Enhancing legacy in changing conditions - Masterplanning for the Rio 2016 Games
Author: Bill Hanway, Executive Vice President and Global Sports Leader, AECOM
Photos: Robb Williamson
Staging the Olympics can be a mixed blessing. While the Games provide a global showcase for the host city, there remains a real risk of cost over-runs and the creation of expensive ‘white elephant’ venues. The 2004 Athens Olympics provides the most cited and photographed example: many of its venues stand derelict today and the billions of euros spent to create them have been linked to Greece’s current economic crisis.
Keen to avoid a repeat of this type of experience, recent host cities have made much more careful preparations to ensure they recoup their investment through a long-lasting legacy. Indeed, both Rio in 2016 and London in 2012 used the Games as a catalyst to bring forward infrastructure and regeneration projects that might otherwise have taken many years to achieve.
With an immovable deadline and a substantial budget, staging the Games can provide the strategy and motivation to promote local development, clean up a brownfield site, or address socio-economic challenges. Success can only be achieved with clear political leadership and a close partnership with both the public and private sectors.
AECOM provided masterplanning services for London, where we established the key principle of creating temporary and adaptable buildings to help facilitate the site’s long-term role. London’s basketball and water polo arenas were built using many recyclable and reusable components and were dismantled and sold for re-use after the games. Spectator “wings” for the aquatics centre were designed to be removed, leaving behind a much smaller building better suited to its long-term role as a community pool.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes raised the bar further when AECOM again took on the masterplanning role for this year’s Games in Brazil. From the outset the Mayor saw the Olympics as an opportunity to create housing, schools, transport infrastructure, sporting facilities and open spaces for his city. He used the term “nomadic architecture” to describe his vision for venues that were not simply temporary or recyclable but which could be dismantled, transported and reconfigured to meet the city’s legacy needs.
As a result, temporary venues including the Handball Arena and Olympic Aquatics Stadium employed highly modular steel frameworks, bolted together for easy disassembly. The modular nature is designed to allow components from these venues to be directly reused in the construction of four new primary schools and two community swimming centres.
Similarly, even Rio’s permanent venues were built not simply with the Games in mind but with a clearly defined long-term role.
Many other aspects of the Rio Olympic Park in Barra benefited from the parallel approach that we took to masterplanning, with the layout of roads and infrastructure chosen to suit both the Games and the legacy configuration.
It seems clear that future mega events must learn from both Rio and London as well as successful historic examples such as Barcelona, placing the event itself at the centre of a much larger and very detailed strategy, starting well beforehand and stretching a decade or more beyond the closing ceremony. AECOM’s masterplans for both cities covered a 20-year period from start to finish.
Four years after the event, work is ongoing in London to complete the transition from Games to legacy mode. Construction of the Cultural and Education District of the London site will begin in 2018, for example, concluding in 2020 or 2021. This district alone is expected to create around 3,000 jobs, attract 1.5 million visitors a year and deliver a 2.8 billion GBP (3.12 billion EURO) boost to London’s economy.
In Rio, initial plans had to be reined in to reflect the changing fortunes of the Brazilian economy, which went from strong growth to deep recession during the Games’ planning stages. In the final two years of preparation the focus switched to delivering an Olympic Park that reflected the economic reality while minimising compromises and still delivering a great spectacle. In addition, the 2014 publication of the International Olympic Committee’s Agenda 2020 provided a platform to address some of the challenges in Rio but also delivered a strategic blueprint for future Games. The lessons learnt in Rio will provide valuable insight to draw upon when staging future events. This will be another component of the Games’ enduring legacy. These lessons will be front of mind as cities prepare their bids to stage the 2024 Olympics.