Bulldozing cities, the cost of the Olympic Games.

Bulldozing cities, the cost of the Olympic Games.

Global Controversy

2008-present

Tyler Wolcott and Taylor Hagan

Bulldozing Cities: The Cost of the Olympic Games from Taylor Hagan on Vimeo.

“Welcome to the Olympic Park” boast signs in multiple languages in cities all over the world. Presently though, these signs are less of ceremonial gateways, and more of constant reminders of the unchanging identities of the structures. Every two years we celebrate the competition of athletes on the world’s literal stage while somewhere else, neighborhoods are being prepped for demolition and construction of the next Olympic park. The struggle of this lies in the future of these structures and their integration with the city.

While the Olympics are a broad subject matter, specific instances help cultivated the issues behind the role of their architecture in the urban fabric. Such a moment is a glimpse into the construction and planning of the 2008 Beijing Olympic park. While many are just tuning in to the park during its first use as a fully constructed entity, perhaps the most controversial work has already taken place years prior. Once the site for the Olympics has been chosen, and in some instances, before, production begins on design and construction documents. In the instance of the Beijing Olympics, this process completely disregarded the context of the Olympic park and treated it more so as a cleared site than anything else, the problem with this? The site was in fact being inhabited by communities and neighborhoods, families and singles, the young and the elderly.

The process for obtaining the land is not quite as professional and ethically moral as these governments and developers would have the world believe. The Chinese government came into these towns and bought out the homes for the lowest price, sometimes even buying the land from underneath the residences in order to demolish at the lowest cost. Families were evicted with the promise of new homes, though while most made the list of relocation, a far more significant amount, were never actually provided for.

Families watch in tears as  homes are erased
Families watch in tears as homes are erased

And then there were those who chose to stay, who believed they had some sort of chance of winning against any government, let alone one who is known globally for ruling the personal lives of their people. Electric and heat were turned off, sewage-lines were plugged and reverse-flowed and trash was allowed to pile up around the remaining homes until the tenant passed or moved. In many ways these communities were buried in the foundations of these single-use athletic monuments.

The Olympic parks are designed with a focus towards grand experiences, essentially billboards to the reputation of the host country. Massive athletic buildings are constructed to house thousands of people, most centered on one specific use. The designation and design of these buildings focus solely on the individual event, and traditionally ignore the surrounding context or future use. Perhaps the biggest perpetrator in these regards is the Track and Field stadium that duals as the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies. The stadium strives to hold millions of people and provide a show-stopping environment in person or on screen, stopping at no lengths in the construction or implementation to obtain the glorification of a world-renowned production. Hundreds of homes and businesses demolished, families displaced, millions of dollars, and numerous years of construction and the stands are filled just twice.

Then and now, iconic Olympic parks to ruins.
Then and now, iconic Olympic parks to ruins.

At the conclusion of the games, the facilities are cleaned, the workers leave, the gates chained shut and the content is left as it is[1].

Long-term plans are boasted by every firm entering the competition, used as a marketing tool instead of a means of true repurposing. Where are they now? All over the world, stadiums sit empty waiting to be bought or eventually fall into such disrepair that they must be demolished.

Olympic stadium remains ominous and unintegrated
Olympic stadium remains ominous and unintegrated

 

 

 

The Bird’s nest stadium costs $10 million to operate annually and yet can only muster enough visitors to justify Segway tours and photo ops.A two-year winter land was eventually discarded after attendance failed to meet the operating costs. And what do the architects say about this? Jacques Herzog went so far as to compare the Bird’s nest to the Eiffel tower saying “If the people love it they will take care of it”, and that it will stand to be an emblem of the country, whether or not it was meant to be torn down. Consulting artist on the “emblem”, Ai Weiwei, refuses to even step foot in the stadium, calling it propaganda of a dishonest and manipulative government.  If an emblem it is, then it stands to reason that it markets the country as one that is in dire disrepair, drowning in its own expenses left to the mercy of kitschy tourism gimmicks and family vacation photo ops[2].

The Beijing Olympics is just one example of this controversy, it is in fact happening everyday somewhere in the world. Whether it be, planning, construction or implementation, these cities continue to have a global impact. The question becomes, how can we adapt and develop a more resolute awareness for this impact, how can we avoid the destruction of entire towns becoming a wasted means in the end. This concept begins to be addressed in the construction of the 2016 Olympic city in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The competition winners of the 2016 Olympic city bid have outlined plans for city integration over the four years succeeding its initial use. The plans include some demolition and construction of additions and addendums to make future successful use possible. These changes included the implementation of a standard city grid and housing construction to make good on the relocation of the hundreds of people displaced in order to construct the grounds.

Plans for repurposing addendums to Rio Olympic city
Plans for repurposing addendums to Rio Olympic city

And while there is no clear evidence as to whether or not this proposal will ever come to take shape in the hands of Rio, it is clearly a step towards a more cognizant design of these Olympic parks[3].

Ultimately these decisions are ones that are nearly impossible to recover from, whether it is the ousting out families, destruction of a city’s heritage, or the construction of facilities so massive they destine themselves to become disregarded. The question stands to reason, whose job is it anyway? It certainly does not lie on the shoulders of the Olympic committee, it is not the job of the athletes or the audience and the city fails to provide the means. So it comes full circle to land in the Architect’s court. It becomes the necessary and obligatory responsibility of the Architect to be mindful and proactive in designing structures that have a future beyond two weeks. Whether all that receive the awards for these competitions also have the capability to do this, has yet to be seen.

 

 


[1] Gaus, Mischa. Alter Net. July 10, 2007. http://www.alternet.org/story/56128/how_the_olympics_destroy_cities (accessed 09 08, 2013).

 

[2] Vinnitskaya, Irina. Arch Daily. March 12, 2012. http://www.archdaily.com/214726/rio-de-janeiros-favelas-the-cost-of-the-2016-olympic-games/ (accessed 09 08, 2013).

 

[3] AECOM. “Rio Olympics 2016: Legacy or Fallacy?” Projective Cities. 11 12, 2012. http://projectivecities.aaschool.ac.uk/portfolio/thiago-soveral-rio-olympics-2016/ (accessed 09 08, 2013).

 

RESEARCH RESOURCES

 

Journalism

Gaus, Mischa. Alter Net. July 10, 2007. http://www.alternet.org/story/56128/how_the_olympics_destroy_cities (accessed 09 08, 2013).

This article discusses in depth, the tactics used by developers and countries to oust citizens of entire neighborhoods set to be demolished for the construction of Olympic stadiums. The value in this article is the relevant discussion on the treatment of low-income neighborhoods in the development of Olympic construction.

Vinnitskaya, Irina. Arch Daily. March 12, 2012. http://www.archdaily.com/214726/rio-de-janeiros-favelas-the-cost-of-the-2016-olympic-games/ (accessed 09 08, 2013).

This article by Arch Daily produces testimonies of people being impacted by the beginning construction for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero. The accounts of these citizens expose the reality of the impact on rural and impoverished communities. This article presents the opposing side of Olympic construction directly from the eyes of the community and brings new life to the controversial topic in wake of the upcoming olympics.

 

 

Encyclopedia Entries

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Beijing 2008 Olympic Games: Mount Olympus Meets the Middle Kingdom,” accessed September 08, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1702245/Mount-Olympus-Meets-the-Middle-Kingdom.

The importance of this encyclopedia entry lies in the understanding of Olympic ritual and custom more fully. Through the practices of modern and ancient games we can begin to learn where this disconnect happened between practical architecture and the creation of monuments to destruction.

 

“Olympic Games.” The New Book of Knowledge. Grolier Online http://nbk.grolier.com/ncpage?tn=/encyc/article.html&id=a2021730-

h&type=0ta (accessed September 8, 2013).

This encyclopedia entry elaborates on the many issues that arise with the Olympics.

 

Scholarly Articles

Architectural Association. “Rio Olympics 2016: Legacy or Fallacy?” Projective Cities. 11 12, 2012. http://projectivecities.aaschool.ac.uk/portfolio/thiago-soveral-rio-olympics-2016/ (accessed 09 08, 2013).

This digital article composed by the Architectural Association graduate school contests the concept of Legacy versus Fallacy and the expectations of Olympic Stadiums. When and how will we adapt or change our construction habits when it comes to these massive parks that relocated entire towns and challenges the existing urban fabric, to be more conscientious of the impact.

 

“Olympic Games.” The New Book of Knowledge. Grolier Online http://nbk.grolier.com/ncpage?tn=/encyc/article.html&id=a2021730-

h&type=0ta (accessed September 8, 2013).

 

In this article Even Smith Wergeland examines the design legacy of olympic architecture. There seems to be a disconnect between the planning of the construction and future use of Olympic structures and their actual execution. He sets up a case study of the 2004 Athens Olympics in order to understand how the 2012 London Olympics will operate.

 

Orthographic Documentation

AECOM. “Rio Olympics 2016: Legacy or Fallacy?” Projective Cities. 11 12, 2012. http://projectivecities.aaschool.ac.uk/portfolio/thiago-soveral-rio-olympics-2016/ (accessed 09 08, 2013).

This image shows a plan and diagrammatic representation of construction progression to gradually repurpose the Rio De Janiero stadium at the completion of the 2016 Olympics. This image is in wake of controversy over the exposed plans to permanently relocate hundreds of people and implement controversial architecture, in order to justify the means through the proposed quality of the ends.

 

Stitching the Fringe: Working Around the Olympic Park; http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/136682673?access_key=key-27uavjedzehynyt8coy&allow_share=true&view_mode=scroll

This source outlines how London plans to weave the Olympic park and surrounding areas together. They are not only concentrating on the re-opening of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park but are also working to rehabilitate the fringe areas of the site. Because of the nature of the surrounding neighborhoods and other deprived areas, they did not want the Olympic Park to be seen as a trophy placed amongst the disadvantaged parts of London. By stretching the scope of the repurposing of the Olympic park they are working to benefit a grander scale of London.

 

Video and Audio

Forced Removals in Pavão Pavãozinho. Directed by Rio On Watch. 2011.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XqueXdp__xc

This video is an interview with a citizen of a town in rural Rio De Janiero that is in line to be demolished to make way for the Olympic park. Through the eyes of these people we can understand the depth to which relocation impacts their families, communities and jobs.

 

China’s Post-Olympic Woe: How to Fill an Empty Nest http://www.npr.org/2012/07/10/156368611/chinas-post-olympic-woe-how-to-fill-an-empty-nest

Focusing on the Olympic structures in Beijing, NPR exposes how the once revered monumental buildings, such as the bird’s nest and the water cube, are now struggling to find a proper use.

Tactics to turn a profit with the 91,000 seat bird’s nest stadium have included temporary ski-slopes as a winter attraction, a waxworks museum showcasing members of the International Olympic Committee, and even Segway rides around the track. But with tourist numbers dwindling and an annual upkeep of $11 million it’s difficult to see how the stadium is breaking even. Due to size and cost, the nest isn’t an appropriate venue for certain events.

The Water Cube on the other hand has found a function. It operates as a water park, but even so it isn’t terribly successful. The deputy manager, Yang Qiyong, even said “It’s extremely, extremely difficult not to lose money.” In the past, the government has had to intervene with $1.5 million in subsidiaries just so that the park could break even.

All in all, these structures seem to have lost their way in finding their place in Beijing post Olympic games. Ai Weiwei, the chinese artist who played an integral part in the Bird’s Nest conception, has even expressed regret in designing the monument and hasn’t yet set foot in the building. “We love this building, but we don’t like the content they have put in, the kind of propaganda. They dissociated this building [from] citizens’ celebration or happiness; [it’s] not integrated with the city’s life,” Ai said.

 

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