The Issue and Future of Olympic Villages

A discussion on the history and complications of Olympic Villages. Olympic Villages are meant to house international athletes for a short season, but tend to displace many local citizens and lack a post-Olympic purpose.

Over time, we have seen many of the Olympic facilities of the past abandoned and decaying to the point that they could be considered post-apocalyptic in appearance. These have been mostly the athletic facilities, while some of the former various Olympic Village housing projects have fared better. Some worse.

A successful example of post-Olympic village repurposing is the former athletic housing blocks from the Olympics of 1972:

(from DW) Munich Olympic Village today

Displacement of citizens was not an issue in Munich as it was in some of the following Olympic Villages in Rio, London, and Beijing. At least in London, there were provisions for those displaced as 675 of the 2,818 2012 Olympic homes were reserved for “council housing units”. The remaining units were divided between intermediate rent and market rate units. The project is now known as Stratford East Village:

London 2012 Olympic Village
Inside London 2012 Olympic Athletes' Village | iDesignArch | Interior  Design, Architecture & Interior Decorating eMagazine
London Olympic Village, now known as Stratford East Village

However, a successful transition of Olympic Village housing to the open market is not always successful or easy. Controversy still surrounds the Olympic Villages in both Rio and Beijing. Thousands of citizens were displaced for each. In Rio’s case, the units were always intended to be luxury market rate residences after the 2016 Olympics, but because of a lousy economy and a remote location, only 7% of the units have sold. Thus, leaving the $700 million project 93% vacant with more than one of the 37 seventeen-floor towers with only one lonely unit occupied:

Rio 2016 Olympic Village

As far as the Beijing Olympic Village athlete housing from the 2008 Olympics is concerned, the Chinese government is rather secretive as to its success or failure. However, it is known that thousands of elderly and associated families were removed and dislocated for its construction. Like most of the other Olympic Villages of the last 70 years or so, it is architecturally bland:

The 2004 Olympic Village in Athens has seen some success in transitioning to housing post-Olympics. However, due to Greece’s poor economic conditions, maintenance has not been kept up, and according to those who have been there, it is quite depressing. Afterward the games it became the largest social housing project in Greece with 366 blocks of 2,292 housing units:

It became apparent that athlete housing for the Olympics did not become something considered to have any utility after the games until the Helsinki games of 1952, as shown at this link in an interesting slideshow created by Anisha Gade:

This slideshow is a fantastic summary of Olympic Village history, even featuring info on Amsterdam in 1928 as shown here:

There are great plans for the Olympic Village after the games are over. Displacement of families has been, again, a major issue (especially for the upcoming 2028 games in Los Angeles) before construction started and remains at the forefront of controversies.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Village

Besides the displacement issue, a current concern that is off-putting to future buyers is the militarization of the public spaces. This is supposedly for security and for COVID policing during the games. Hopefully, this type of security precaution will ease in the future.

The other controversy is how bland and plain the architecture is as many complain about this when it comes to cities with rich housing background and variety. With 5,650 apartments, it is one third of all new housing on the market, and there are worries that these homes will not sell.

The necessity of Olympic Villages is being questioned even today as the U.S. Women’s gymnastic steam forwent their stay at Tokyo Olympic Village and opted to stay at a hotel instead. The fate of these Olympic villages will be seen years from now and reveal whether or not the construction of these units will be worth the costs for buyers and host cities.

Blog Post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.

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