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3:16 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Will Sochi Olympics Architecture Win Gold?

The Olympics start today, and one thing viewers are excited to see that isn’t an event is the architecture of the facilities. At a price tag of $50 billion, they are the most expensive games in history. The president of the Sochi chapter of the Union of Russian Architects says the city has been transformed.

This is the first Winter Games designed as part of a master plan, but with stories of two toilets in a stall, and facilities for previous Olympics around the world going unused, what will be the legacy of the buildings at Sochi?

Architect Jerry Anderson, who is founder of Populous, the architectural firm that designed the facilities for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Interview Highlights: Jerry Anderson

On the future of the Sochi stadium

“When we designed this, we worked with a lot of Russian officials that were already thinking about the future of the entire Sochi area. And the Olympics, for them, is an economic generator. When we designed the stadium in particular, we designed it essentially for 30,000 seats, but with areas where we could add temporary seats to go up to about 44,000 to 45,000 seats. And that works for the Olympics, the bigger number, and it also works for the World Cup. And in that time, we also knew Russia would be bidding for the World Cup in 2018, and so they were already thinking with us about the World Cup, as being a future site there.”

On his firm’s design concept

“The concepts we use now are to build as much temporary as possible. The permanent venues we design need to have a strong legacy, a strong afterlife, if you will. The buildings that remain in Sochi do have a legacy plan, for the most part, of sport or gathering facilities and really enhancing, for the Russian culture, a place to train and to recreate. And they’ve developed a whole new resort and residential complex right there in Sochi within that master plan.”

On earlier criticism the stadium wouldn’t be ready in time

“I’ve got some of my team over there now, they’re telling me it’s ready. It’s taken a whole ‘nother shape from what that building will become, because it’s set up for opening ceremonies. So actually, what you see now is not what you’re gonna see in a year from now, in terms of a finished building. But it’s ready. Let’s go!”

Guest

  • Jerry Anderson, senior principal architect and the founder of Populous, the architectural firm that designed the facilities for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

A handful of Olympic events started today. Opening ceremonies are tomorrow night. And architecture geeks are breathless. Now, we've been reporting on security and reporters have been relaying stories about the hotels, which The New York Times describes as Bauhaus meets the Super 8. But what about the design of the other structures, the lasting legacy of the games? This is the first Winter Games to be designed as part of a master plan.

Jerry Anderson is senior principal architect and founder of Populous. That's the international firm behind the plan and the Fisht Stadium. That's the centerpiece for the game. You can see pictures of it at hereandnow.org. It's just beautiful. And Jerry joins us from his office in Denver, Colorado. Jerry, the centerpiece of most Olympics is the stadium. We remember Beijing's Bird's Nest. So tell us about the Fisht Stadium.

JERRY ANDERSON: Yeah. Sure. Well, this all started as a master plan when we first worked with the Russians on the bid for the games. And in doing the bid, we had to create not only the Olympic park master plan, which, by the way, is the first Olympic park for a Winter Games. And its centerpiece, the Olympic stadium itself, we put in a preeminent position so that it could look both to the sea and to the mountains. And in the bid where it started, it actually opened in kind of a horseshoe shape, and it had a very light skin on it. We called it the Faberge egg. It captured heart and soul of the Russian people, their bid, and the IOC particularly took notice of it.

Now, from the bid, Sochi was word of the games. We did another version of it that we called the crystal. And that stadium also showed up as a kind of ice in winter crystal. And we thought, wow, this is great. The Russians really like it. And then we got a new client from Olympus Drive(ph). They were kind of the parent group that oversaw this. And that client of ours, the new architect for Olympus Drive said, ah, I saw a Populous stadium in Hong Kong I liked once with these two big arches. And it opened from end zone to end zone.

And so we started to go off of that particular path, opened up the ends of the building so that you could see the sea and the mountains. And then we used those ends of the building as a way to potentially put in temporary seats or temporary staging for the opening and closing ceremonies. And it developed then into what you now see as the stadium that is right there for the games.

YOUNG: Well, it's quite something. You say Faberge egg, one of your original thoughts. And, of course, that's an iconic Russian image, the beautiful eggs. And as you said, it opens up and it can seat many or few because one of the big questions about facilities built for Olympics is what happens to them afterwards? As you say, this was completely constructed. This did not have its own winter park, so to speak, did not have - everything had to be built. So what's to say that there's going to be events that will come to this area after the Olympics?

ANDERSON: Well, when we designed this, we worked with a lot of Russian officials that were already thinking about the future of the entire Sochi area. And the Olympics for them is an economic generator. When we designed the stadium in particular, we designed it for essentially 30,000 seats, but with areas where we could add temporary seats to go up to about 44 to 45,000 seats. And that works for the Olympics, the bigger number, and it also works for the World Cup. And in that time, we also knew Russia would be bidding for the World Cup in 2018. And so they were already thinking with us about World Cup as being a future site there.

YOUNG: This thinking as opposed to, let's say, the 2012 London Summer Games. Many of the venues were designed to be temporary or, you know, scaled back. And when you say you can add seats and you can expand the capacity...

ANDERSON: Mm-hmm.

YOUNG: ...also you said you can open it up like an egg...

ANDERSON: Well, we've done...

YOUNG: ...like a Faberge egg. I mean, just beautiful.

ANDERSON: But there is similarity here, Robin. We were architects for the London Olympic stadium and for the London games as well. So the concepts we use now are to try and build as much temporary as possible. The permanent venues we design need to have a strong legacy, a strong afterlife, if you will. The buildings that remain in Sochi do have a legacy plan, for the most part, of sport or gathering facilities and really enhancing for the Russian culture a place to train and to recreate. And they've developed a whole new resort and residential complex right there in Sochi within that master plan.

YOUNG: Well, that's what President Putin is banking on. This is a $50 billion project, lots of money invested in this hope that it will become this transformed place in the future. We hear some of the other buildings are futuristic as opposed to - there's sort of staid Soviet look to some of the hotels. Just - what was your thinking on the other - some of the other buildings?

ANDERSON: Well, you know, first off, I've got to tell you, we only designed the stadium. But we were able to influence most of the other buildings because it really came out of all of our designs should have did. And I think as you'll see, stadium, obviously, is grand. The Bolshoi arena is incredibly grand. The speed skating arena, one of my favorites, is a very impressive building, but then three of the arenas that are out there will go away afterwards. They go to other Russian cities to be reused, recycled, if you will.

YOUNG: Well, we understand this whole idea of bringing the games to Sochi was born when President Putin and a friend, metals tycoon Vladimir Potanin, took a ski trip to Austria and talked about - what would it take to get a world-class ski resort in Russia. But I'm looking at a headline from October. It says: With four months left, main Sochi stadium a disaster.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: At first, Sochi's Fisht Olympic Stadium was meant to resemble a giant snowflake, a symbol of cold weather. But then it morphed into, as we've been discussing, two parallel mounds of snow, this roof that we talked about that'll open in the middle to look like the jagged peaks of the Caucasus Mountains and the waters of the Black Sea to the south, the choppy waters of the sea. It resembles both. This is in October. Is it ready?

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Well, I am presuming with you. I've got some of my team over there now. They're telling me it's ready. It's taken a whole 'nother shape from what that building will become, because it's setup for opening ceremonies. So actually, what you see now is not what you're going to see a year from now in terms of a finished building. But it's ready. Let's go.

YOUNG: Jerry Anderson, senior principal architect and the founder of Populous. That's the international architectural firm that designed the master plan for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, including the beautiful Fisht Stadium. Jerry, good luck to you.

ANDERSON: Thank you. We appreciate that.

YOUNG: So are you looking forward to seeing the architecture at the Olympics or the soaring athletes? Because we're hearing from listeners that they're feeling there's a little bit too much negative coverage of the Olympics that haven't even started yet between the security and the complaints about the hotels. Let us know your thoughts, are you excited, at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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