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AECOM's Bill Hanway: 'The Olympic Park reflects the new economic reality in Brazil'

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AECOM chief Bill Hanway talks about masterplanning the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, what he learned from London 2012 and how this year’s venues will be turned into new schools

When you won the competition to deliver the Rio masterplan, how did go about assembling the team to deliver the project?
The primary goal when putting together the team was to find the right balance – our internal team with key partners and Rio-based design talent. It was a great mix that worked well from the outset.

The core group was the AECOM design team that had already been working on the London 2012 Games for eight years, so had deep knowledge of the process and International Olympic Committee (IOC) requirements. We collaborated with Wilkinson Eyre, with whom we had an established relationship and also worked on London 2012, and a local architect in Rio, Daniel Gusmao.

How were the challenges of delivering the Rio games different to those you faced for London 2012?
Every games we’ve worked on has been different. Preparations are influenced by a number of factors including political, physical, environmental and cultural issues as well as, of course, the economy. While Rio is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the physical conditions that make it unique – mountains and rain forests coming down to touch the beaches – also create challenges in terms of delivering infrastructure to support a westward expansion of the city. The site of the Olympic Park is in Barra da Tijuca, west of the city centre and with a masterplan designed by Lúcio Costa.

The scale of change in the economic fortunes of Brazil was even more severe than in London

Although we had to deal with the global market crash in 2008 in London, the scale of change in the economic fortunes of Brazil was even more severe. When Brazil won the games [in 2009], it was on the ascendency and poised to overtake the UK in the global GDP tables. Now we are looking at an entirely different context and in the last two years the focus has been to deliver an Olympic Park that reflects the new economic reality while minimising compromises and still delivering a great games.

As with London 2012, strong leadership from the mayor and Organising Committee helped facilitate decisions and focus on what was best for the city as well as the legacy.

How does the legacy aspect of the Rio games differ from London 2012?
Our approach to developing the design was modelled after London. At the start, we worked closely with Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes to understand his vision for the legacy and the creation of a new neighbourhood. As in London, this involved three concepts – games, transition and legacy – that we tested and worked on in parallel.

The principles of creating a strong urban identity were also consistent. We looked at the balance of residential, commercial, retail, and sports venues and facilities with the needs for social infrastructure and public open space. Importantly, the sports facilities were all designed with a legacy, either to enable a clear business plan going forward or transformation into an alternative use.

A final distinction is that the Olympic Park is being delivered as a Public Private Partnership (PPP), called Rio Mais, made up of Carvalho Hosken, Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez. This structure helps ensure that the legacy remains a priority and not one that is abandoned after the games.

Live site night rio

Live site night rio

How did the approach of the client differ between the two games and what issues did that raise for you?
Both cities had strong leadership from their mayors throughout the process, with Ken Livingstone and then Boris Johnson in London and Eduardo Paes in Rio. Their goals for the legacy were established early in the process and monitored throughout the delivery stage.

The major difference was the delivery structure. Although components of the London plan were conceived as a PPP, the overall park was the responsibility of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which therefore had a large team reflecting that level of responsibility. This required delivery through multiple work-streams and strong project management to ensure coordination across all disciplines. A very effective, but perhaps also a very ‘British’ approach.

In Rio, the entire site of the main Olympic Park was delivered as a PPP. This structure meant that the mayor’s team was more compact and that decisions were made with the contractors, developers, and sports representatives aware of the challenges.

Did the spirit and culture of Brazil alter the approach taken in London 2012?
The design concepts were inspired by the culture of Rio as well as the environment. At the competition stage, the design of both the park and the buildings reflected different types of indigenous species found in the Atlantic rainforest as well as along the coast. The black and white striped pattern of the Via Olímpica, the main Olympic pedestrian zone, was derived from Roberto Burle Marx’s landscapes and paving patterns found along Copacabana Beach.

The design of both the park and the buildings reflect different types of indigenous species found in the Atlantic rainforest

The southern point of the Via Olímpica culminates in a large ‘Live Site’ capable of holding in excess of 10,000 people. In spite of all the challenges facing Rio, the desire was to be able to have a location where the spirit and culture of Cariocas can come to light and where the city could hold nightly concerts and celebrations.

How big a part did the challenge of climate change play in the masterplanning process?
Climate change impacts all of our designs. How to be both sustainable and resilient informs and drives our work. In the competition scheme, we wanted to take advantage of the world’s attention to design the legacy of the ‘Live Site’ as a return to its native state to become a showcase to raise awareness of the impact of development. The current legacy plan still embraces this ideal and all of the future planting that will be introduced in the current hard landscaping of the site will be of indigenous species.

What lessons did you learn from the experience of 2012 and in which areas did that allow you to improve your approach?
One of the most interesting developments from London was the approach to temporary venues. ‘Nomadic Architecture’ was a term first used by mayor Paes about three years ago to describe his thoughts on the temporary architecture used for major sports events. We then evolved the idea and developed an approach that not only used temporary structures that could be demounted and reused (such as the Basketball Arena in London), but also looked at how the component parts of the design could be transformed into other uses.

The Handball Arena will be disassembled and rebuilt as four new primary schools

The mayor wanted to make sure that the investment in the games could be translated into building social infrastructure, especially primary schools and community based sports facilities. We developed this concept for the Aquatics venue and the Handball Arena using this approach. The Handball Arena was successfully realised by AndArchitects, led by Lopes Santos and Ferreira Gomes. This venue will be disassembled and rebuilt as four new primary schools in Rio.

The Olympic Aquatics Stadium will be taken down and its parts will be employed in the construction of two aquatics centres, one with a covered 50m pool and capacity for 6,000 people, the other with a 50m pool with capacity for 3,000 people.

In addition to the ‘Nomadic Architecture’ concept, legacy plays an important part in the Olympic Training Centre (OTC) Halls, which will be remodelled after the games and transformed into venues not just for Olympic athletes, but also for community use and a new high school for elite athlete training. For this facility, we are reusing the external gantry structure for the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC) that we designed for the games into the framework for student housing on the site adjacent to the OTC Halls.

Terraced garden rio

Terraced garden rio

Have you made any mistakes and how did you rectify them?
Masterplanning at this scale and delivering to an absolute deadline is a complex task. When you add the requirements of an Olympic and Paralympic Games balanced with legacy goals, as well as economic and political challenges, there is always room for improvement but we work hard to avoid major mistakes. Our methodology and approach builds in flexibility in the process, so we are constantly adapting to the changing context and making adjustments in the plan. It is rarely a simple situation of ‘error’ and ‘correction’.

It is rarely a simple situation of ‘error’ and ‘correction’

What were the challenges of managing the international roster of architects designing the buildings on the 2016 Olympic Park?
I like to look at it as more of a collaboration than pure management. In Rio, we were responsible for designing all the facilities up to ‘Basico Design’, which is equivalent to the early schematic stage. The city then went through a selection process to choose the architects to take the projects through the final design stages. Our role was then to ensure design intent and consistency with the requirements of the sporting federations.

You have collaborated with a number of other local practices. How does the culture of architecture differ from other countries?
There is clearly huge talent in Rio as well as across Brazil, but the market is incredibly competitive and only more so in the current economic context. The passion for design is reflective of Brazil’s culture that embraces life and this triggers a sense of optimism that is visible in the designs. I am concerned that with the scale of the current economic upheaval in Brazil, a number of talented architects will be severely challenged.

How quickly did it take you to get to grips with the Brazilian planning system?
As an American who has lived in London for over 20 years and with many friends who are planners, I can say that the British system at the masterplanning level may be the most complex and detailed in the world. The Brazilian system has a number of similarities but a major difference is in the amount of detail necessary for masterplan approval.

For the games plan, we had to be explicit about the layouts, but in the legacy plan, the focus is on the street patterns and overall capacity with more flexibility in building massing and plot configuration.

And what about the construction sector in Brazil – how has your experience of that been?
The construction industry is clearly under severe scrutiny due to operation ‘Lava Jato’ (Car Wash), in the wake of the Petrobas corruption scandal. Acknowledging this but putting it to one side, our experience working with Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez has been exceptional.

Both are large international contractors that clearly have the capacity to deliver complex projects. Some of the challenges facing venues such as the velodrome have been with smaller contractors not directly tied to the PPP.

Did the fact that the 2014 World Cup was also held in Brazil provide any complications?
The World Cup had less impact on the Rio Olympics than one would have imagined, because many of the venues were not in the city. There were advantages in terms of accelerating some of the public transport infrastructure improvements as well as completion of the main works for Maracanã Stadium and João Havelange Stadium.

The World Cup had less impact on the Rio Olympics than one would have imagined

Did the difference in temperature between Rio and London result in any changes to the design of the Olympic Park this time round?
As a long-time London resident, I know that it would be impossible to design an Olympic masterplan with any certainty over the weather in July and August. For London 2012, we were extremely fortunate with rain just before the games to help Queen Elizabeth Park look its best and then predominantly sunny weather for the games themselves.

Although the weather is much more consistent in Rio, the games are being held in the southern hemisphere’s winter. The temperature is more dependable and the weather is usually spectacular at this time, but it does occasionally rain. We did not make any explicit changes to our design other than apply knowledge of the typical conditions during this season.

What advice would you give to those running the masterplanning of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games?
We have had the privilege of working on the Tokyo 2020 games for the past two years but this has been focused on the venue overlay of the permanent facilities being delivered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG). The context has changed since they were awarded the games, with the announcement of Agenda 2020. This platform will help evolve the games for the modern times and I know that Tokyo 2020 is embracing this opportunity.

We are also honoured to be working for the Los Angeles 2024 Bid Committee in preparation of their Candidate City bid. I now spend a minimum of two weeks a month in LA.

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