On the rocky road to Rio
Expo, the 1851 Great Exhibition. It was perhaps the high point of Victorian architectural ambition and was moved from Hyde Park to Crystal Palace Park in 1854. The palace burnt down in 1936, but you can still see the steps, statues and terraces, plus the park contains Victorian curios such as the famous dinosaurs. There are even plans to rebuild the palace; crystalpalacepark.org.uk.
THE INDEPENDENT It’s (almost) summer Olympics time again and Rio de Janeiro is already copping heat over its Games legacy. More than a year before the event, authorities acknowledge that a pivotal Games pledge to clean up the Brazilian city’s waterways won’t be met.
What the Games will bring to Rio over the long term remains to be seen but perhaps lessons will be learned from past hosts. Since the modern summer Olympics began in Athens in 1896, 22 cities have played host, some multiple times. Legacies range from smart regeneration projects to stadiums that are now white elephants.
Since London’s 2012 Games, its Olympics site has reopened in stages as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (its Twitter account goes by the modest handle @noordinarypark). One of the Games’ icons, sculptor Anish Kapoor and designer Cecil Balmond’s loopy ArcelorMittal Orbit, is a popular attraction. Visitors can ascend to the viewing platform or descend, rather rapidly, on a freefall abseil. The view from Britain’s tallest sculpture takes in architect Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre – now minus the controversial spectator wings tacked onto her original design — along with the Olympic Stadium that will become West Ham United football club’s new home next year. Plans for a cultural precinct include new spaces for the Victoria and Albert Museum and Sadler’s Wells.
Beijing’s 2008 Games also featured distinctive architecture, particularly the National Stadium, better known as the Bird’s Nest. The ceramics-inspired design came from dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who in 2012 expressed regrets about his involvement. Visitors can tour the venue although many suggest it’s more photogenic at night. The neighbouring bubble-covered Aquatics Centre, aka the Water Cube, attracted a new generation by opening Happy Magic waterpark in 2010.
The city that’s struggled most in recent times to transition its Olympic venues is Athens, cradle of the modern Games. Certainly, the government faces bigger concerns than repurposing sporting venues. Greece’s economy nosedived after the 2004 Games and is still battling to deal with its debt crisis. One bright spot is Badminton Theatre, located within the sporting venue’s industrial facade and now a cutting-edge entertainment venue.
Even Sydney took time finding its feet after the 2000 Games, with organisers admitting they didn’t focus enough on the post-Games transition. Olympic Park has come into its own, aided by infrastructure that can shift tens of thousands of spectators (tickets for many of the park’s events include public transport). Stadium Australia, where Cathy Freeman won gold, is now ANZ Stadium. It holds 83,500 spectators and hosts events from football games to AC/DC and Taylor Swift concerts.
Host cities from the 1990s have become Olympic role models for different reasons. For the 1996 Games, Atlanta, Georgia, designed its main stadium so it could convert into a park for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. For the 1992 Games, Barcelona made over its Mediterranean seafront, which is now one of the city’s liveliest drawcards, packed with joggers, swimmers, sunbathers and fiercely competitive domino players.
Clockwise from above, the Atomium (Brussels 1958); China Pavilion (Shanghai 2010); Eiffel Tower (Paris 1889); Palazzo Italia (Milan 2015)
Competitors pass the Bird’s Nest, designed by Ai Weiwei for the Beijing 2008 Olympics