What happens when the Olympic circus leaves town is now a key factor in the planning for a Summer Games. After the Rio Games are over, it will be Aecom’s masterplan that should ensure an enduring legacy.
There was a time when an Olympic Games was seen as very much a one-off event. If the aftermath was considered, it was almost entirely in terms of what would happen to the main stadium and its associated arenas, aquatic centres and competitor accommodation. The long term impact on the host city itself was often a minor concern.
All this has changed. As the cost of staging the Summer Games rocketed over the last several decades it became harder to justify the massive investment without spelling out exactly what the legacy of the Games would be. Cities bidding to host the Games now have to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they have thought the legacy needs through, and that their proposals will have a long term beneficial impact on the bidding city.
London Olympic stadium architect Populous senior advisor Geraint John says the focus began to shift around 10 years ago.
“The IOC realised it had to discourage host cities from overreaching themselves and creating white elephants – expensive facilities which then stand unused and decaying after the Games.
“Legacy now has to be considered from day one.”
John cites Athens 2004 as an example of white elephant proliferation, with arenas for minority sports such as beach volleyball falling into dereliction. “They didn’t think about legacy until far too late,” he says.
Rio 2016 Games Mode Artist Impression
And the iconic Beijing “Bird’s Nest” stadium now sees little use, although it has become a major tourist attraction. Barcelona 1992, is, however, one of the best examples of what the IOC promotes as the ideal legacy of any Summer Games.
After the 1992 Games an entire post-industrial sector of the Barcelona was revitalised. There were massive investments in transport infrastructure, including new ring roads. Barcelona became one of the most visited cities in Europe in subsequent years.
In 2014 the IOC drew up its Olympic Agenda 2020 – basically a roadmap for all future Games. In it, the IOC says it will “consider as positive aspects for a bid: the maximum use of existing facilities and the use of temporary and demountable venues where no long term venue legacy need exists or can be justified.”
AECOM Rio 2016 aerial shot of Legacy Park
It adds that the evaluation of competing bids requires “third party independent advice in such areas as social, economic and political conditions, with a special focus on sustainability and legacy.”
For this year’s Games in Rio di Janeiro, translating these principles into a masterplan has been the responsibility of consultant Aecom, fresh from leading the multidisciplinary team that developed the masterplan for London 2012.
“Legacy was fundamental to the planning and design process from the very start,” says Aecom executive vice president and global sports leader Bill Hanway. “We see the Games themselves as just one milestone in the on-going legacy programme.”
Most recent Olympics have revolved around a new and usually controversial main stadium. Rio has taken a different path. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place in the world-famous Maracanã stadium, while the existing João Havelange stadium built for the 2007 Pan American Games will be upgraded to host the athletics.
Rio 2016 Games Mode Olympic Way
Most new venues will be concentrated in the new Olympic Park, located to the south west of Rio. The site is a 120ha flat triangular area of reclaimed land bordered on two sides by a lagoon and with a spectacular mountain backdrop. Until 1990 it was the location of the Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix, and motor racing continued there until 2012.
“One of the big challenges here was the timescale,” reports Aecom director and sports business unit leader Peter Ayres. “At London, design work began eight years ahead. Here we had just four.”
Three masterplanning phases
There are three distinct phases in masterplanning, he adds: preparation for the events, a transitional phase that begins after the Games are over, and the long term legacy.
“These had to be carried out in parallel, with legacy an integral part of the entire process.”
Consulting the local community is vital, Hanway says. “We need to understand their goals in terms of new schools, community facilities, and urban transport, as well as legacy sporting venues.
“Our approach is always localised, our design for Rio is grounded in Rio’s culture, lifestyle and biodiversity.”
Our approach is always localised, our design for Rio is grounded in Rio’s culture, lifestyle and biodiversity
Bill Hanway, Aecom
In the longer term, the Olympic Park will become a lushly planted public open space, with promenades and terraces and active spaces. All planting will be native Brazilian species, and along the fringes more than 5ha of mangrove and sandbars will restore the waterfront to something close to its original condition and function long term as a water-polishing component of the surface water drainage system.
There will be permanent legacy sports venues as well. The three adjoining Carioca Arenas, scene of the judo, taekwondo, wrestling and basketball events, will become respectively a sports-orientated municipal school, a multi-purpose community centre and a high performance athletics training centre.
The tennis centre will continue to hold tournaments. However, Aecom has adopted an innovative design approach to other structures on the site.
“We prepared preliminary designs for six new venues and provided full architectural services for the International Broadcast Centre,” says Ayres.
“Legacy use was the over-riding factor – it was almost the case that we were designing structures for their use in 20 years time.”
Temporary venues that could be dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere were used extensively at the 2012 Games, and were judged to be a great success despite the fact that the basketball court has yet to find a new role. At Rio Aecom took the concept one key stage further.
What the mayor of Rio dubbed “nomadic architecture” was adopted for the handball arena, the aquatics stadium and the massive broadcast centre. This involves designing the structures to be easily demountable and easy to transform into pre-planned end uses.
Basic designs featured highly standardised modular steel structures stacked and bolted together. Ease of dismantling was crucial, as was straightforward re-assembly.
Thus the handball arena will become four new primary schools throughout Rio. The aquatics stadium will be reborn as two aquatics centres, both with 50m pools. And structural steelwork from the broadcast centre will become the frame for the residential component of a new high school.
All other temporary structures in the park will be removed after the Games. Says Hanway: “It’s better to leave an empty space behind than a venue that’s left unused and in decline.”
He adds that sustainability was another key parameter. “We gave a lot of thought to what building materials were available locally, and the re-use of materials already on the site.
“The new park will become one of Rio’s most sustainable districts, and everything that remains after the Olympics will have a long term permanent use.”