Bill Hanway, AECOM’s Global Sports Leader, reflects on the incredible effort and multidisciplinary expertise required to deliver Rio’s 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games masterplan.
For human nature at its best, look no further than the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The selfless devotion of the athletes and the euphoria of millions of spectators combine to create a truly unique spectacle. Making this festival of sporting excellence possible also requires near‑superhuman levels of passion, dedication and excellence. The host city has one-in-a generation chance to show off its own unique culture — its vibrancy, beauty and individuality, while demonstrating its capability to hold a world‑beating event.
In Rio de Janeiro, AECOM is helping the city deliver world-beating Games while leaving a lasting, sustainable legacy. AECOM has been a trusted partner to Rio’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes, since 2011, creating a masterplan for the Olympic Park that put the post‑Games legacy front and centre while overseeing the design of the venues.
Throughout the six years of the programme, AECOM coordinated a multi-disciplinary team combining masterplanning, sports architecture, engineering, infrastructure, planning and cost management and numbering 50 people at peak. An outstanding effort in major event programming, and one that was possible due to the breadth of AECOM’s expertise across all areas of engineering and design.
An ability to cope with economic fluctuations during those long years of preparation is essential. When Rio won the Games, the economy was booming and the country was about to overtake the UK in the GDP tables. The current economic situation is a complete reversal from this earlier position, compounded by political instability and the Zika Virus threat.
Faced with these challenges, the AECOM team had to step up, working to lower costs, delivering efficient temporary structures, and prioritising those all-important legacy components to ensure deliverability despite a revised implementation timetable.
AECOM’s road to Rio started with the international competition to design the Games masterplan, with proposal that drew on its substantial experience working on London 2012, as well as a short but intense period of socio-economic planning in Rio. “The planning work looked at what was already in place and what would be needed to drive improvements. It gave us an important early baseline for a really-well informed masterplan that was right for Rio,” said Andrew Jones, Practice Leader, Design, Planning and Economics at AECOM.
AECOM’s proposal beat 18 other international entries, and kickstarted a six-year involvement with Mayor Paes and his team. “Winning the competition enabled us to have important early conversations with the Mayor. He talked about creating a legacy and leveraging the value of an Olympic Games — the money and capital investment — into delivering his vision of a happy and healthy city,” explains Bill Hanway, AECOM’s Executive Vice President who led the Rio programme.
Time was tight, even then. “Because we were commissioned two years after Rio won the Games, we had five years to do work that really takes seven or eight years to complete,” says Hanway. “So we had to accelerate a lot of different components.”
First and foremost was getting a masterplan in place that met the Mayor’s legacy goals but also delivered a great Games. The design focused on triangular, 120-hectare plot of land in the district of Barra de Tijuca, southwest of Rio.
This became the Via Olímpica, a concourse that runs north to south in an undulating path through the Park, making it easy for the thousands of spectators attending the Games to get around the Park and into the venues.
“The first move that we made conceptually was to draw a line down from the mountains to the water,” explained Graham Goymour, AECOM’s Principal Architect. “That basic premise established all the other decisions in the masterplan. And that still holds true today.”
When creating the masterplan, AECOM’s team drew on experts from AECOM’s international and local teams. “There’s a great deal involved here in terms of design and operations, so we built a team made up of individuals with experience of other events as well as a core local team,” said Goymour. “It added momentum to the delivery but it was good for knowledge transfer to our people in Rio too.”
AECOM’s diverse, multidisciplinary skills and the experience and knowledge of its people helped reduce some of the contractual complexity around the Rio 2016 project. “We had a core team of about 25 people who took the Games from initial concept all the way through,” said Bill Hanway.
“The team expanded and contracted during that time, based on needs. Early on, we might have some socio-economic analysis being done so a small team might be added. We have a planning team added to that. As the design expands, we will add in architects and landscape architects. When transportation or security becomes a priority, I can call on these teams. So the team can grow to 150 or 200 at some points — but that core team of 25 is always at the heart of it.”
The Masterplan: Games Mode
Rio’s existing Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre and multi-use arena are complemented by a suite of new permanent facilities: a Tennis Centre, Velodrome and ‘Carioca Arenas’. Also known as COT Halls, these are significant new sports venues that will host three competition arenas during the Games and become the cornerstone of a new Olympic Training Centre in legacy.
There are temporary venues too, including a demountable Handball Arena and Aquatics Centre. Characterised by an efficient, standardised design, they have major roles to play both in the legacy plans as well as during the Games themselves.
Creating the Masterplan
An Olympic Games masterplan is a complex thing, with many moving parts. “You have to understand the goals and long-term future of the communities in which you’re building, when you create it,” said Graham Goymour, AECOM’s Director, Sport and Event Masterplanning. That’s the starting point to understand whether you need new schools, new hospitals, residential compounds, new sports facilities, a new public park. All of these things drive the masterplan process.”
Global and Local
AECOM’s well-established team in Rio also played an important part in the masterplan’s success. “We expanded that strong base to include sports experts, but there was already a core of very talented architects there,” said Hanway. ”Transfer of knowledge is very fluid. In fact, the work we’re doing for Tokyo and Los Angeles draws heavily from that team’s experience in delivering Rio 2016. The process of sharing knowledge and people is an important part of what makes AECOM so strong.”
In a city surrounded by so much natural beauty as Rio, the landscaping of the Olympic Park was always going to be a major factor. Local species and flora played key role in designs from the earliest competition stages, with the landscape’s transition from rainforest to coastal mangrove environment helping to create a narrative in the Park. “We really wanted to create a sense of joy and discovery for anyone arriving in the Olympic Park,” says Jaoa Toscano, AECOM’s Senior Landscape Architect on the Rio 2016 project.
In Games mode, people need to get in and out of venues efficiently, so the landscaping was minimal in these areas, allowing space for the Games overlay to be installed. The input of a local landscape architect was also important, particularly around the planting.
The landscape provides structure to the masterplan, linking the visitor experience to the culture of Brazil and to the values of the Olympic Games. The Via Olímpica, its undulating aspect a tribute to the pioneering Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Bule Marx, is a key tributary route, offering a journey through different views, mapping a route through the asymmetrical space defined by the masterplan.
It also responds to the variety of different needs of its visitors. “We have a Park that’s more activity-based around the Via Olímpica, and which will expand in the legacy phase,” said Joao Toscano, AECOM’s Associate Director of Landscape Architecture. “This contrasts with a more ecologically-sensitive part of the Park on the waterfront, with local species of mangrove to help regenerate this area and clean the lagoon.”
When creating a planting strategy for the Olympic Park, AECOM’s landscape design team had to understand that tropical species behave very differently to those in more temperate climes. Working closely with a local landscape architect and planting expert, AECOM drew up a planting scheme that made the most of the huge diversity of Brazil’s flora.
“Tropical species are very challenging to control. The competition between species is intense and the dynamism is amazing,” said Joao Toscano.
The scale of planting also required consideration. “In Brazil, some plants are huge!” explained Toscano. “We were able to create a scheme that was very exuberant in Games mode. We wanted visitors to be amazed by the variety of Rio’s indigenous species — and it really adds to the Park’s wow factor.”
The two-year time lag between host city announcement and masterplan competition meant that venue designs were also behind schedule. So the Mayor asked AECOM to help. “We accelerated designs for the individual venues and sports arenas,” says Bill Hanway. “And there were a couple of buildings on the site, including the International Broadcast Centre, which it was more efficient for us to take it all the way through from start to finish.”
With the legacy vision already in place, the strategy was always to create world‑class sports facilities that would not languish unused after the Games. This meant looking hard at the business case for each stadium. If it didn’t have a clear role post-Games, it became a temporary venue, with its constituent parts designated for reuse.
Meanwhile existing facilities — notably the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre and a multi‑use arena — were remodelled rather than demolished, and complement by a suite of new permanent venues.
A Collaborative Design Process
AECOM took venue designs up to the developed or technical design phase (RIBA stage 3–4 ), before handing over to local consultants for further development and documentation.
“Being an integrated team of architects, engineers and other professionals made this process much more efficient,” noted Peter Ayres, AECOM’s Sports Director of Engineering.
“For our client, it’s all about quality and reliability of delivery. Given how fast we had to work, I can’t see how we would have done it without being an interconnected, multidisciplinary team.”
A Sustainable Legacy
From the start of the design process, the environmental impact of construction was minimised. The remediation programme minimised the soil in and out of the site, and construction waste was reused wherever possible.
When it came to the build stage, low-impact materials such as durable ‘plastic wood’ (made from wood waste and polymers) were favoured. Ingenious infrastructure design enabled the use of natural drainage instead of installing pumps.
Meanwhile, in the venues, natural ventilation reduced reliance on power-hungry air conditioning. And all manner of green technologies combined to reduce water usage and cut energy consumption.
Designing the world’s Olympics
AECOM’s appointment for this project has been unprecedented given the scale, complexity and continuity of its role. AECOM’s team has been accountable for the masterplan and the majority of the venues over the last five years, building on its experience at London 2012.
It has been a demanding and sometimes arduous programme. But a great relationship with the city’s Mayor and a strong long-term vision means that everything is pointing towards Rio 2016 becoming an even greater success than its predecessor in London.
“The passion of the Mayor and the people of Rio for this project is huge. For us, being able to channel that passion into inspiring designs and great delivery was an incredible process,” says Bill Hanway.
AECOM is now using the knowledge gained to act as consultant on the Tokyo 2020 games and Los Angeles host city bid for 2024. This core of in-house knowledge, combined with a breadth of multidisciplinary experience in all aspects of design and construction, means that AECOM is the natural choice to design the world’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.