Olympic venues, 2018: wow

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Yongpyong Alpine Center, in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Getty Images)

To judge by my online Google search under “2018 olympic architecture,” the athletic venues and other structures built for this year’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, failed to capture the interest of the major architectural media.

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Olympic Stadium at Pyeongchang. (Kyodo News)

Maybe this professional yawn has something to do with one of the venues, the Yongpyong Alpine Center, which is traditional. (See above.) “Hey!” cried the combined editorial staff of the global architectural media, “They seem to have forgotten to get with the modernist program! That will surely impact their overall technical score in a negative manner!”

The Olympic Stadium (above left), where the lovely opening ceremonies took place last week, is a pentagon, of all things, lower-cased but no doubt still too close for comfort to the one in Alexandria, Va. Won’t that undercut the heroic Olympic diplomacy between Seoul and Pyongyang?

Where are the gravity-defying alien spaceships we’ve come to expect at the Olympiads of the past several decades?

I could find only one attempt to display a wide range of venues and none displaying every facility. The former was not in Architect, or Architectural Digest, or some other established architectural media outlet. No, it was in Business Insider: “South Korea spent over $1 billion on these mega-venues for the 2018 Winter Olympics – take a look!” by Leanna Garfield.

Scroll down and you’ll see more than your share of modernist venues, except that most of them are relatively modest affairs that look like standard-issue modernist stadia and sports facilities, eschewing the seriously over-the-top Look At Me-ism that host nations think they are expected to provide.

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Kwandong Hockey Centre. (Getty Images)

The only entry in that category at Business Insider is the buggy, sinister Kwandong Hockey Centre, located in Gangneung. Its strutting, jut-jawed Metallica-wannabe form may seek to recapitulate the stereotypical guy athlete persona. It looks hard, if not muscular. Has it suffered a concussion? Where is its helmet!? Oh. It is a helmet!

Oddly enough, the most celebrated of the modernist structures to go up among South Korea’s archipelago of sites was not included in the Business Insider report. It is the black box financed by Hyundai and covered as a solo phenomenon in several magazines. Architect maggie devoted a piece to the “Hyundai Pavilion,” designed by London architect Asif Khan. The pavilion is coated entirely in a material called Vantablack VBx2, which absorbs 99 percent of all the light that hits it, “diminishing its three dimensionality and creating,” says the architect, “the illusion of a startling black void in broad daylight.” The blackest of blacks – “superblack” – with bright stars embedded in its exterior façades.

Sounds fascinating. Looks boring. Yet it ought to have been in that roundup.

But hey, the Pentagon didn’t make it into Business Insider either.

Oh well. Maybe the next Summer Games, 2020 in Tokyo, will be ridiculous enough to spark sustained interest from the profession’s media big-feet!

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The Hyundai Pavilion, in Pyeongchang. (Architect)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to Olympic venues, 2018: wow

  1. I did one of my first blogs on the horrendously expensive (and incredibly showy) Beijing Olympic buildings. All were done by big name Starchitects, mostly from Europe. China got the most attention in the architectural media, but will also get the biggest white elephants down the road. I applaud the Koreans for respecting their traditions in the opening ceremonies and for avoiding the Starchitect grab.

    Liked by 1 person

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