An international ideas competition

Reusing the Olympic Roof

John Hill
17. abril 2024
Photo: Parc Olympique (All images courtesy of v2com)

Although Olympic Stadium, with its dramatic inclined tower and cable-supported roof, is a recognizable landmark in the east end of Montreal, it has seen controversy repeatedly over most of its nearly 50 years. Designed by French architect Roger Taillibert for the 1976 Summer Olympics, the stadium opened without its retractable roof and the tower that would support it. The roof and an observatory at the top of the tower finally opened in 1987, though the Kevlar membrane roof was rarely lifted to the tower via its 26 cables.

Photo: Parc Olympique

In 1998, the retractable roof was replaced with a non-retractable roof made of Teflon-coated fiberglass. One local report says the agency that manages the stadium has been calling for the current roof to be replaced basically since the moment it was installed. A portion of the roof collapsed in 1999, and since then the stadium could only be open four to six months of the year, due to the roof's fragility and inability to handle heavy snow loads — winter events would be cancelled if the forecast called for more than 3cm of snow. The stadium is referred to by locals as “The Big O” but also “The Big Owe,” a disparaging reference to the cost of the stadium and the whole 1976 Olympics, which wasn't paid off in full until 2006.

Photo: Jean-François Savaria

Instead of demolishing the stadium, which would reportedly cost $2 billion (all amounts are CAD), the Quebec government is going to spend $870 million to dismantle it and replace it with a new roof that should be in place by 2028. What to do with the cables, the inner and outer membranes, the fittings that support the structure, and other parts of the roof is the focus of The Olympic Roof Reuse, the international ideas competition that recently launched and is open to both students and professionals. Instead of sending these pieces to the landfill, the competition is “part of a broader approach to sustainable development and circular economy,” one that will “provide a new purpose for the Olympic Stadium’s roof and benefit the people of Quebec.”

Drawing: Parc Olympique

The registration deadline is May 31 and entries are due by June 11, 2024. Eight designs (four professional and four student) will be selected by a jury of architects, engineers, and designers (Jean Beaudoin, Rami Bebawi, Stéphanie Cardinal, Manuel R. Cisneros, Yang Gao, Annie Levasseur, Eugénie Manseau), with professionals winning $15,000 each and students $5,000 each. From those, residents of Quebec will then vote on a People’s Choice Award. World-Architects will report on the winners later in the year.

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