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Olympic Host Cities Have an Infrastructure Problem. Here’s How We’re Changing That.

In 2016, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, played host city to the Summer Olympics. The total bill for the two-week spectacle – according to an analysis by the Associated Press – amounted to $13.1 billion, with the cost for sports-related venues making up just over $2 billion.

So what happened to all those expensive new structures after the athletes, fans and media packed up and left? Six months after the 2016 games, the Olympic Village in Rio turned into a ghost town, and the majority of the constructed sporting venues fell into idle disrepair.

This problem isn’t isolated to Rio, however. Throughout Olympic history, host cities have promised that the billions of dollars spent on architecture will have a positive, lasting effect on their citizens and the economy, only to watch as the venues go abandoned.

But things are beginning to change.

To help plan the architecture strategy at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sunghoon Jung – Senior Designer + Associate at ROSSETTI – was tapped to serve as a Pyeongchang Olympics Advisory Committee Member since 2015. This Advisory Committee has been engaged not only with the National Olympic Committee of Korea, but with the local state government and the Sports Ministry of the federal government of Korea.

Because of his extensive knowledge and background designing and planning sports & entertainment venues, Sunghoon’s role on the committee was mainly to advise on a legacy plan for new construction venues Pyeongchang built for the games.

With the full brainpower of Sunghoon and other top architectural minds, combined with the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Agenda 2020 released in late 2014 – a strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic movement – Pyeongchang is hoping to set a precedent for how new architecture is used and operated now that the games are over.

Out With the New, In With the Old

One of the key areas addressed in the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 is an update to the way the committee addresses the bidding process for potential host cities – particularly a section which states that positive aspects for a bid include “the maximum use of existing facilities and the use of temporary and demountable venues where no long-term venue legacy need exists of can be justified.”

This means that in order for a potential host city to warrant strong consideration, their proposal should stray from investing billions in new infrastructure, and instead focus resources on updating existing faciltiies, and building new venues that can be easily deconstructed or repurposed once the games have concluded.

An Olympic-Sized Solution

Sunghoon’s solution – which he dubbed “reverse-purposing” – proposes that, instead of host cities investing in arena construction for the sole purpose of hosting Olympic sports for a short duration, any new structures should be strategically built for their intended use after the games are over. Architects will then simply figure out ways to integrate the IOC’s stringent requirements for the games into the design. His concept of “reverse-purposing” was presented in the Olympic-themed conference organized by the city, which is pursuing to host the future Summer Olympic Games.

In doing this, Olympic host cities ensure that their billions spent on infrastructure spending won’t be squandered, and a sound plan will be in place for how the facilities will be used after the games, per the IOC’s 2020 strategy with a strong focus on the host country’s legacies and long-term benefits.

In the case of Pyeongchang, many of the new arenas built currently have a plan for either repurposement now that the ceremony has concluded – including a community hockey rink, and the establishment of an Olympic Plaza that will serve to maintain the legacy and history of Olympic Games hosted by Korea.

With the new infrastructure legacy plan now one of the most important things taken into consideration by the International Olympic Committee, it’s on potential host cities to take the necessary architectural planning measures before submitting their bid to ensure better odds of selection.