2016 Olympics Stadium Report


Chicago has officially submitted its bid for the 2016 Olympics to the US Olympic Committee. At this juncture the plan emphasizes the economic feasibility of hosting the Olympics in the city, and most of the models are just placeholders for later designs. The plan is pretty much what one would expect: lots of pretty new buildings glimmering on the lakefront and not enough parking. The overall plan seems like a sensible one, although one could quarrel with the placement of some of the venues. For instance, do we really need a BMX arena on Northerly Island? Wouldn't some remote, dusty exurb be more appropriate? After all, that's where the sport originated. A lot of neighborhood activists have argued that the venues should be spread throughout the city--rhythm gymnastics in Bridgeport, anyone?--but the lakefront looks better on television, so that's where most of the action is going to be.

There's at least one venue that will not be on the lakefront: the main Olympic Stadium, which will be shoehorned into Washington Park. The current plan makes the stadium look like a gigantic Nike Town. The design features a protruding lip hanging over the stands to protect the judges and the luxury boxes; everyone else is left to get sunburned. This same protect the wealthy and throw everyone else to the elements approach has already appeared in the revamped Soldier Field. So far no one's really complained about it, but with the Bears' next 4 and 12 season the guys in the Urlacher jerseys aren't going to be so happy about having cold Lake Michigan winds blasting in their faces. (In case you're wondering why they don't use Soldier Field as the Olympic Stadium, by cramming the Death Star into the confines of the old Soldier Field the developers ensured that the stadium would be too small to function as an Olympic Stadium. It's also too small for a Super Bowl.)

I know the Olympic Stadium is supposed to be a temporary structure, but that doesn't mean it should look like they got the building supplies from Home Depot. Here's an idea for its architect, offered free of charge: Why not take advantage of the temporary nature of the stadium and create something truly soaring? It will all be dismantled by winter anyway. The other distinctive Olympic structure, the Olympic Village, recalls less the Olympic ideal of athletes from all over the world living together in peace than the gang-ridden horror story that was the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing project that was once located nearby.

There are, of course, a million other details to work out, including actually landing the Olympics. Should the city be awarded the 2016 Olympics, watch for a fierce debate about how much of the design work should be awarded to local architects. Chicago has always prided itself on building great buildings, but it should also remember its past as the home of great architects.

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