Brazil’s able-bodied Olympic Games are over and the Paralympics finished on September 18th. It will be another four years before we get to see Simone Biles defying gravity or Katinka Hosszú swimming faster than a sailfish. But once the athletes have left town, what happens to the Games’ buildings they leave behind?Olympic villages are relatively easy to repurpose and are often sold off or rented out as ordinary flats, although the local economy doesn’t always favour host nations in this respect.
Abandoned housing from the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the largely unoccupied Winter Olympics Village in Turin, 2010.
The stadiums and other venues are a little more challenging. London’s 2012 Olympics have been widely praised as being exceptionally well-planned and ensuring the primary focus was on what would happen after the Games (‘the London 2012 Olympic Legacy’), not just the sporting events during the month and half of Olympic and Paralympic competitions. Stratford is undergoing a continuing, rapid transformation and regeneration. Housing and office buildings are being constructed next to the re-branded East Village (the former Athlete’s Village which is now private rented housing). The Velo Park, Aquatics Centre, Tennis and Hockey Centre and Copper Box Arena are all open to the public, hosting classes and events. The Stadium itself has been re-purposed as the new home of the West Ham Football team – although this has not been easy to achieve.
In Rio, vast swathes of favela (urban slum) dwellings were cleared to make way for the Athletes’ Village and Olympic arenas which apparently, having been designed modularly, are to be turned into four schools, two public swimming pools and a public park now that the Games are over. The future of the Olympic Village is not quite so community-minded and the developer hopes it will become a new upmarket area of town.At least there are plans for the buildings though. The majority of Athens’ 2004 Olympic venues remain unused and are deteriorating with no clear plans for future use in place. Beijing’s fantastical Bird’s Nest Stadium – designed by Herzog & de Meuron as ‘an architecture that will continue to be functional following the Games in 2008’ - currently costs the taxpayer more than £8 million a year in maintenance fees and it’s not being fully utilised. It has hosted a handful of events since its construction eight years ago and tourists can currently zip round it on a Segway for £15.
Athens’ abandoned Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom (left) and disused swimming pool (right).
It is a shame that buildings in which world records were broken and history made, or which are architectural marvels in their own right, should not have a more propitious future. Given their historical, evidential, communal and often aesthetic value, a great many Olympic venues ought, by rights, to be included on their countries’ statutory lists. In Britain, we have just one listed building which was used for an Olympic event (and we’ve hosted three)!Wembley Arena is a Grade II listed building, designed by Sir E Owen Williams for the 1934 Empire Games. It is built of reinforced concrete and had the largest concrete span in the world at the time. It is noted for its 15 massive concrete buttresses and gabled ends, with narrow windows which increase in height from the edges to the centre. Used for the 1948 Olympic Games, it is the only building on the statutory list to hold this accolade.
The Great Stadium, later known as White City Stadium, was built for the 1908 London Olympic Games and hosted a 1966 World Cup football match as well as being an important greyhound racing venue and speedway track. Hailed as the precursor to modern stadium design, and the UK’s first Olympic stadium, it was demolished in 1985 and the site was later developed for use by BBC White City.
China’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, (left) designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the project architect was Stefan Marbach, in collaboration with artist Ai Weiwei; and London’s 1908 White City Stadium, demolished in 1985 (right).
A number of the UK’s purpose-built 2012 Olympic venues are architecturally outstanding, particularly the Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid and the Velodrome by Hopkins Architects; they may well meet the criteria for listing. There are no velodromes included on the statutory list, despite there being a (brief) entry about velodromes within Historic England’s Guide to Listing for Sports and Recreation Buildings. Although there are listed swimming venues, Zaha Hadid’s exceptional design must surely be worthy of consideration; listing one of her last creations would be a fitting tribute to such an outstanding modern architect. These venues are certainly under no threat of disappearing for now as they’re well-used and therefore not creating a financial burden.
London’s Velo Park by Hopkins Architects, and Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid.
Hosting the Olympics can be an incredibly expensive undertaking. London’s 1948 Olympics re-used a great many existing sporting venues to host the events, as did Los Angeles’ in 1984, the first Games to turn a profit since 1932. The recycling of venues is becoming increasingly popular. LA is proposing to host the city’s third Olympiad and putting old venues to use once again in 2024, and Russia is building a new stadium inside the 1980 Olympic Stadium in Moscow, to host the 2018 World Cup. The stadium was built in 1956 and its refurbishment is seen as a positive re-use of a building which holds great meaning for the people of Moscow.
Tokyo will host the next Games and their proposals include reusing a large number of their 1964 Olympic venues, necessitating the construction of only 11 permanent new buildings. They also propose to make their Games as environmentally sustainable as possible, powering the athlete’s village with hydrogen and locating the stadiums as close to one another as possible to reduce travel emissions. Inspired by Rio, Tokyo’s Olympic Committee intends to turn some of the temporary venues into schools following the Olympic Games.Olympic bids are often used as catalysts for urban regeneration with motives ranging from welfare concerns in London to purported shame at unsightly slums in Rio, but hopefully delivering social benefits in the long run. Having a long term plan for the proposed Olympic stadia is now a requirement of any Olympic bid. If well-planned, holding the Games can have an incredibly positive impact on the host cities and nations. Recycling buildings is both economically and environmentally friendly; recent Games have produced some spectacular pieces of architecture which will hopefully continue to be valued and utilised, in order to be fitting symbols of remarkable human achievements.
 http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/other-sports/athletics/olympic-stadiums-ruins-how-former-8567479 http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/05/what-legacy-when-olympic-stadiums-are-left-to-crumble-6050917/ The German Gymnasium at Kings Cross was the first purpose built gymnasium in Britain and hosted the pre-cursor to the Olympic Games in 1866 (the first modern Olympic Games as we know them were held in Athens in 1896). NLP was involved in the Gymnasium’s sensitive conversion to a German restaurant. http://www.wembleywaspparking.com/blog/wembley-arena-renamed-the-sse-arena/ http://holidayphoto.weebly.com/beijing-national-stadium.html http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/3542374/Olympic-spirit-too-much-for-Cornwall-rugby-team-against-Australia-in-1908-Rugby-Union.html The Herne Hill Velodrome is the last remaining venue from the 1948 Olympics which is still in use for its original purpose, but it is not listed. http://www.globaltravelmate.com/europe/united-kingdom/london/london-olympics/2521-london-velopark.html http://www.e-architect.co.uk/london/london-aquatics-centre http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/after-the-party-what-happens-when-the-olympics-leave-town-901629.html http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/world-olympics-rio-stadiums-games-sports/ http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/sports/soccer/russia-world-cup-stadium-rises-matryoshka-style.html?_r=0 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/sports/soccer/russia-world-cup-stadium-rises-matryoshka-style.html?_r=0 http://www.building.co.uk/tokyo-2020-the-recycled-olympics/5083662.article