Journal Article

When Icons Crumble—The Troubled Legacy of Olympic Design

Even Smith Wergeland

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 25, issue 3, pages 304-318
Published in print August 2012 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online July 2012 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI:
When Icons Crumble—The Troubled Legacy of Olympic Design

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The idea of design legacy has been a vital force in London’s bid and planning for the 2012 Olympics. In this article I engage critically with this idea by investigating the Games that are currently being framed as the polar opposite to London 2012, namely the 2004 Athens Olympics. My primary concern is to analyse the effects of Olympic design in decline, using the Athens Olympic Sports Complex (the OAKA) as the focal point of the study. Whereas legacy can apply to a range of different areas, the specific focus of this article is to study the legacy of the architectural design. Drawing on Leonardo Benevolo’s work on modernist architecture, I argue that the derelict state of the OAKA venues causes a radical shift in our perception of them, visually as well as conceptually. In a post-Olympic state, the architectural design features are robbed of the context that initiated them and, as a consequence, appear to us only as vacant objects, emptied of referential meaning and bereft of their previous iconic value. This scenario, I argue, might also become relevant in future conceptions of London 2012, which already struggles to stay true to its initial emphasis on legacy.

Keywords: architectural theory; architecture; Athens 2004; derelict venues; Greece; legacy; London; London 2012; Olympic design; Santiago Calatrava

Journal Article.  6294 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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