Building an Olympics for the Future in Rio

Through the decades, huge world sports events like the Olympics and World Cup have drawn criticism for the unsustainable way by which they occur. Empty stadiums and long abandoned athlete lodgings pockmark former host cities. However, Rio de Janeiro continues a trend toward sustainable reuse and long-term planning for the 2016 Olympic Games.

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Arena da Amazônia, Rio Olympics (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mark_JH)

The Olympics has never been an event highly regarded for sustainability. We have all heard the stories of economic downturn in host cities and former Olympic villages laying abandoned for years. The Olympic games require such an economic investment and huge infrastructure developments that often it is not easy to actually turn a long-term benefit for the places in which they’re held (the same can be said for similar events like the World Cup and even Super Bowl).

However, recent Olympics have begun work to try and reverse that script. In Rio, officials have not been shy about their commitment for a greener future. One has to look no further than the 2016 Opening Ceremony. The threat of climate change has been put front and center at almost every level of the games. Efforts such as sustainable venue design and long-term planning for Olympic Park Cluster may allow the Rio games to be remembered more for the excitement, than harsh economic or environmental impact like games past.

The master plan for the Rio Olympic Park, created by AECOM, treats the games as an opportunity. The goal is to rejuvenate worn existing infrastructure for ‘Olympic’ use, while also designing it responsibly for long term, ‘legacy’ use.

Once the 2016 Olympics close and visitors leave, 60% of buildings created for the Rio games will be removed or transformed to anchor new residential and business communities. Others will be continued to be used as athletic facilities for Brazilian Athletes.

Perhaps most notably, the handball arena is designed to be totally repurposed at the end of the games. Once the 2016 Olympics conclude, the court will be converted into a series of schools, estimated to provide schooling to 2,000 students.

Image by Anna Rayburn
Image by Anna Rayburn

The entire Olympic complex features interweaving public and open green spaces for restoration and educational purposes to emphasize specific restoration efforts. Some of these open spaces have already been created for the event. Many more are to be built after the games due to their use by temporary functions related to the games.

AECOM, an engineering firm, is behind the master plans of the past two Summer Olympic host cities: London and Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s master plan is similar to London’s design in several aspects. Built for stages of use, London’s Olympic Village was designed for quick conversion into permanent residential use the games. The village contains over 2,800 homes that formerly provided lodgings for Olympic athletes. These were converted into “high-quality affordable housing” once the games ended. There is even the potential for an additional 2,000 future homes. Additionally, all homes within the village are powered by a biomass boiler energy center, originally built to power the games. The center currently generates enough power to supply 11,000 homes in the surrounding area.

Rio’s design focuses more towards the necessity for urban green spaces and sustainable infrastructure. It will transform its Olympic façade into a vibrant district for everyday people. For now, the streets are paved with fans and athletes alike. But once the hype fades, Rio hopes to have solidified the 2016 games as a true Olympics for the future.

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