Using Sustainable Architecture to Counteract the Olympic Kiss of Death
For many cities, it is a dream to be chosen to host the Olympics. New jobs, boosted tourism, international spotlight, and the chance to show hometown pride are all reasons that cities put their name in the hat each cycle. Cities go through rigorous scrutiny and vetting before being chosen, which includes a hefty application fee. They must prove they can house thousands of athletes, provide top-level security, and expand their public transit system. Plus, cities must convince their residents that temporary tax increases are worth it when it comes to infrastructure improvements and new jobs. Following a winning bid, the host city goes into a frenzy, constructing mini towns and highways, and some fall into deep financial crisis for it. Then, as is historically the case, once the games are over, cities are left with structures that only function as memories of their previous glory.
Los Angeles, California, hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics and it has been widely regarded as one of the most successful games in recent history. These games were planned with fiscal responsibility in mind, and instead of behemoth buildings, the architecture committee chose temporary structures, such as tents, that utilized cardboard, wood, and other effective and inexpensive materials. Following the games, the sporting arenas continued to be used as city sports centers. In fact, those same structures will be used for the Los Angeles (L.A.) 2028 Summer Olympics. One of the major themes of the planning committee for the upcoming games is “L.A. 2028 is about what we have, not what we’re going to build.”
The sustainability efforts for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan, are on a whole other level. Not only is the city reengaging venues from their 1964 Olympic hosting gig, but they’re also constructing temporary structures that have a considerably smaller footprint than seen before. Interior and exterior paint coatings are formulated without VOCs, which optimize structure stability without excessive harmful chemicals. Venues are equipped with renewable electricity sources, such as solar panels. Taking sustainability a step further, the medal stands are manufactured entirely out of recycled materials, including ocean trash. To realize this goal, citizens of Japan have been dropping off plastic items at one of 2,000 locations around the country to be reused for the games. Then, when the games are over, the medal stands will be recycled and used as product packaging. The gold, silver, and bronze medals themselves are 100% made from recycled metals from electronic devices donated by the Japanese public. The sustainability concept of the 2020 Tokyo Games is “be better, together, for the planet and the people.”
Olympic Games are an opportunity for the architecture industry to show that sports infrastructure can be successful and impressive while serving a city’s residents in the long run, rather than short-term media expectations. As seen from Tokyo, it takes an entire country to get behind an initiative such as this, and their dedication is admirable. I’m wishing the best for these upcoming games, so that we can all see the benefits of sustainable sports design and get on board.