|For Sydney residents, the Olympic facilities seem to have been in place for some time. Perhaps it is because of the publicity, or the staggered completion schedule, or the desire to smooth out any problems well before the Olympics. The stadium has been tested almost to capacity by the football codes, and the other major venues have all hosted significant events in the past few months. It is a tribute to the organising bodies that the construction and commissioning of the facilities has passed with an orderliness which may be unique in recent Olympic history.|
What, on reflection, could be read into this process and its products? There emerges, for me, a picture of competence and sobriety that is perhaps unexpected in its pervasiveness and highly significant for the architecture of the event. Whatever cost and time overruns Sydney might have, they seem unlikely to approach the almost mythical magnitudes of those of Montreal or Barcelona, or of the last-minute construction frenzy of Atlanta. In the end, corporate and quasi-corporate Sydney has proved itself capable of avoiding ridicule or even much criticism by international standards through an orderly construction schedule and through sensible site and planning decisions. In the end, sensitivity to international opinion and public fiscal rectitude has set the tone for these games.
What seems most surprising is that we have become, somehow, a benchmark. The lack of progress made by Athens in their preparations for 2004 highlights the tricky process Sydney has now successfully negotiated. It confirms the relative sophistication of Australian institutions and our construction capabilities, a point which can be overlooked in the critical, piecemeal, comparisons sometimes made with Japan, the US, or Europe.
The Olympics, through their concentration of effort and resources, also highlight other aspects of contemporary Sydney identity. The first is the
|triumph of a particular pragmatism. Many of the new venues, and some of the older ones, rely substantially on the techniques of steel construction, the quintessential Australian building material of the moment. Steel elements can be fabricated off-site, reducing construction time and effort and allowing precise tolerances. The tensile qualities of steel make it suitable for covering large areas with suspended or stayed structures, and steel trusses and space frames also permit large spans with few points of support. These practical advantages have asserted themselves across the Homebush site, and follow the tenacious arguments mounted by Philip Cox in the 1980s that, first and foremost, the obvious should be addressed. Cox prefigured many Olympic buildings in the first major venue to be completed, the Sydney Aquatic Centre, and in his earlier Sydney Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour. Steel stayed, trussed or bowed has emerged not as the preferred method of large-scale construction but as the only method of construction. This is a telling comment on the dynamics of the building industry and the tight parameters it operates within. After Homebush, one need only skirt the springing points of the Opera House shells to be struck by how improbable the whole saga of its construction seems now.|
The second aspect of identity which the Olympic venues delineate is Sydney’s attitude to space, expressed through density and form. The original decision to centralise the Olympics at Homebush and to use the event to remake and repair the area bore all the hallmarks of Sydney’s pragmatic populism. This has an affinity with Barcelona’s use of the Olympics as a catalyst for the improvement of sections of the city. In Barcelona, though, the effort was spread across several precincts, each of which was subject to the constraints of the city’s great density.