The Olympic Games is the world’s largest sporting event, attended by thousands of competitors and watched by millions across the globe. An event of this magnitude requires intensive planning and a huge financial investment in both infrastructure and buildings. The centerpiece of the event is a stadium large enough to host the opening and closing ceremonies, the track and field events and accommodate the huge crowds the Olympics attract.

Sometimes it has been possible to utilize an existing stadium, for example London’s Wembley in 1948 or the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1932 and 1984. However, it is more common to commission a brand new stadium, which will be the showpiece of the games. The numerous stadiums that have been built for the Olympics have sustained varying degrees of success, and it is perhaps surprising, given the scale of the event, that only a couple of architecturally spectacular stadiums have been produced.

Munich Stadium

1972 – Munich Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium)

Architect Günther Behnisch and structural engineer Frei Otto created a visually interesting and unique stadium for the Munich Olympic Games. Deliberately light, in stark contrast to the stadium built to host the 1936 Nazi Olympics, the tensile glass tent-like roof was a lightweight structure on a scale that had never been seen before. The architectural quality of the stadium is evident by the fact that almost 40 years after its completion, Frei Otto’s roof looks as modern as the day the games opened.

montreal stadium

1976 – Montreal Olympic Stadium

Perhaps in an attempt to emulate the success of the Munich Olympic Park, an exceptionally ambitious stadium was planned for the 1976 games in Montreal. The most noteable feature of Roger Taillibert’s design is the 175-meter tall inclining tower. This tower, which makes the stadium instantly recognizable, was part of the design’s complex, and ultimately doomed, retractable roof. Unfortunately the project was plagued by problems and neither the tower nor roof were ready in time for the games, and the retractable roof never really worked. Although Montreal’s stadium has had a chequered history, the ambitious and interesting structure is still one of the most recognizable stadiums in the world.

bejing stadium

2008 – Beijing National Stadium (The Bird’s Nest)

Designed by Stirling Prize winner Herzog & de Mueron, the Bird’s Nest was intended to be more that a stadium. This centerpiece of the 2008 games sought to make a global statement about the progress and ambition of the Chinese nation. While the Brid’s Nest is undoubtedly architecturally brilliant, as a both a stadium and a piece of monumental sculpture, it has yet to serve a sustainable purpose after the games.