Olympic stadiums and venues are built to match the dexterity of the ‘Games’ themselves. Exceptional architectural design is one of the most important aspects considered when planning these stadiums. The design focuses on aesthetics, usability and scale, making it easy for the stadiums to host mega international sporting events that are attended by thousands of spectators. From a stadium with a tent-like cover to one that looks like a medieval castle, here are some of the most beautiful Olympic stadiums and venues around the world.
Olympiastadion, Munich, Germany
The centrepiece of the Olympiapark München, Olympiastadion is an architectural masterpiece constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Designed by German architect and engineer Frei Otto, the stadium has a capacity of just over 69,000. Its distinguishing feature is the tent-like structure over the seating areas. Steel cables support the huge translucent canopy comprising plexiglass panels, which were designed to make the stadium blend in with the Bavarian landscape.
Following the Olympics, which was overshadowed by the Munich massacre, the stadium has been used as a venue for major football events like the 1974 FIFA World Cup final between the Netherlands and West Germany. It has also played host to music events. Bands and musicians like AC/DC, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the Three Tenors have performed here.
Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Barcelona, Spain
When it opened in 1929 for the Barcelona Universal Exposition, the stadium designed by architect Pere Domènech i Roure was the second-largest in the world. Its original purpose was to host the 1936 Summer Olympics, but the tense political situation in Spain in the 1930s resulted in Munich getting the right to host the games. Left unused for a long time, the stadium was renovated decades later — this time by a team of architects that included the legendary Vittorio Gregotti. They upgraded and changed everything in the stadium, except for the façade that gives the stadium an appearance of a magnificent palace with Moorish influences.
Re-opened in 1989, the stadium hosted the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In 2001, it was renamed Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in honour of the former President of the Government of Catalonia. Its current capacity is around 60,000. Besides sporting events, the stadium has played host to performers such as Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bon Jovi among others since 1989. The stadium is open to tourists when not hosting events.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, US
This stadium is the only venue to have hosted two Summer Olympics — in 1932 and 1984. It will also become the first in the world to host three Olympics when the games are played here in 2028.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was built in 1923 to commemorate American soldiers who fought in World War I. Designed by the father-son duo of John and Donald Parkinson on the lines of a Roman Colosseum, the stadium’s most architecturally outstanding feature is the Peristyle — a structure consisting of a large central arch, flanked by six arches on either side. At the Peristyle, a Memorial Court of Honor consisting of 62 plaques honours those who have made an impact on the stadium.
Besides the Olympics, the Coliseum has hosted numerous sporting and cultural events over the decades, including three NFL Championships and two Super Bowls. Since its opening, it has been the home of college football’s USC Trojans and has played a similar role for many others over the decades. Some of the world’s most famous personalities such as US presidents Franklin D Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy; luminaries Martin Luther King, Jr., Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela; and celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Pele and Billy Graham have made appearances at the stadium.
It was named a National and California Historic Landmark in 1984. Though the Olympic stadium could hold 100,000 spectators in the past, its current capacity is 77,500.
Beijing National Stadium, Beijing, China
Famously known as the Bird’s Nest because of its eye-catching design, the Beijing National Stadium was built as the main venue of the Olympic Games in 2008. It is considered by many as one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world and an engineering marvel. It was designed by a group of architects from all around the world. Among them was Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Li Xinggang. One of the most famous names associated with its construction was contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.
The exterior is made of lightweight, earthquake-resistant steel — the purest in China — interlocking at points and crisscrossing each other to create the appearance of a nest. The construction of the stadium began in 2003 and was completed in 2008, just months before the games. It was at this stadium that Usain Bolt began his sensational career in Olympics by winning the first two of his eight golds.
The stadium will be hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will make Beijing the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. While it could seat 91,000 during the 2008 Olympics, the Olympic stadium now has a reduced capacity of 80,000.
Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Canada
Construction of the Olympic Stadium began in 1973 after the city won the bid to host the 1976 Summer Olympics. A fallout with the workers resulted in a delay in the construction. As a result, parts of the stadium were still unfinished when the Games began. The bloated cost of construction and financial mismanagement was so huge that it was only in 2006 that the city could pay off its entire debt for hosting the Olympics. This is why many in Montreal call the stadium the ‘Big Owe.’
Yet, if one looks beyond the financial potholes, the stadium certainly qualifies as an architectural masterpiece. The shell-shaped structure was designed by Parisian architect Roger Taillibert, who also conceived the idea of having a retractable roof supported by cables attached to the stadium’s most distinguishable feature — a leaning tower. Due to the delay, the tower, known as Montreal Tower, could be finished only in 1987. At a height of 165 metres and leaning at an angle of 45 degrees, the Montreal Tower is the tallest inclined structure in the world and also features the only funicular in the world that is built along a curved structure. Visitors can take the funicular to the tower’s observatory to have a look at the breathtaking view of Montreal.
Panathenaic Stadium, Athens, Greece
Home of the first modern Olympics, which was played in 1896, the stadium is the only one in the world built entirely of marble. It stands on the site of an ancient stadium that was originally constructed in the 4th-Century BC. This ancient stadium was in the shape of a parallelogram, which was changed into a horseshoe shape by the Romans by 144 AD. Over the next few centuries, it fell to disuse and lay in a state of ruin till excavations in the 19th Century revealed its traces. It then witnessed a rebirth as the venue of the Zappeian Olympiads, which were held in 1870 and 1875.
The stadium then underwent a major reconstruction ahead of the first Olympic games, with the expenses covered by Greek businessman Georgios Averoff. Architect Anastasis Metaxas redesigned the stadium along the lines of the ancient Roman stadium using Pentelic marble.
Panathenaic Stadium is today a historic symbol of Greece and the sporting world. It is locally known as Kallimarmaro, which means ‘beautiful marble’. Though the modern Olympic Stadium served as the main stadium for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium was the venue of some events including archery.
London Aquatics Centre, London, England
A magnificent creation by late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the London Aquatics Centre was constructed before the city hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. Though it was designed before London won the bid, it was the last venue completed. Since it was not designed primarily for the Olympics, temporary extensions were added on either side of the building’s centre to allow over 17,500 spectators. Following the Games, London Aquatics Centre underwent modifications that eventually led to the removal of the extensions and the addition of glass and doors along the sides. The centre, which now has a maximum capacity of 3,800, was opened to the public in 2014.
The London Aquatics Centre is renowned for its astounding architecture, which is inspired by water. Its wave-like roof is supported by 3,000 tonnes of steel. According to BBC, Hadid’s design made IOC chief Jacques Rogge remark: “I’ve seen so many venues in my life but I had a visual shock — this is unique, state of the art.”
Swimming, diving and synchronised swimming events of the 2012 Games were held at the centre, which has two 50m Olympic-sized pools, one 25m diving pool, and a dry diving zone. It was at this venue where American swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history.
Iceberg Skating Palace, Sochi, Russia
The 12,000-seat structure was designed by GUP MNIIP mosproject-4, or the ‘Moscow Research and Design Institute for Culture, Leisure, Sports and Health Care Buildings’. Iceberg Skating Palace was the venue of the figure skating and short track speed skating events of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi.
The design of the building is inspired by the region’s icy mountains and the Black Sea with which Sochi shares a coastline. Blocks of blue, white and black form the wave-like exterior, which serves as the defining beauty of the structure. Inside, the colours of blue and white have been artistically used on objects such as seats to create a pleasing harmony with the ice-skating rink and the overall atmosphere of winter games.
Stockholm Olympic Stadium, Sweden
The Stockholm Olympic Stadium, which was the main stadium for the 1912 Summer Olympics, looks like a medieval European castle complete with towers. The stadium was designed by Torben Grut, whose initial plan was to make an arena of white-painted wooden boards before he changed it to the brick edifice that stands today. The building’s design was inspired by the works of Ragnar Östberg’s constructions and the Visby City Wall, a medieval defensive wall that is today part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Hanseatic Town of Visby. Statues and relief works accentuate the overall grandeur of the stadium, which has also served as the venue for concerts by prominent entertainers over the years.
Called “Stadion” by Swedes, it is open to the public at all times. Depending on the event, the stadium can hold between 13,000 and 33,000 people.