Thursday, June 05, 2008

History of Olympic Architecture

The New Yorker of June 2 has Paul Goldberger's review of Beijing's Olympic architecture, and Goldberger notes in passing some of the notable architectural innovations that past Olympics produced: Rome 1960, Tokyo, 1964, Munich 1972, Barcelona 1992.

Conspicuously absent from his list is Montreal 1976.

It now seems that Jean Drapeau was thirty years ahead of his time: he went for a celebrity architect just the way that fashion dictates in the early 21st century. He asked Roger Taillebert to shoot for a masterpiece and gave him a free hand to do it -- it sounds just like Gehry and Liebeskind and the rest. It isn't that Taillebert was unambitious: what we now call the Big Owe has a distinctive profile, an ambitiously innovative use of materials, and that unique retractable roof.

It's just that Taillebert failed. The roof didn't work, the sightlines were lousy, the concrete rotted, and the project as he designed it was almost unmanageable. But of course the celebrity architects of today also fail quite often.
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