Not content with having botched the open competition for the World Trade Center site, New York is now calling on architects to turn their attention to designing housing for 16,000 athletes and coaches during the 2012 Olympic Games, and for 18,000 New Yorkers thereafter. NYC2012, the committee leading New York's bid to become the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games, is noticeably reticent about the status of the winning project. It has confirmed that, having made it through a 15 to 20-week planning and design study, up to five lucky finalists will be subjected to an 'evaluation and public comment period'while staff conduct 'various studies'to assess the viability of the plans.
What happens after that is anybody's guess, but the stated intent to 'generate creative and varied concepts to help design an outstanding Olympic village for New York' suggests that the winners shouldn't hold their breath.
The design of any Olympic village encompasses very specific technical and logistical challenges. How can the immediate requirement for high-level security and minimal travel times to the stadia be reconciled with the long-term demand for homes with easy access to multiple amenities? How does a village designed for a temporary population of atomised individuals metamorphose into the range of housing types required to make a permanent community? Such issues are faced by any competing city, and their successful resolution can elevate the Olympics from a one-off costly spectacle to a lasting regenerative force. It is crucial that relevant research is properly funded and coordinated and, ideally, pooled internationally so that it can form the basis of any site-specific work.
Holding an open competition for any site is a powerful public relations exercise, gives the illusion of transparency and democracy and, as with the World Trade Center, puts off any difficult decisions.But it is unlikely to encourage the most able and imaginative designers to submit their ideas. Entering any competition demands a leap of faith. Entering one expected to attract thousands of entries is foolhardy.
Entering one for an event that might take place somewhere else is positively perverse.