By Sean Martin
Okay, I admit it. For my entire life – from the time I was a little kid up to this very minute – I have never enjoyed watching sports. Shocking, I know.
Sure – when I was a teenager I spent all of my fall evenings at our high school football games. But I couldn’t have told you the difference between a linebacker and fullback to save my life; I was much more interested in finding an excuse to talk to the cute piccolo player sitting a few rows in front of me than in what was happening on the football court. Football rink? Something like that…
There is one exception to my indifference towards sports: the Olympics. Even while other sporting events bore me, I always look forward to the Olympic Games. Partially I think that’s due to my love of travel; from exotic Beijing to crisp Vancouver the recent games locations have not disappointed with their vistas and scenery. Partially I know it’s due to a sense of patriotism… rooting for a young athlete representing my country just feels good.
Mostly, however, it’s due to the events themselves. There’s the endearing quirkiness of events like the Pentathlon and the Luge; they are so much more interesting to me than watching a wealthy NBA player fake falling over. The fast-paced adrenaline rush of seeing a swimmer touch the pool edge milliseconds before their rival sure beats the slow drag of a major league baseball game.
There is one other thing I appreciate about the Olympics: the architecture. Given what I do for a living, I know that is hardly surprising. Often the architecture is the host city’s way of introducing or redefining themselves to the world. When London was chosen to host, the officials decided the games would be a catalyst for the redevelopment of an underprivileged area on the eastern side of the city. The signature venues are nestled in almost 300 acres of new parkland that will become the nucleus of future retail and residential development. This development will begin when the games come to a close and continue based on market demands for the next 25-plus years.
The largest venue for the 2012 games is the new Olympic stadium. Designed to seat 80,000 spectators, its upper levels will be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere, leaving the 25,000 seat base level in place to host local events for decades to come. Derided by some critics as bland, I find it to be a refreshing departure from recent precedent. Beijing’s 2008 Bird’s Nest was iconic and beautiful, but its 91,000 seats are empty most days; consuming resources to maintain yet providing little civic use.
Photo courtesy of Edmund Sumner
London’s basketball arena is even more innovative. It’s a temporary structure, clad in a PVC skin that can be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere or recycled after the games. The idea has even been floated to erect it in the next host city, Rio de Janeiro. Could this start a trend of moveable Olympic architecture?
Two of the permanent venues have already gotten much positive attention. One is the Aquatics Centre; housed within a graceful curved concrete form it features large expanses of glass that provide the interior with ample light. Unfortunately, the temporary seating wings added for the games are clunky and detract a bit from the glamour. On balance, I think this is a worthy sacrifice in keeping with the city’s focus on the long-term viability of the venues.
Photo courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
Photo courtesy of Hufton + Crow
The other critically acclaimed building is the Velodrome – by far my favorite of the new structures. Built to host the cycling events, the architects were inspired by the ergonomics and efficiency of the modern racing bike: nothing superfluous or decorative – everything distilled to lean perfection. The rigor of the design team is evident in the light tensile roof and the beautifully crafted wood skin. This is a gold medal winner for sure.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Palmer
Photo courtesy of Anthony Charlton
Enjoy the Games! I know I will.