Sports architecture veteran says venues must be iconic yet functional

Mr Pauline was also one of the key designers of the Beijing National Aquatics Center (above) for the 2008 Olympics. Multi- disciplinary design practice Hassell's design principal John Pauline (above) and the Bosporus Olympic Stadium Proposal, Istanbu
Multi- disciplinary design practice Hassell's design principal John Pauline and the Bosporus Olympic Stadium Proposal, Istanbul (above), that the firm conceived for the city's 2020 Olympic bid.PHOTO: HASSELL
Mr Pauline was also one of the key designers of the Beijing National Aquatics Center (above) for the 2008 Olympics. Multi- disciplinary design practice Hassell's design principal John Pauline (above) and the Bosporus Olympic Stadium Proposal, Istanbu
Mr Pauline was also one of the key designers of the Beijing National Aquatics Center (above) for the 2008 Olympics.PHOTO: HASSELL
Mr Pauline was also one of the key designers of the Beijing National Aquatics Center (above) for the 2008 Olympics. Multi- disciplinary design practice Hassell's design principal John Pauline (above) and the Bosporus Olympic Stadium Proposal, Istanbu
Multi- disciplinary design practice Hassell's design principal John Pauline (above) and the Bosporus Olympic Stadium Proposal, Istanbul, that the firm conceived for the city's 2020 Olympic bid.PHOTO: HASSELL

Well-designed and accessible sports venues can prolong the buildings' life, says architect John Pauline

The medals have been handed out and the athletes have gone home.

Withthe Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro done and dusted, what will happen to the city's sports venues that were specially built for the quadrennial event?

It is a common problem for host cities as they struggle to find viable uses for these sports venues and to keep up a consistent buzz in the neighbourhoods they sit in.

Just check out the Olympic Village in Athens, host of the 2004 Games: It is littered with abandoned barricades, empty pools and venues that have not been repurposed.

The Guardian reported in a 2012 think piece that four years after the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government struggled to fill the 80,000 seats of the iconic "Bird's Nest" stadium.

Architect John Pauline, 48, says the Brazilian metropolis - it built 10 permanent competition facilities, including a new 18-hole golf course, for the Olympics - is likely to face the same issues.

The Hong Kong-based Australian design principal for Hassell, a multi- disciplinary design practice with studios in Australia, Britain, China and Singapore, says: "Architecture and design are just one part of a successful journey. You can create the most beautiful design, but if you don't have the right people managing the building or people promoting it, then there's no point."

He knows about building iconic yet functional structures. His foray into designing sports venues started with the Sydney Olympic masterplan - seven years before the Australian city played host in 2000.

The city had trouble making use of its Olympic Park, built on a former industrial site.

Last month, a new masterplan was rolled out to turn the space into a "mini-metropolis" with shops, cafes and apartments. A Financial Times report in 2004 said the government spent A$2.3 billion on all the Olympic venues.

Mr Pauline, who studied at the University of Sydney, also designed venues for four other Olympic Games Committees after Sydney, while Hassell recently designed more than 36 Olympic venues and infrastructure as part of a masterplan for Istanbul's 2020 Olympic bid. Tokyo was eventually picked.

He was one of the key designers of the Beijing National Aquatics Center - also known as the Water Cube - for the 2008 Olympics.

Four years ago, when London hosted, Mr Pauline worked on the design of the Copper Box Arena with architecture practice, Make Architects. The venue hosted handball and fencing events.

Today, it is used for training and competitions as well as cultural, community and business events.

Host cities also often come under scrutiny before the Games begin. Issues range from poorly constructed buildings to the possibility of missing completion deadlines.

Those were problems in Rio de Janeiro, which opened the Games in August. For example, CNN reported in July that athletes at the Olympic Village had to deal with blocked toilets and leaky pipes.

Mr Pauline says cities need to stay on course after they have won the bid. "Each city is given seven years to get ready, so there's no excuse of a short time frame. Some cities don't do nearly enough in the first few years and leave too much to the end."

In addition, designers should look into the location of sporting venues to ensure they are not too far from the city centre.

Take the 2012 Games in London, for example.

Mr Pauline notes the clever thinking behind the venue designs, in particular the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is nearWestfield Stratford City, the largest urban shopping and leisure mall in Europe.

Having non-sporting facilities such as malls and cultural spots is a way to prolong a sports venue's relevance.

He points to the $1.33-billion Singapore Sports Hub, completed in 2014, as a good example of a multi- functional venue. The stadium, which has different seating configurations, can be used for sports and concerts. Two malls - Kallang Wave Mall and Leisure Park Kallang - are also close by.

"What Singapore tried to do with the Sports Hub was right - it gets all the pieces together," he says.

The main companies behind the Sports Hub were international engineering firm Arup Associates, home- grown architecture stalwarts DP Architects and landscapers Aecom.

While Mr Pauline is disappointed with the architecture at the Rio Games - whose budget is listed as 7.4 billion reals (S$3.1 billion) on the Games website - he praises the organisers for building seven temporary structures such as the Beach Volleyball Arena in Copacabana, so they would not sit empty after the Games.

His wish is to see more innovation in the design of sports venues.

"They are still standard-looking sports buildings. The idea of temporary structures is good, but the results are bland. We've got a long way to go to make them truly innovative."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Game for creativity'. Print Edition | Subscribe