Who Got It Right With Olympic Architecture, Beijing or Vancouver?

beijing design bird cage photo

Susetta Bozzi/OnAsia.com. See slideshow

The New York Times describes how the glorious stadia and facilities built for the 2008 Olympics are virtually empty, sort of a Field of Dreams where they built it, but nobody is coming.

Alas, after the 2008 Olympics, the ticket buyers haven't come. Right now, the Bird's Nest serves as a winter amusement park known as the Happy Ice and Snow Season. In April, a promoter may stage a celebrity rock concert to "establish China as a world leader for global peace and a healthier planet." Or not. After that, the government says it may build a shopping center there.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, everyone is complaining about the banality and cheapness of the Olympic facilities. Who got it right?

canada exhibit vancouver olympics photo

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The Canadian exhibit was ordered up from a prefab exhibition house in Chicago. Architects are appalled:

"Something happened. It's embarrassing," Bing Thom, recipient of numerous awards and a member of the Order of Canada, said yesterday. [via CTV]

"This is a world event. As Canadians, we all want to put on a good show, and architecture can help. But from the outside, this pavilion is completely uninspiring."

The Jamaican Bobsleigh House is much more exciting. When you look at the list of architects working on olympic facilities, there is barely a first-tier Canadian firm, let alone a single international starchitect.

richmond oval

On the other hand, the Speedskating oval is built from pine beetle damaged wood.

vancouver olympic village

The olympic village is described by Kriston Capps in American Prospect:

[they have]

a default "green" look to them: blocky, all glass, covered in matted foliage. It looks as though the developers simply forgot to design the place.

It is that sort of bread loaf planning from the seventies, wrapped in green.

The 16 building, 1.4 million square foot, single phase Olympic Village is being built to the LEED Gold standard while the Community Centre is being built to LEED Platinum. The building that will become seniors' housing is going to attempt to reach the Net-Zero standard, which represents annual energy, water, and carbon neutrality. All of the buildings will feature green roofs, passive solar design, beyond-code insulation and glazing, and low/no VOC paint and carpets. Rain water will be retained in cisterns to be used for irrigation of the green roofs and landscaping. The buildings will be heated and cooled using an in-slab hydronic system connected to a hybrid district heating/cooling system powered by high-efficiency natural gas boilers and heat exchange system that will use both ground-source heat pipes and an innovative heat exchange system tied into the sewer pipes to recover their latent heat. Electricity comes from local hydroelectric dams. A streetcar will run through the neighbourhood and connect it to two nearby rapid transit stations.

In Beijing, the architecture soared, but fell to earth; in Vancouver, the architecture doesn't excite, but it is definitely green. Is there no way to have both?

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