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The World of Design – Olympic Architecture; the good, the bad, and the promising.

Olympic Rings in Montreal

This is a new blog where we dive into interesting topics and styles of architecture and how they affect society and the world of design that we live in. Each blog will look at the good, the bad, and the promising.

The Olympics, a time to celebrate culture, country, and sport.

While the sporting events being held are on center stage during this international competition, the venues in which these events take place seem to always take centerstage both before, and especially after the competition. Whether it is hoping that Rio de Janeiro’s many stadia and venues would be fit for competition in the weeks before the game or the problems that the city of Sochi now face in wake of hosting their 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

The Bad

These host cities spend tons of money erecting these magnificent pieces of art and architecture but at what cost? Most of these stadia are used for short durations, (some for only a couple of days) during the 2 to 3 weeks of the total event and then are left in ruin just a few weeks after. A quick search on the web reveals what kind of legacy these venues leave behind, and it is quite sad to see some of the best designers in a country spend the time and the energy designing and constructing these beautiful venues just to see their shelf life last no more than 2-3 months.

These failures have been coined as white elephants, a term all too familiar in the world of architecture. The white elephant is a sad tale about a building so highly touted, so life altering, that when it became part of the physical world it didn’t live up to the expectation and/or could not fit In to the surrounding situation. The Rio Olympic Games were a good example of the white elephant and how it has affected the cities and countries in a less than positive way outside of the event. Venues like the controversial golf course and the famed Maracanã Stadium fell into disrepair less than 6 months after the games had ended.

Maracana Stadium in a state of disrepair post Rio Summer Games (Credit: CNN)

Another way to counter the white elephant problem would be to find a permanent home for the games, one city that could hold the quadrennial games. There could even be the development of two homes, one for the summer and another for the winter.

The Good

Now not all is lost and through many efforts by previous host cities (London, Beijing, Los Angeles, and Montreal) they have found second lives for these venues and have used them for a wide variety of things outside of their uses as sports venues, and by doing so have saved some special architecture from falling into disrepair.

Some of the most prominent examples from the cities mentioned above would include the London Stadium that was home to 2012 London Summer Games, which is now a concert venue but also home to West Ham United F.C (Football or Soccer for us Americans), Essex Eagles (Cricket), the 2015 Rugby World cup and even some motorsports events. This stadium did not immediately begin its life post-Games, but it has been one of the more successful as of late.

London Stadium home to West Ham United FC (Credit: Sky Sports)

Another success and one that perhaps goes under the radar is the Montreal’s Olympic Park. They have managed to reuse and retrofit multiple buildings that were used during the Games. The venues still being used (According to the Montreal Gazette); The Olympic Stadium, The Aquatic Center, the Velodrome, Maurice Richard Arena, and the Olympic Village.

Most of these buildings still are being used for their main intention, with some notable changes; The Olympic Village is now rented out apartments, the Velodrome has now been turned into a museum of nature and science, and Maurice Richard Arena has been transformed into a speed skating arena after being a wrestling and boxing venue. Beyond those main buildings still in use, the area used for the practice track and field has now be turned into Stade Saputo home to the Montreal Impact of the MLS.

Stada Saputo in the Montreal Olympic Park (Credit: TIcketmaster)

And out of the remaining cities some of the biggest and well-known stadia still in use today would be the Memorial Coliseum in Pasadena, better known as the Rose Bowl, which has been home to numerous sporting events and is home to the University of Southern California Trojans football team and the traditional Rose Bowl college football game. And finally, the Beijing Aquatics Center, affectionately called the Water Cube due to the exterior facades’ form. This venue has been gutted and re-purposed as an indoor waterpark dubbed ‘Happy Magic Water Cube Waterpark.’

The Promising

As we look forward to the future, the Olympic Games will not be stopping until it does not become the marketing powerhouse it has become, generating millions of dollars in revenue, not only for the people that broadcast it but also the ones who live in the host cities. The problem is making sure that these venues begin to respect and take care of the environments they are placed in. And the best solution might have just been formed. The PyeongChang Olympic Stadium was built to be torn down, not completely, but enough to be scaled back to fit the environment it will live in post-Games.

The 2024 Summer Games being held in Paris are going to be held in primarily already built or temporary venues, which is the direction the Games should be moving, the future of the games should be held in two static locations for each games, Summer and Winter, or they need to be held in primarily established cities that have the infrastructure to deal with such a big games. The last option would be to host the events in cities that have a thorough and thought out plan on what to do with the new venues post games to make sure they do not fall into disrepair and/or become the next Olympic white elephant.

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