Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

Olympic Design: Canada’s Ovals has enlisted the help of the bloggers behind Canadian Design Resource to author a series of posts on the design spirit of their country’s three Olympic Games: Montreal 1976, Calgary 1988, and Vancouver 2010. Today, CDR’s Jesse Jackson takes a look at Canada’s Olympic Ovals:

Like the neighbouring stadium, Montreal’s Olympic Velodrome was designed by Mayor Jean Drapeau’s hand-picked muse, French architect Roger Taillibert. Its construction cost was similarly over-budget: in this case $70 million Canadian, which was $58 million more than projected as a result of labour unrest and the difficulty of fabricating and assembling the large number of unique pre-cast concrete segments required. Architect John Hix described the resulting building as “some giant Paleozoic tribolite come to rest at the bottom of the sea.” Its dramatically lit interior space hosted the track cycling and judo events at the 1976 Summer Games.

Velodrome Olympique, Montreal
Agence Roger Taillibert, gouvernement du Québec, 1976


Like the neighbouring stadium, Montreal’s Olympic Velodrome featured skeletal forms and huge cost overruns. (Fishhead64, Wikimedia)

Much to the frustration of cycling fans, who lost what was arguably the finest indoor velodrome in the world, the building has housed the Montreal Biodome since 1992. This popular tourist attraction re-creates five North American ecosystems indoors.

The closest equivalent event to track cycling at the Winter Games is speed skating; many athletes cross between the two sports. Canadian cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes won multiple Olympic medals at both the Summer and Winter Games: she’s the only person to have accomplished this feat.

Calgary’s Olympic Oval, which housed the speed skating events in 1988, was emphatically under-budget: Calgary’s organizers were ever mindful of the financial disaster of the 1976 event. Also constructed of architecturally expressive pre-cast concrete components, the rational symmetry of the Oval’s lattice contrast the structural inefficiency of its zoomorphic Montreal counterpart.

The Olympic Oval, Calgary
Graham McCourt Architects, Simpson Lester Goodrich Partnership, 1988


Calgary’s Olympic Oval, the world’s first—and fastest—indoor speed skating facility.



Calgary’s facility was the first of its type: previous Olympic speed skating events had been contested outdoors. As a result, the Oval quickly became known as the “World’s Fastest Ice,” and it remains the location of the largest number of International Skating Union world records: 30, as of March 2008. As with the Saddledome, the Oval was designed by the Calgary firm Graham McCourt Architects, this time with the Simpson Lester Goodrich Partnership providing the structural engineering.

The Richmond Olympic Oval, by Cannon Design, is the most significant new facility constructed for the 2010 Games. Its gently curved wooden ceiling, constructed from salvaged local lumber damaged by pine-beetle infestation, is an architectural marvel. Innovatively engineered by Fast+Epp, the ceiling’s aesthetic and acoustical qualities create an interior environment that is warm and inviting. Much is being made of the energy and environmental performance of Vancouver’s Olympic venues, and with its innovative material reclamation, heat recovery, and rainwater collection features, the Richmond Olympic Oval is no exception.

The Richmond Olympic Oval
Cannon Design, Fast+Epp, 2009


The Richmond Olympic Oval features a gently curved wooden ceiling constructed from reclaimed lumber. (Adrian 8,


Situated on the banks of the Fraser River, the Richmond facility is envisioned to become the focal point of a new community. (


(Bob Matheson,

Richmond’s Oval will be converted into a multipurpose athletic facility at the conclusion of the Games, at the expense of the 400-metre long-track, which is just as well, given that this ice is proving to be notoriously slow. The Calgary Oval will remain Canada’s primary training facility for elite skaters, while the Richmond Oval is envisioned to become the athletic focal point of a new waterfront community. Clara Hughes, now 37 and Canada’s flag bearer at this year’s opening ceremony, will compete in her fifth Olympic Games in the Richmond Oval.

(On Friday, the CDR crew took a look at Canada’s Olympic stadiums.)

  • Published On Feb. 22, 2010 by lukewinn
  • Olympic Design: Canada’s Stadiums has enlisted the help of the bloggers behind Canadian Design Resource to author a series of posts on the design spirit of their country’s three Olympic Games: Montreal 1976, Calgary 1988, and Vancouver 2010. Today, CDR’s Jesse Jackson takes a look at Canada’s Olympic stadiums:

    Any discussion of Olympic sporting facilities in hockey-mad Canada begins with the Montreal Forum, which is considered the most storied building in hockey history. Home to the Montreal Canadiens — professional hockey’s winningest team — for 72 years, the Forum was ultimately abandoned in 1996 for a larger and more lucrative stadium several blocks away, and later converted into a theatre complex.

    Forum de Montreal
    Canadian Arena Company, 1924

    Montreal Forum

    The Montreal Forum under construction in 1924.(City of Montréal Archives)

    Montreal Forum

    The Montreal Forum in 1960. (City of Montréal Archives)

    The Forum was a legendary Olympic venue. It was there, during the 1976 Montreal Games, that Nadia Com?neci scored a perfect 10 on the uneven bars — an Olympic gymnastics first. The 14-year-old Romanian’s cumulative score couldn’t be displayed on the three-digit electronic scoreboard, so it appeared as “1.00″ instead. She would go on to repeat the feat six more times and win three gold medals.

    The Forum was also the site of the Olympic handball, basketball, volleyball and boxing events in 1976. Although it’s architecturally unremarkable, the Forum is unparalleled as an historic site in Canadian sports.

    The Montreal Olympic Stadium, on the other hand, is remarkable architecture. Infamous for its cost overruns, “The Big O” (or, less generously, “The Big Owe”) is also a striking landmark, holding its own against such noteworthy company as Frei Otto’s 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium and Herzog & de Meuron’s 2008 Beijing National Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”).

    French architect Roger Taillibert designed the stadium at the behest of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, who refused to permit any cost-saving measures to restrict his artist’s concept. The stadium cost $700 million (Canadian) to construct, more than 10 times Taillibert’s original estimate. The tower and the retractable roof it supports were not completed until 1987, and in the end, the roof never operated as intended. Still, the building’s sweeping skeletal forms and the dramatic cantilever of the 170-meter (560-foot) tower create a stadium experience unlike any other. The venue was host to a variety of events at the 1976 Games, including the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, and soccer.

    Stade Olympique, Montreal
    Agence Roger Taillibert, gouvernement du Quebec, 1976


    The sweeping skeletal forms of Montreal's Olympic Stadium. (Acarpentier,


    Montreal's retractable roof never operated as intended, and several generations of fixed roofs have been installed in its place. (Ian Muttoo,

    Given the spate of stadium demolitions across North America, perhaps Taillibert’s grandiose gesture is proving to have lasting value. In 1976, critics noted that Seattle’s Kingdome, which had a similar capacity and also opened that year, only cost $60 million (Canadian) to construct; the Kingdome, of course, was torn down in 2000. As Taillibert immodestly put it back then: “When you look at the Eiffel Tower, what remains to think about? The honorarium Eiffel received, or the structure he created?”

    The Olympic Saddledome in Calgary, designed by the local firm Graham McCourt Architects with the engineering assistance of Jan Bobrowski & Associates, is an exercise in structural rationality. Its iconic hyperboloid roof, formed of concrete panels hung from a net of steel cables, was never intended to mimic a saddle. But in a contest held to name the building, more than half the entries incorporated the word “saddle,” and the name stuck. Another unintended benefit of the building’s shape is volumetric efficiency: Compared to other stadiums of equal capacity, the Saddledome has less interior space to illuminate and heat.

    Olympic Saddledome, Calgary
    Graham McCourt Architects, City of Calgary, 1983


    Calgary's Saddledome, with the city's other architectural icon, the Calgary Tower, visible in the background

    Now known as the Pengrowth Saddledome, Calgary’s stadium was an essential ingredient in Calgary’s winning Olympic bid, and was host to figure skating and ice hockey during the 1988 Winter Games. It also helped the city secure its NHL franchise, the Flames.Though not as architecturally dramatic as its Montreal counterpart, the Saddledome has become an integral part of Calgary’s civic identity.

    Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium, on the other hand, seems more anomalous than integral. Its positioning is awkward relative to surrounding Yaletown, Vancouver’s glittering collection of compact glass-clad apartment towers. It’s a cinder block resting uncomfortably in a gurgling brook (although in its defense, it did land first). Built in 1983 in advance of the 1986 World’s Fair (Expo ‘86) it hosted the opening ceremonies and will host the closing ceremonies at the 2010 Games. This is first time these events have been held indoors.

    BC Place, Vancouver
    Studio Phillips Barrett, Province of British Columbia, 1983

    BC Place

    When complete, Vancouver's Yaletown development, seen to the left, will engulf BC Place in a shroud of glass towers. The Plaza of Nations complex, seen to the right, was also built for Expo '86, and has since been demolished. (Thomas Quine,


    BC Place's inflatable roof collapsed in 2007, and is scheduled to be replaced after the 2010 Games. (Julien Silva,

    Originally designed by Studio Phillips Barrett, BC Place is scheduled to have its inflatable roof replaced with a rigid retractable structure after the Games. Perhaps this will attract the MLB team that the stadium was originally intended to lure — although Montreal’s loss of the Expos and Vancouver’s inability to retain its NBA franchise don’t bode well for that cause.

    (On Thursday, the CDR crew took a look at Canada’s Olympic medals.)

  • Published On Feb. 19, 2010 by lukewinn