RIP Roger Taillibert, architect of the Big O

exterior of Montreal Stadium
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter

People have complained about his building since they started pouring the concrete.

There are few buildings in the world that have been reviled as much as the stadium built for the Montreal Olympics in 1976. The French architect Roger Taillibert, who died this week at the age of 93, was picked by the Mayor without a competition or any rationale. According to Tu Thanh Ha writing in the Globe and Mail, it was trouble from the start.

Construction, which began late, was further delayed by labour strife, absenteeism, corruption and poor co-ordination. A new factory had to be set up to pour the thousands of prefabricated concrete elements that would be the building blocks of the stadium.

Pieces didn't fit together. The retractible roof didn't work. it wasn't finished in time. It went six times over budget. But don't blame the architect:

Mr. Taillibert would always say he was singled out for problems beyond his control. “It was a high-quality concept and it was badly constructed. I’m sorry but I’m not the man who did the construction,” he said in a 1996 interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the Games. “My name is linked to this because I was used as a scapegoat for all the mistakes that took place.”

Panorama of interiorLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But it is incredibly dramatic, the biggest pieces of concrete I have ever seen. It seems impossible that those ribs could span that distance to the ring in the middle.

cables at base of rib, holding it downCables at base of rib, holding it down/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Luc Noppen of the University of Montreal says “The whole structure exudes a kind of tension, like an athlete who is about to start a sprint, or a diver about to plunge.” You can see the cables pulling down on the ribs here.

Cycling by the stadiumCycling by stadium during Tour de I'Île/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Outside, it all floats above the ground. When at a baseball game there I spent more time trying to figure out what held it up than I did watching the game.

Ribs inside stadiumConcrete ribs that hold up stadium roof/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I am no fan of concrete construction these days, and don't think we should be building with it anymore. But that doesn't mean we can't admire the amazing things that have been done with it, from the Pantheon to Le Corbusier to the Olympic Stadium, designed by Roger Taillibert, 1926- 2019.

RIP Roger Taillibert, architect of the Big O
People have complained about his building since they started pouring the concrete.

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