The collapsed sailing ramp has been hauled out of the water, a Russian diplomat has heroically killed a carjacker (or maybe not), and 450,000 condoms await action in the leaky athletes village. Beset by construction problems and delays and with preparations decreed the “worst ever” by the International Olympic Committee, how is the architecture and design of the XXXI Olympiad shaping up so far?
Masterplanned by Aecom, the go-to architecture conglomerate for global mega-events, the Barra Olympic park is the primary campus for the games, and is home to nine major arenas – from the velodrome and the aquatics stadium, to handball, basketball, wrestling and taekwondo venues. Covering a 120 hectare (297 acre) triangle in the high-end district of Barra da Tijuca southwest of Rio, on the former site of a racetrack, the venues are arranged either side of a snaking, stripy pathway inspired by the wavy paving along Copacabana beach.
The buildings are as cheap and not-so-cheerful as you would expect for this shoestring games, mostly designed to be dismantled after the Olympics to make way for luxury residential development – just as a favela community of 600 families on the site was swept away to make space for the games. Those hoping for a refreshing dip in the neighbouring lagoon, meanwhile, can think again: it has been declared too polluted to swim in.
The handball arena
The good-news architecture story of the games, the handball arena has been designed to be dismantled and transformed into a series of schools once the events are over. Created by local studio Lopes, Santos & Ferreira Gomes, with UK firm AndArchitects, sections of the 12,000-seat building will be used to form the basic structural elements for four state schools, each accommodating about 500 pupils.
From the slatted wooden cladding to the concrete circulation cores and the steel frame, all will make their way into the new structures. A similar plan in London 2012 never quite happened. The inflatable pillows from the Coca-Cola Beatbox pavilion were intended to be recycled into a canopy for a local school, but the cost of dismantling the structure intact proved prohibitive, so the whole thing was scrapped.
The flats have been designed “at a level that only kings have previously had”,according to developer Carlos Carvalho, the 92-year-old property tycoon behind the 31 tower blocks of the athletes’ village. He must have been referring to those hard-up kings who lived in rundown palaces with flooded floors, broken elevators, mouldy walls and holes in the ceiling, judging by the conditions that teams of athletes have been greeted with in the past few weeks.
The near billion-dollar project, known as Ilha Pura, has been built by Carvalho Hosken and Brazil’s biggest construction firm, Odebrecht, who planned to recoup their investment by selling the luxury flats for 1.5m reais (£361,000) each. The property market has since plunged by 20% and just 240 of the 3,604 apartments have been sold. Meanwhile, as the teams moved in, more than half the buildings had yet to pass the safety tests.
Those moving into the crumbling, leaky accommodation blocks might at least be cheered by the presence of the beaming yellow cat-cum-monkey, whose constant grin is guaranteed to wipe away those mouldy apartment blues. Developed by Birdo, a São Paulo-based animation company, the official Rio mascot apparently “possesses the agility of a cat, the balancing skills of a monkey and the grace of a bird”.
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Named Vinicius in honour of Brazilian poet and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, who penned The Girl from Ipanema, this hybrid Pokémon creature was “born out of the explosion of joy that followed the announcement that Rio would host the Olympic Games”. He is never far from Tom, his trusty shrub-headed friend, with whom he shares a treehouse in the Tijuca forest, from where they can see the whole city and marvel at the tidal wave of public money being pumped into private real-estate speculation.
“Inspired by the warmth of the Brazilian people,” the Rio torch features movable segments, allowing it to expand when you run your hands up and down its sculpted shaft. Oo-er. As it grows, each segment opens to reveal a coloured resin section beneath, in shades of blue and green designed to represent the sea, mountains and sky, while the roaring flame stands for the sun – a palette that’s conveniently the same as the Brazilian flag. The wavy contours, meanwhile, were derived from the sinuous strokes of the Rio 2016 brand identity, itself inspired by Brazil’s curvy assets: mountains, waves and bodies on the beach.
The two-week fashion parade kicks into action once again, with Giorgio Armanibehind the look of the Italian team, Ralph Lauren dressing Team USA, and Sweden clothed in cheap and cheerful H&M, while Team GB are dressed by Stella McCartney – who has surpassed herself once again by crafting the tiniest trunks in the world for Tom Daley. Confirming that the 90s are well and truly back, her outfits favour bold graphic prints that employ a redrawn British coat of arms. Three lions hold flaming Olympic batons, while the national flowers of leek, rose, flax and thistle appear in the centre shield and a crown composed of medals sits up top, “symbolising continuity, teamwork and shared responsibility”.
The collection has been hailed by Vogue as sporting a “‘renaissance varsity’ edge that wouldn’t have looked amiss on a Gucci catwalk”. And you can dress up like your idols, too, because it’s all for sale: Jessica Ennis’s pants can be yours for £25.
The work of American kinetic sculptor Anthony Howe, this year’s cauldron design is certainly on message with Rio’s anti-global warming theme, featuring the smallest flame of any recent Olympics – magnified several hundred-fold by a gigantic rotating reflector. Featuring lots of little mirrored spheres and discs that rotate behind the flame in a spiralling sunburst wheel, it could be a glittering headdress plucked straight from the Rio carnival.
“My vision was to replicate the sun,” says Howe, “using movement to mimic its pulsing energy and reflection of light.” Removed from the stadium following the opening ceremony and installed in the city centre, the 12 metre wide lampshade doesn’t appear to have quite the same magic now that it’s stationary.