, and committees should be enjoying themselves (though he hesitates to define what “fun” should mean to any particular individual). In addition to photography he enjoys real ale, filk, folk, and blues (and a few other things besides), as well as travelling. He currently occasionally reviews fiction for Concatenation.

Previous news of the London 2014 bid in SF2 Concatenation's seasonal newscasts:-
          Summer 2012 Chicon vote last reminder.
          Spring 2012   Site visit and Chicon vote reminder.
          Spring 2011    London 2014's relationship with 2014 Eurocon.
          Summer 2010 London 2014 bid launch.
          Autumn 2009 Pre-bid launch musings.

Quick links to the above article's key sections
The proposed ExCeL venue - Docklands history - ExCeL Layout - ICC Statistics
Use of space - Hotels - Eating out - Local Transport.

 


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