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Asia

Olympic Stadiums Become White Elephants

An Olympic host always aims to top the last Olympic Games and China certainly proved its metal to the world this year -- winning a majority of medals and building spectacular and expensive buildings in a very short amount of time. But what’s going to happen to the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube now that the Olympics are over and the Paralympics will soon be drawing to a close?

The Water Cube is supposed to be turned into a pool and karaoke centre

The Water Cube is supposed to be turned into a pool and karaoke centre

David Huang is a Chinese American town planner, who works as a consultant for Beijing’s city administration. His assessment of the Olympics was mixed: “The new subways are great for developing the country, although they cost a great deal of money.”

“On the other hand, the stadiums are an expression of immaturity. We want to build everything bigger and better than elsewhere. At the football world cup in Germany, old stadiums were modernised.”

Buildings that stand empty after sporting cups or other such events have been nicknamed white elephants. Holger Preuss, a sports economist from the German University of Mainz, explained that to circumvent the white elephant effect, “such buildings would have to be filled every ten days --for the costs to tally.”

“That’s represents a huge challenge -- two professional teams would have occupy the space for it to make financial sense. Anything less would mean that the costs would end up being very high. Generally, if a stadium is not used, it ends up going to waste.”

From swimming to karaoke

Beijing has 18 million inhabitants and there might not be any white elephants marring the landscape for very long but Preuss criticised the fact that some of the Olympic buildings had been designed without much thought for the future or even for the Games themselves in one case -- the aquatic centre, nicknamed the Water Cube, for example.

“It is disproportionate -- the dimensions are far too great because world swimming championships do not draw that many spectators. Swimming is not a core Olympic sport either,” said Preuss.

It is currently planned that the Water Cube will be converted into a swimming pool with karaoke bars.

How can the Bird’s Nest compete?

David Huang thinks is might be hard to find alternatives for the other Olympic buildings: “Near the Olympic village lie the Asia Games stadiums, which stood empty for years. They were sometimes used as exhibition halls for cars. The Bird’s Nest will pose a problem. Some have said trade fairs will be held there but we’ve just built a brand new exhibition centre -- a very professional one. How could the Bird’s Nest compete?”

“I’m sure the Bird Nest and the Olympic Indoor Stadium will have several management problems. Moreover, the complex is over three square kilometres in size but there are no parking spaces. When I asked the guards about them, they had no idea except they knew parking was banned.”

Huang did have praise for the Olympic sites at Beijing University, saying that students would surely make use of the beautiful space where the rowing and canoe competitions took place.

His overall suggestion was that in future, architects keep in mind that buildings should be practical and efficient.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen if there will be any white elephants in Beijing in the next few years.

  • Date 12.09.2008
  • Author DW Staff 12/09/08
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  • Date 12.09.2008
  • Author DW Staff 12/09/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsKx