4 Best Olympic Stadiums

It’s time for the Games of the XXX Olympiad, which was a perfect opportunity for everyone to play the games naked like they used to. Sadly, all we have to look at now is the architecture. And the best athletes breaking records for their home nations. But mostly the architecture. I’m not so impressed with the Olympic stadium in London this year. The cauldron is awesome (which probably had nothing to do with Populous, the architects who designed the stadium), but the rest of it is fairly bland. The pyramidal lights don’t really do much for me other than stoke my insane theories about the Illuminati. One cool thing about the Olympic stadium in London: it is designed to be partially dismantled after the games are done, in order to accommodate the smaller crowds. Bonus! London can sell real authentic pieces of the stadium on Ebay to recoup cost overages that accompany the building of every Olympic village. Some people really like the London stadium, though, and building an Olympic village is a great opportunity for a host country to showcase technical prowess and values in architecture. Here are four of my favorites. I put them in chronological order so none of them know which one I love best. Spoiler alert: I didn’t like the Bird’s Nest in China, either.

1952: Games of the XV Olympiad in Helsinki

Like most architects, I get all wobbly-kneed over Scandinavian architecture. This stadium is no exception. Finnish architect Yrjö Lindegren designed this stadium for the 1940 Olympic games, which were postponed due to WWII. When the Olympics returned in 1948, the XIV Olympiad was held in London, where Lindegren competed and won a gold medal. In the town planning category of architecture. Apparently they used to have those. Anyway, I really like that the stepping facade makes it seem like the whole stadium is unfolding into a mechanical flower. The huge tower is a great feature in the composition, giving balance to the long and low form of the stadium. The stadium is still used today, and the tower is open for sightseers. If you want to see what a fish would see at the top of this tower, you can take a look here.

1972: Games of the XX Olympiad in Munich

The design for this stadium has its roots in the run-up to WWII. The 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin, and the architecture built for the games became a soap box for Hitler. When the Olympics came back to Germany in 1972, Munich was determined to provide sharp break from the fascist architecture that dominated the Olympic village in Berlin. The result was this incredible glass facsimile of the Alps, held up by steel cables. If memory serves me from one of my classes in college, each of these acrylic glass panels was a slightly different shape. In addition to the 1974 World Cup, the stadium has hosted many incredible concerts, including 5 sold-out shows by Michael Jackson.

1976: Games of the XXI Olympiad in Montreal

Disclaimer: I’m from Pittsburgh, so I’m partial to big domes that can be dramatically opened. And you know that I approve of towers next to stadiums, so you can just write the rest of this critique yourself. Moving on.

Just kidding! The story for this stadium is a bit sadder than the others. First, the construction of it was not completed in time for the games; the tower was not completed and no roof was on the stadium. The building has also become emblematic of Olympic cost overruns. The city did not pay off the stadium until less than a decade ago, nearly 30 years after the games that it was built for. Maintenance costs on the stadium have soared, and the retractable roof proved to be too costly to maintain, so now a permanent roof covers the field. Shortly after the stadium was finally paid off, the Montreal Expos moved to Washington DC, leaving the building mostly vacant. With problems like these not uncommon for Olympic stadiums, it is a small wonder that Populous designed the London stadium to be partially demountable.

2004: Games of the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens

In 2004, the Olympic games came back to Athens for the first time since the modern Olympics were re-introduced in 1896. Athens made a number of smart decisions in making their Olympic village, including focusing on infrastructure (leaving Athens with a new subway system and airport), and making use of an existing stadium. The field and seating of the stadium remained largely unchanged from the original, which first completed in 1982. It was given a major face-lift in the form of a gorgeous, soaring roof structure, designed by … [pause for wild guesses] … Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava can basically do no wrong, and this amazing roof is no exception.

If you want to take a look at the other incredible stadiums that didn’t make my shortlist, The Telegraph has a great slideshow here. You can make your case for your favorite in the comments.

Thanks to the great photographs from these guys, and double thanks for making them available using the Creative Commons License.

Helsinki’s Stadium is from Kwong Yee Cheng’s photostream on Flickr
Munich’s Stadium is from the Wikimedia Commons
Montreal’s Stadium is from fiskadoro’s photostream on Flickr
Athens’ Stadium is from wallyg’s photostream on Flickr

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