What is Sustainable Olympic-led development?

Learning from Pyeongchang Olympic

Hyeji Sheen (MAUD '18)



As the 2018 Winter Olympics come to a close, the watching world will quickly retreat to more routine affairs both at home and abroad, and Pyeongchang will likely fade in our collective memory. However, as urban designers, perhaps now is precisely when we should start paying attention to what is happening there. The sustainability of purpose-built sporting facilities and their associated infrastructures after the Olympics have ended has been a major topic of debate for host countries trying to justify the immense expense of their initial construction. These Olympic facilities have historically been extremely vulnerable to underuse in a city’s post-Olympic period. With their original functions vanished, many of these facilities remain today only as faded monuments to bygone glory.

However, successful examples of post-Olympic integration of facilities can be found in cities like Barcelona, which hosted the Olympics in 1992. Barcelona’s strategy was the first attempt to consider the Olympics as ‘a catalyst for the redevelopment of its waterfront’ and subsequently designed a series of public spaces including parks, fountains and public arts in order to give something more permanent for the Barcelona residents, as well as retain tourist interest after the ending of the Games. 4 years later, the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 transformed athletes’ housing into dormitories for Georgia Tech University students, reflecting the Olympic event’s role as an impetus for civic improvements of the city. However, unlike cities that had to construct new facilities from scratch, Paris and Los Angeles won bids for the 2024 and 2028 Games respectively by planning to use their extensive network of existing facilities. This myriad of examples show us the varying needs and approaches that face Olympic host cities with respect to scale and status.

Learning from both the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the Korean government anticipated the burdens associated with hosting such major events, and therefore examined Pyeongchang critically. Since the city is located in a relatively remote area, the needs of its infrastructure needed to be resolved first in order to become a successful sustainable city beyond the Winter Games. Therefore, facilities other than major infrastructure or facilities with explicit future demands will be demolished. Furthermore, the Olympic Village will be transformed into condos, and the express train line will remain to increase Pyeongchang’s proximity to Seoul. Distinct from many previous host countries, the Korean government intends to use the Olympics in Pyeongchang to catalyze infrastructure development between Seoul, the capital city, and Kangwon-do province located on the east side of Korea, which has historically not been considered a major development region.

Venues that will only exist temporarily include the “roofless” Olympic Stadium, the Gangneung Hockey Center, the Olympic speed skating venue, and the downhill ski course in Jeongseon. In these cases, I’d like to ask what kind of architecture & aesthetics these ‘temporal ‘Olympic-related facilities should take the form of? Some articles say that the roofless Olympic Stadium embodies an extreme case of pop-up architecture in the contemporary context of the Olympic era. However, there are other more critical voices that claim that these facilities have not considered “the disappearance of the project” along with their physical characteristics. Certainly, it opens up new conversations regarding the ephemeral nature of architecture and its increasingly controversial role in event-oriented urban design & city-building.

  1. Paul Goldberger, “Out of The Blocks, Beijing’s Olympic architecture is spectacular, but what message does it send?”, The Sky Line, 2008

  2. https://www.archdaily.com/888383/the-2018-winter-olympics-stadium-that-cost-100-dollars-million-to-build-will-only-be-used-4-times-and-is-roofless

  3. https://www.curbed.com/2016/3/9/11180920/architecture-history-temporary-banksy

  4. https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/02/its-time-for-the-pop-up-olympics/552896/