The Architect Thinking
The return of the Olympic Games to their country of origin provides an opportunity for renewal – an opportunity that is underscored by the fact that these are the first Olympic Games of a new millennium. The renewal is possible, first of all, for Athens itself. To their great credit, Greece and the Athens 2004 organization have been determined to make the most of this occasion. But I also think there is an occasion for renewal for the visitors to the Olympic Games, and for the people who will follow the competitions on television. Many people today have lost touch with this source ; they are unaware, for example, that Marathon is a place. I believe that people from around the world will find it fascinating and very moving to connect the Olympic Games to these sites. That encounter has also been crucial to me in the work I have been allowed to contribute.
In the tradition of other host cities to the Olympic Games – Barcelona, for example- Greece and the Athens 2004 organization have undertaken a very ambitious project. It involves not just the Athens Olympic Sports Complex itself but also a new airport, a peripheral road, tramways in the city, and light rail. This has been a truly heroic challenge for Greece, which is a small country with only some 11 million citizens. I admire the enormous effort that Greece has made to present the Olympic Games in a modern way, using this occasion to show the city of Athens with a new face. Great credit is due to everyone who has had the desire to make the Athens Olympic Sports Complex into a beautiful legacy for the public.
People understand Greek culture in terms of the classical tradition, with its columns, architraves and pediments. But there is also a later Greek tradition, the Byzantine, which is all arcs and vaults. I had to choose how to articulate the project within these traditions. For the very long spaces that had to be overcome in roofing the Olympic Stadium and the Velodrome, I thought the more recent Byzantine tradition was appropriate. However, the sequence of space in plan – the central axis, Agora, plaza, and the stoa-like entrance plazas – is very classical. There is also a third, more general tradition at work, the Mediterranean. You see it in the landscaping, the light and color (with the reliance on white, blue and ocher), the use of materials such as ceramic tile. So I would say of the design for the Athens Olympic Sports Complex that the plan is classical, the elevations are Byzantine, and the spirit is Mediterranean.
I feel deeply grateful for the generosity of Greece and Athens 2004 in giving such an important assignment to an architect and engineer from abroad. By doing so, they have emphasized the spirit of ecumenism that is at the heart of the Olympic Games.