The Downside of Hosting the Olympics*

From iconic venues to ruins


Since 1896, every two years the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating searches for a new city to settle.

There is a deep and abiding connection between the Olympics and their host cities. It started when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that the modern Olympics would not follow the ancient pattern of having a permanent base, but would be an ambulatory event that was effectively franchised to the cities to which it was awarded. These ‘Olympic cities’, which in principle could be anywhere in the world, would supply the necessary sports venues and infrastructure in return for the right to stage the world’s most venerable games.

Fast-forward to today, the sports buildings are designed to be multipurpose, bringing us the “modern” sports instead of offering a single purpose experience.

The Olympic Games stand for more than sports, since they also represent an opportunity for new architectural icons. Like the games themselves, the most memorable buildings created for the international sporting stage celebrate human achievement.

Given the glare of publicity that the Games attract, the organizers and their architects understandably tend to treat the occasion as an opportunity to create iconic structures designed to impress visitors and the world’s media. Frequently seen as lasting advertisements for technical prowess and creative design, such structures are permanent features of the cityscape and often become heritage sites of considerable significance.

Olympic buildings, parks and monuments have tremendous significance in the history and development of architecture, whether they are used for games or as a space for special political forums.

The significance of these structures is particularly reflected in the fact that the techniques used to build these structures are used in modern architecture.

There are many challenges faced by all Olympic cities as they reconcile the demands of the Olympic movement, the desire to house the Games in a memorable fashion and the provision of a viable post-Games future for the facilities delivered. Most cities simply do not have the infrastructure required to withstand the two-week influx of athletes, coaches, fans, and media members. The money required to build state-of- the-art athletic facilities is skyrocketing.

While the pristine arenas will have supporters packing the terraces to the rafters, they quickly become defunct. Because the Olympics imposes demands that are quite different from most other sporting events, it is inevitable that host cities struggle to find alternative uses for such venues after the Games leave town. In the worst-case scenario for host cities, Olympic venues go unused after the games and become white elephants — total wastes of space and money. Some locations, that have been used for some of sports most memorable moments in both the summer and winter Olympics, have been left to rot as there were no plans for future use. We’ve seen this at a number of different Olympic sites around the world.

Not long after the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, the venues are already being left unattended. In a matter of years weed and moss will surround the disused tracks and ski jumps that were once graced by the greatest athletes of their time.

Somehow these empty places have become symbols of the downside of hosting the Olympics.

The future of sports venue development is still unknown. But it´s time to discuss what use could be made of all of those huge venues purposely built to host the world’s most famous games.

* This article was originally published in the book “Training – Alternative designs for sport facilities” by Non Architecture Competitions [2017]

Image: Cover of the book


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