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Rio’s Olympic architecture was a let-down

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The games were good – but where were the venues to match Rio’s spectacular scenery? asks Nick Schumann

As the Olympic Games drew to a close in Rio de Janeiro I found myself thinking about what the architecture contributed to the success of the event and, to be honest, couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the venues and stadiums in which ‘the greatest show on earth’ was held in 2016.

Don’t get me wrong: some of the venues, especially the new ones like the Arenas Cariocas were good, but much of the rest did not compare with the iconic designs of previous events. As we all know, Brazil faced enormous problems both politically and economically leading up to the games and in the circumstances put on an excellent event. And London was a very hard act to follow, because we got so much right, including a great deal of great architecture delivered by world-class designers, planners, managers and contractors, all led by a very professional and well-organised client.

Some venues appear to be either tired, incomplete, rushed, or, in any event, forgettable

The modern Olympic Games are a showcase, and to create a great show requires more than just world-class sporting performance; it also needs organisation, planning, spectator experience, transportation and, of course, venues to match, all of which combine to create a unique and spectacular experience.

The construction industry has to turn the dream into reality, which includes significant legacy value, so as to avoid the disasters of Montreal and Athens, but nothing can move forward without government backing through significant political and financial muscle.

The 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics have been memorable for more than medals, elation and heartbreak; they were equally memorable for fantastic and iconic architecture, engineering, masterplanning and landscape design. This is only achieved through high-quality planning, the establishment of a realistic budget and engaging a high-quality team of professionals who are totally focused not only on delivery but also future benefits beyond the 16-day event itself.

Iconic vistas really started at the Barcelona games in 1992. Who can forget the brilliant view of divers seemingly falling from the sky? In 2000 Sydney started the trend towards iconic venues, but unfortunately four years later in Athens they tried – but forgot – about legacy, which was a disaster.

Then came Beijing, a game-changer borne out of political will and through a budget which is unlikely ever to be exceeded, but the venues were absolutely world-class, with architecture of the highest standard being iconic and memorable. It proved once again how great design can send a powerful message and tell the world what you stand for.

London rose to that challenge superbly in 2012, and the UK construction industry can feel rightfully proud of how it created some of the best and most sustainable venues ever built. Even better, legacy was at front and centre of everything we did, leaving us with a beautiful new park which is central to a regenerated piece of wasteland that is now a thriving economic area, all for a fraction of Beijing’s budget.

So what happened in Rio to leave me a little indifferent, especially as it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world with spectacular scenery and coastlines? Where are the iconic memories such as Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium or London’s Orbit?

The architecture seems to have been sacrificed and some venues appear to be either tired, incomplete, rushed, or, in any event, forgettable. This may be harsh and I have not been there myself, but if they look that way on the TV, which has a habit of making things appear better than they actually are, then I have to wonder what the reality is. It will be interesting to see how much legacy evolves.

Quality always wins in the end and when we in the UK put our minds to it and work together we prove to the world that our design and construction industry is truly of gold medal standard. Come on, Tokyo, don’t let us down.

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