Grimshaw’s Managing Partner Kirsten Lees explores the role of architects in the Paris 2024 Olympics in her feature for New London Architecture, expanding on discussion with a brilliant panel at the recent Olympic Cities event.
On Tuesday 28th June, Kirsten Lees joined Bill Hanway, Rosanna Lawes, Yann Krysinski, John Harper and Mathias Kuhlmann on a panel chaired by Peter Murray, to discuss global perspectives on Olympic Cities, and compare the legacy and challenges of host cities of the Olympic Games. During the discussion, a spotlight was shone on the role that design has played in making this major global event not just a sporting success but a city one too. In the past, the International Olympic Committee has seen the event as an opportunity to deliver memorable, distinct facilities worthy of a global stage, but the paradigm and approach to Olympic legacy is shifting.
The climate emergency, social equality and local (host) city needs around infrastructure and housing, all point towards the need for a proven and clear sustainable and regenerative approach that has adaptive reuse at its core. And the Paris 2024 masterplan embraces this, with 95% of Olympic venues using existing or temporary structures. To some, adaptive reuse and repositioning may be considered a design limitation, when in reality it’s an opportunity. Architects and designers need to challenge themselves and work alongside city partners to conceptually, intellectually and creatively, celebrate the existing environments – collaborating with the city to bring it to life.
Of course, this doesn’t relate to the buildings and structures alone, but also to the spaces between, the open accessible places which will connect the Games locations and facilities across the city. For an architect in Paris (as much as it is in any host city), this is about the confluence of public and private – where land and property ownership potentially act as a barrier to connected thinking and truly successful people-led public realm.
The next, next use – reverse the mindset:
Central to adaptive design is thinking beyond the next use of a building or space, to the next, and then the next again: allowing structures and places to change with grace. For the Olympic Games and in the context of Paris 2024 this has gone further, looking way beyond the sports events to be facilitated and reversing the mindset: putting the ultimate use (with long-term city and community benefits) in play first and then overlaying the Games design. This means asking not “how will the Games help regenerate the city?” but “what does the city need and how can the Games support this?”. Against a backdrop of declining numbers of bids for host cities, demonstrating that the Games can support the host city’s long-term needs and in a way that benefits all communities - not just those in the vicinity of the venues – could be the best way of encouraging more cities to apply in future. Expanding our minds to this ‘city first’, regenerative approach is in the realm of the architect, and we must adopt and drive this way of thinking.
Renew city connections to accelerate social, equitable spaces:
Beyond the physical venues and facilities of the Games is the infrastructure. For so long, becoming a host city to the Games has been directly linked to the acceleration of transport programmes and projects and Paris, like London, is no exception. But while the city spaces, and how you access, connect, travel through and experience them may adapt for Games-mode, there is a demand to think about these spaces – measure their success – based on their social and environmental impact. Olympic design must be the best example of social infrastructure.
With Paris 2024, the door to this new reality is opening. Instead of repeating London 2012 Olympic Games as an urban regeneration project, Paris will become the regenerative Games: environmentally, economically and most importantly socially. This will be a Games that aligns with the founding principles of the Olympics, and one that we would all like to see – a memorable event for sports and a lasting legacy for people.
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