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Adaptability, Iconography and the Olympic Games

Part 1 Dissertation 2010
Tom Smith
University of the West of England | UK
Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, China was held in “the Western imagination” as a “mystical, unknown and unknowable place” (Close and Askew, 2007). Since, however, Beijing and China have been cast forcefully into the world’s attention, the sheer extravagance of its architecture demonstrating the incredible wealth, influence and innovation of the “main engine of the world economy” (The Economist, 2008). The Olympic spectacle at its most prolific. In the wake of the Beijing Games, London prepares itself to host the world’s biggest sporting event in 2012, promising to place a post-games legacy at the centre of its preparation. Olympic stadia, more than being simply “huge theatre[s] for the presentation of heroic feats,” have a number of other, more complex, requirements to fulfil (John et al, 2007). They can no longer afford to serve simply their primary function of but must consider their use, post-games, in order to invoke urban regeneration and sustained economic growth within London’s deprived Eastern districts. However, in aiming to build the multi-purpose amenity; adaptable, responsive, temporary structures that respond to changing cultural and programmatic requirements, London’s Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) appear to have overlooked the potential of the architectural icon. Overt architectural expressionism and monumentality have been replaced by structural flexibility and temporariness. However, reference need only be made to the sweeping roofscape of the Munich Olympiapark or the Beijing ‘water cube’ Aquatics Centre to realise that “Olympic stadia” are typically the most profound “visual icons of any edition of the Olympic games” (Rogge in John et al, 2007).

This study examines critically the apparent contrasts and coincidences in the aesthetic and structural principles of iconography and adaptability within architecture, and specifically within Olympic stadia. It explores the range of structural attributes that facilitate adaptability within a number of architectural precedents; and the aesthetic principles by which iconography exists within architectural theory. Uncovering a number of attributes that conflict, and, more crucially, a number that coincide; the study builds its own criterion with which to assess the London 2012 Olympic stadium, and confirm its significance amongst the history of Olympic Architecture.

Tom Smith

“Adaptability, Iconography and the Olympic Games” presents an exceptional exploration of how adaptable and iconic buildings can operate as drivers to invoke urban regeneration and to sustain economic growth. The principal aim of the study is to determine whether “the London 2012 Olympic Stadium is both adaptable and iconic”. Throughout the study one is enveloped with an understanding of how the aesthetic and structural attributes of adaptable and iconic buildings create conflicts and coincidences that are applicable to specific buildings where both criteria can be fulfilled. The study provides a theoretical basis for two apparently conflicting building types that can be rationalised into a new typology, which successfully merges the cultural and economic benefits of both adaptability and iconography. Furthermore, these attributes are used as a means of assessing the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, where the author proposes that whilst the Stadium addresses the attributes of an adaptable architecture, it appears to have overlooked the importance of the iconicism of an Olympic Stadium.

The author brings a level of thoughtfulness, understanding and sharpness to this study that is outstanding for a student at the RIBA Part 1 stage of their architectural education. The material used in this study is grounded in a firm theoretical base and complemented by a strong interest in the subject. This is doubtless an intelligent and original project, and as such, is worthy of a nomination in this category.

Mr Jonathan Mosley and Miss Elena Marco

Mr Jonathan Mosley
Elena Marco
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