LONDON — While I’m qualified to tell you about strange scenes at the Olympics — such as Putin, Cameron, Pussy Riot and seven sports converging at ExCeL — I lack the expertise to review the 2012 Games from an architectural standpoint. I do, however, have a friend and former Central Park baseball teammate who was a senior architect for New York’s Olympic Bid Committee (NYC2012), a games advisor for London’s organizing committee (LOCOG) and currently works as a sports architect in New York. He is Scott Schiamberg, and this is his second guest post: an Olympic architect’s assessment of the best creative-use venues in London.
The most interesting venues at an Olympics tend to be the ones that could only be pulled off for the sake of an Olympics. It’s been a trend at recent Games to create unique experiences that capture the essence of the host city, usually by retro-fitting a venue into a historic setting strictly for the duration of the sporting events.
These are the Olympic version of a Michigan State-North Carolina college basketball game on an aircraft carrier, or the Northwestern-Illinois college football game at Wrigley Field. The symbolic image of the 1992 Games was diving at Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc with the skyline of Barcelona in the background. In 2004 at the Athens Games, archery was hosted at Panathinaiko Stadium, the first Olympic Stadium of the modern era. In 2008 in Beijing, road cycling was held at the foot of the Great Wall. LOCOG did a great job to use and transform London in 2012, with these being the top three creative-use venues:
Gold Medal: Beach Volleyball at Horse Guards Parade
The London beach volleyball venue has everything an Olympic venue should. It’s embedded within one of the host city’s historic landmarks, it has an iconic presence in the mental landscape of the city, and it’s a temporary facility that provides everything that the sport and Olympics require and will transform back to itself post-Games. The equivalent of a 15,000-seat arena with supporting infrastructure has been carefully inserted into a site steeped in the history and symbolism of London — on top of a famous horse-marching ground. When the games are over the facility will be dismantled, and its parts used in other temporary events around the world. This should be one of the venues that will long be remembered and associated with the London Olympics.
Silver: Triathlon at Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and St. James Park
Triathlon is one of the newest Olympic sports, having debuted in the 2000 Sydney Games, and while it doesn’t require the construction of a traditional, fixed-seat arena, London’s organizers provided athletes and spectators with one of the most historic backdrops in sport. By putting swimming in the Serpentine, running through Hyde Park and cycling in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace, the course architects managed to combine the race with a tour of London landmarks, and make it one of the must-attend events of the Games. The fact that it offered thousands of non-ticket-holding fans a chance to get close to the action, at an Olympics where tickets were incredibly scarce, is yet another positive.
Bronze: Archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground
(David E. Klutho/SI)
The Athens’ Games organizers made a great move by putting archery in the 1896 Olympic Stadium, which was one of the all-time creative-use venues. In London, they went a similar route, dropping the bow-and-arrow competition inside the world’s most hallowed cricket ground at Lord’s. The average fan is barely aware that archery is an Olympic sport, and wouldn’t seek it out on TV — but by pairing it with a historic venue to create a unique setting, the organizers ensured that archery would have an impact on the Olympic scene.
To read Schiamberg’s first guest post, reviewing the best new venue designs in London, click here.