Monday, October 26, 2009

The Hills Are Alive
Like most examples of high-tech architecture, Munich's 1972 Olympic Stadium can be read not only as a purely technological solution but as a richly baroque fantasy. Designed by G√ľnter Behnisch and Frei Otto, the stadium was intended - somewhat ironically given the fact that it was for the summer Olympics - to resemble the Alps.

There are three main parts to it; the Olympic Hall, the Aquatics Centre and the enormous 80,000 seat stadium itself. All three are covered by a vast clear PVC clad canopy held up by a vertiginous network of eccentrically leaning pylons. Between them is an artificial landscape - the Olympic Park - which rises and falls so that the buildings are set into rather than on it. Wandering around it you start to realise that the peaks and troughs of the grassy hillocks and miniature mountains echo the shape of the tensile roof structure. They have a decidedly unnatural form to them, like a CGI landscape that has not been properly smoothed out.

The tent is a sort of floating corollary to the landscape and attempts to cover parts of it without interrupting the flow of space below. So, the Olympic swimming pools are placed at the bottom of a large artificial hill that continues beyond the building. Plastic seats are fixed to the cobbled setts that flow from outside to inside so that it is like sitting on a mountain side gazing down at the plunge pools below.

This theme is continued in the swooping curve of the stadium, where the speckled green seats echo the grassy hills so that the stadium is read as a quasi-natural amphitheatre. Out of this decidedly artificial landscape huge steel cables shoot several hundred feet up into the air, as well as pylons carrying floodlights stooped like stationary robots, and the enormous TV tower.

The sometimes swooping, sometimes drooping, tent structure has an almost comical quality at times. There is nothing rational about any of this despite the mathematics involved in making it all stay up. It is eccentric, extraordinary and rather fabulous. It is also - like the Baroque architecture that abounds in Bavaria - a form of stylised naturalism, a super-charged version of the real.

The stadium is also, more obviously, a continuation of the '60's dream of dematerialised architecture - lightweight barely there buildings without walls or other forms of spatial or social segregation. This lineage grew out of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome experiments, intentionally reducing architecture to nothing more than providing - in Ryner Banham's phrase - a well-tempered environment in which sophisticated noble savages would be free to roam.

This conflation of technology and neo-pantheism reached an apogee of expression in Banham's own Un-House, where he and his collaborator Francois Dallegret appear together perched on a rock, happily naked and entertained by a vast high-tech console in their transparent bubble. It is apparent too in Superstudio's Continuous-monument and Archigram's concept of the Electronic Aborigine.

The dissolution of the architecture in the Olympic Park clearly has another, not disassociated, symbolic meaning, acting as a decisive departure from the stolid neo-classicism associated with the 1936 Olympics. And the park along with its fabulous iconic graphics has become a powerful symbol of post war Germany. The design thus conflates a benignly technological utopianism with the "innocence" of the Alpine landscape. It is, in some senses, a miniature representation of the country itself.

In fact, the architecture of the Olympic Stadium is far from dissolved. But much of the ingenuity and artifice of design has gone into the landscape which has become, in effect, the building. Bits of it are sculpted into (un)natural amphitheatres while other parts are pushed or pulled to give a better view. It is an inhabited landscape. The hills are alive.

*Appropriately this
faux-naturalism was pushed to its limits when the stadium hosted the cross-country skiing competition in 2006. Hot air was combined with cold refrigerated water to form icy snow within the stadium.

** BTW the photos are meant to be rubbish. They're edgy. Or something. See last post.


Karl said...

The photos aren't rubbish... they're *of* rubbish: The stadium is built on a former landfill site.

Charles Holland said...

Thanks, i didn't know that (obviously). I had presumed it to be a bomb site actually but didn't know for sure. It seems quite central to be landfill.

Karl said...

Apparently a 60m high "mountain of rubbish plastered with WW2 rubble" was turned into the 'Olympiaberg' on the site. I visited a flat in the 'Village' in 1991... the tenant was obsessed with toxic gases seeping from the ground.

Sydney's site was also a reclaimed landfill.

Some interesting stuff on Olympic sites here (scrol thru for Eng text):

Charles Holland said...

That's very interesting. Where is the top quote from?

Karl said...

It's my translation from a article at: