Free Access
Mov Sport Sci/Sci Mot
Number 107, 2020
L'héritage social des Jeux olympiques / Social impacts of Olympic Games
Page(s) 53 - 65
Published online 05 February 2020

© ACAPS, 2020

1 Introduction

The Olympic Games are short-term mega events that comprise multiple dimensions. Their influence on urban transformations has been growing throughout the decades, affecting positively (or negatively) host cities and territories. Among all the redevelopment projects that take place in urban areas, the regeneration of industrial brownfields has become an important issue in productive cities in North America, Europe and, more recently, China.

This paper addresses the relationship between three main notions: the Olympics as catalyst of urban transformation and speeded-up processes; the regeneration of brownfields and the valorization of urban industrial heritage by taking advantage of mega-events leverage; the necessity of planning and integrating long-term urban transformations and redevelopment with the Olympic legacy, since the early bidding phase.

2 Methodology

The approach to this work has implied a literature review and a theoretical study of the above-mentioned concepts. The paper highlights the importance of a “long-term planning” as the basic notion for both Olympic legacy (Furrer, 2002) and brownfields redevelopment. The objective is to suggest a win-win condition to exploit tangible and intangible legacies of mega-events by enhancing through architectural and urban design a new global attention to sport, health and physical activity.

In addition, an exploratory case study methodology is employed. In July 2015 Beijing was selected as host city of the Winter Olympic Games in 2022. Thus, Beijing 2022 is introduced to provide a further exemplification of Olympic potentialities, strategies and legacies. By means of official documents analysis (public policies, city and local masterplans, charter of intents, published articles, and technical drawings realized by the authors), the renovation design project of the ex-industrial area of Shougang (Beijing) towards the future Olympic venue of the “Big Air” is described.

The city of Beijing will have to deal, on one side, with the long-term urban renovation planning and, on the other, with the short-term international sport event. Under this condition, here come several questions. Could the Winter Olympic Games be regarded as an opportunity to accelerate a positive renovation and enhancement of industrial heritage in Beijing? Is it possible to pursue a “win-win” coordinated and integrated strategy between urban renovations and Olympic legacy? If so, what are the influencing factors that should be emphasized in order to achieve the objective? What kind of design notion and planning strategy could be applied?

The authors of the paper are part of the design team of the Shougang project, along with designers and scholars from the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University of Beijing and from the Department of Architecture and Design of Politecnico di Torino (Italy). They are currently supporting the architectural and urban design strategies with an in-depth academic research.

3 Olympics as catalyst of urban transformation

Since the 1960s, the Olympics started to be considered as a trigger for large-scale urban transformations with substantial impact on the host city’s built environment (Essex & Chalkley, 2004) that has become an important justification for hosting the Games (Kitchen, 1996). City leaders and managers consider the Olympics not only as sport event but also “an opportunity to accomplish items on their own urban agenda” (Hiller, 2006, p. 317). Essex & Chalkley (2003) states that the Olympics have become a relevant catalyst of urban modification. Hiller (2000b, p. 445) similarly, defines the Olympics as “the venture to spark change and accelerate actions towards developmental transformation”. The Olympics can potentially leverage the regeneration of neglected areas and stimulate social development (Smith & Fox, 2007) or act as catalysts for urban sustainability and policy making (Benneworth & Dauncey, 2010).

The reason why the Olympics could be used as catalyst to speed up urban transformations can be understood through four aspects:

  • Massive investments. The scale of the investments has been increasing throughout the decades, providing cities with the occasion to allocate public funds not otherwise available (Hiller, 2006). If well managed, Olympic investments have the potential to stimulate a change in the conception of the sport: from means of intangible values, such as spiritual and social renewal, to means of tangible urban renewal (Abebe, Bolton, Pavelka, & Pierstorff, 2014; Essex & Chalkley, 1998);

  • Fixed deadlines. The Olympic timetable forces “fast-tracked” developments by accelerating urban planning processes, innovative design thinking and construction works (Essex & Chalkley, 1998; Hiller, 2000b);

  • Urban politics. Administrative and political issues of an Olympic city are intense because of fixed deadlines (Cashman, 2002; Essex & Chalkley, 1998). They often appeared to be less bureaucratic and more entrepreneurial (Essex & Chalkley, 1998). This puts pressure on expediting procedures and reducing obstacles in decision-making processes;

  • Publicity. The Olympics are considered a publicizing platform to display the city to the world’s media. In the last decades, according to the global urban tendency defined as “Entrepreneurial city”, coalitions of urban elites unite to promote the economic development of their city (Hall & Hubbard, 1998). The Olympic Games are ideal opportunities to develop flagship interventions and provide a new image to the inhabitants and to the world (Gold & Gold, 2011) by “rebranding” the host city as a form of “city marketing” (Ward, 1998).

Scholars divide the Olympic influences on urban transformations into four distinct phases (Cashman, 2002; Essex & Chalkley, 1998):

  • the preparation of the bid and winning the right to host;

  • the seven-years preparation for staging the Games, concerning: improvements of air, infrastructures and transports; increasing of costs and taxes; innovations in politics; realization of sporting venues;

  • the short period of actually staging the event of Olympic and Paralympic Games: showcase of the city and the country; involvement of the local community;

  • the long-term post-Games era: potential increase of tourism and business activities; improvement of cultural and leisure facilities; enhancement of city landscape and environment.

Influences across spatial and temporal dimensions could also be explained through the concept of “territorialization” or, in other words, the production of territory by mega-events that involves multiple actions and actors. “Territory” is defined as a space where human energy and work are applied (Raffestin, 1980). Considering different periods of the Olympics, a cycle of territorialization, de-territorialization and re-territorialization describes how the Olympics’ impact unfolds over time (Dansero & Mela, 2007):

  • Territorialization. It takes place from the moment a city announces its candidature, to the on-game period during which transformations are undertaken to make the site suitable for the event;

  • De-territorialization. The end of the Olympics is followed by numerous changes. Many of the infrastructures associated with Olympics are dismantled or, sometimes, abandoned;

  • Re-territorialization. It occurs when the event site is able to re-appropriate the Game’s legacy and change it into an asset of the territorial economy (OECD, 2001; Zonneveld & Waterhout, 2005). After the Games the “project territory” gradually returns to the same dynamics as the “context territory” by selectively reorganizing itself (Dansero & Mela, 2007).

Although Olympic impacts on urban transformation are mostly considered to be positive, criticisms come from the query of real beneficiaries. In some cases, the Games result to be self-serving commercial displays of property developers and commercial sponsors whose benefits do not necessarily extend to the local community (Keating, 1991). Olympic facilities may have little usage in the post-Olympic period (Hiller, 2006). One of the reasons may lay in the difficulty of foreseeing management costs. Furthermore, the evaluation of intangible benefits result to be complex and variable (Cashman, 2002).

In conclusion, being aware of the catalyst potential of the Olympics for urban transformations could have huge benefits on local urban agendas if well-integrated and implemented.

4 Brownfields regeneration: urban transformations led by mega-events

Urban redevelopments are considered means for sustainable usage of land resources. Specifically, since the second half of the XX century, a growing number of urban transformations in western countries have been concerning brownfields regeneration.

Diverse definitions of brownfields have been used throughout literature with some differences based on statutory and cultural interpretations. A broadly accepted definition is suggested by Alker, Joy, Roberts, & Smith (2000, p. 64) according to which a brownfield site is “any land or premises which has previously been used or developed and is not currently fully in use, although it may be partially occupied or utilized. It may also be vacant, derelict or contaminated”.

The majority of the existing literature refers to brownfields within the Western context, where substantial attention to the topic has been given ever since 1950s (Adams, De Sousa, & Tiesdell, 2010; Liu, van Oort, Geertman, & Lin, 2014) as consequence of structural changes in global trade competition and patterns, development of information technologies and resulting processes of deindustrialization. Due to the rise of labour costs and growing attention to environmental protection, polluting manufacturing plants were mostly shut down and moved abroad, starting a process of industrial migration on different scales: intra-regionally from urban to suburban, inter-regionally and internationally (Liu et al., 2014; Rodwin & Sazanami, 1989).

In more recent times, also in China brownfields redevelopment has been arising as a crucial subject in political regulation, urban planning and academic research (Cao & Guan, 2007; Gao, Liu, & Dunford, 2014). However, more attention to the specific Chinese context is needed. China presents, in fact, unique institutional settings in terms of land ownership, size and spatial distribution of industrial sites, different formation mechanisms and typologies depending on the location, if in urban areas or in urban villages (Liu et al., 2014).

4.1 Cases of redevelopment in city-event context

In North America, Europe and, nowadays, China, cities present marks of their industrial past on the urban landscape and policy makers have been interested in promoting strategies to revitalize them (De Sousa, 2002). Also the design profession has largely shifted from green-field planning to brownfield regeneration and reintegration of post-industrial areas, requiring innovative approaches to both planning and design in favour of heritage enhancement (Braae, Li, & Liu, 2014; Cheng, Geertman, Kuffer, & Zhan, 2011; De Sousa, 2002; Loures & Panagopoulos, 2007).

Brownfields present site-specific challenges due to the character of former industrial activities, local transformation costs and ownership structures. In order to transform and regenerate a former production area within the urban fabric, one widespread strategy is to bid for and host a mega-event (Braae et al., 2014), such as Expos and Olympic Games, national or city level sport events and facilities which have the potential to produce long lasting tangible and intangible legacies (Ortiz-Moya, 2015). Renewal projects are thus integrated with mega and sport events as broader economic and social development plans (Bianchini & Parkinson, 1993).

In UK, Manchester, one of the first industrial hubs, has been also among the first cities to face problems of urban decline, population shrinkage, erosion of traditional economic structure (Carlsen & Taylor, 2003). Since the 1960s, Manchester gradually moved its economy from manufacturing to tertiary activities. In line with several urban regeneration projects for the realization of creative hubs and sports infrastructures (Ortiz-Moya, 2015), the city unsuccessfully bid for the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. Eventually, in 2002 it hosted the Commonwealth Games which gave a new image to the city.

In Barcelona, Spain, in occasion of the Olympic Games of 1992, the city initiated the refurbishment and restructuring of the city’s seafront, transforming the city’s harbour from a declined industrial port to a successful waterfront (Braae et al., 2014). The Olympic projects in Barcelona exceeded the event scale. They integrated new sports facilities with a long-term vision of urban revitalisation: from brownfields to new urban areas with service, culture, leisure and residential functions to reach social, spatial and environmental objectives (Qu & Spaans, 2009).

The World Fair Expo’98 in Lisbon, Portugal, was designed to regenerate the industrial docklands of the city. Consequent to the deindustrialisation processes of the 1970s, a vast port zone, location of refinery and petrochemical industries, became an opportunity of urban regeneration and international reputation improvement (Carrière & Demazière, 2002). In 1990, the Regional Plan for the Lisbon Metropolitan Area emphasised the need of a comprehensive urban regeneration strategy. The 1998 World Fair resulted to be not just an event but a proper catalyst of urban restructuring (Carrière & Demazière, 2002).

In China, due to global industrial restructuring, brownfields have emerged as a new urban phenomenon only throughout the 1990s. The formation process of brownfields in the Chinese context can be exemplified in three phases: industrialization, suburbanization and deindustrialization (Liu et al., 2014). Between the 1950s and the 1970s, the central government invested in urban areas to promote large scales industrialisation run by State-Owned Enterprises. With the economic reform of the 1970s, a process of bottom-up rural industrialization took place, employing collective land for industrial purposes. Then, as cities expanded, peripheral industrial areas were gradually integrated into the urban fabric. Lastly, during the economic restructuring led by the urban land reform, urban cores of Chinese cities became subject of deindustrialization processes. Many industrial complexes shut down or moved to further development areas with consequent formation of urban brownfields (Liu et al., 2014). In this unique context, Shanghai in 1999 bid to host the World Exhibition that would take place in 2010. The event became catalyst for launching the riverfront renewal program between 2000 and 2015. The industrial history of the Expo site dates back to the 1860s when the Jiangnan Shipyard was founded. Between 1950s and 1970s, Shanghai was positioned as a national base for petrochemicals and steel industries which, until before the event, were still in use. Thus, by land exchange and financial compensation supported by the government, plants were moved out of the city (Deng, Poon, & Chan, 2016). The Shanghai Master Plan of 1984 and later the one of 1999–2000 stated that the city should have become an economic trade centre of the West Pacific as well as a central harbour and a financial, information, scientific and cultural hub (State Council, 2001). The city was looking forward to reaching an international position, transitioning from secondary to tertiary industry (Braae et al., 2014). The Expo 2010 was planned as an opportunity to transform the dockland area along the Huangpu River: an industrialized area of 5.28 km2, respectively 3.93 km2 on the Pudong side of the river and 1.35 km2 in the Puxi area. About 50% of the surface was kept as legacy in the form of flagship heritage buildings, adapted industrial facilities, landscaped parks, and restored riverfront eco-system (Deng et al., 2016). The event fostered urban transformation processes that the city had started a decade before with the development of Pudong New Area. The city event was used to regenerate former industrial sites: first turning it into a location for the event and then into a cultural and leisure city area (Braae et al., 2014).

Urban industrial areas represent a potentially useful resource to society when strategically reintegrated into the urban context (Braae et al., 2014). In many post-industrial cities, mega and sport events have become valuable tools for initiating spatial and environmental regeneration of brownfields in urban setting (Deng, Poon, & Chan, 2014). Transformation activities on former industrial areas serve both the temporary city event and the city’s redevelopment in the longer term by changing and promoting the profile of the city, producing economic direct and indirect benefits for the region, creating a social legacy of benefits through culture, sport and leisure activities.

5 Synergy between Olympic Games and urban renovation

As mentioned, China has started to deal with brownfields appearance only few decades ago. Despite some similar conditions with other post-industrial Western countries, it presents a peculiar political and economic context.

In Beijing, the relocation and redevelopment of industrial areas has followed the city’s changes: from a manufacturing-dominant economy to a service-sector one. Flourished since 1949, the heavy manufacturing industry soon became the supporting economy of Beijing, reaching a peak of 63.7% of the city’s productive output (Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics, 2006). Since around 2000, with the spreading urbanization, factories in Chinese cities gradually moved out of urban areas. The reasons mainly laid in the rising of operational costs and restrictive environmental national policies for pollution control and public health. Around 144 manufacturing plants were moved out of Beijing urban area from 2000 to 2005 (Li, 2011). Specially, the year of 2008 was considered as a deadline to restructure the industrial composition and relocate factories. Hence, large areas of industrial heritage within the urban fabric became significant subject of urban sustainable transformation.

Brownfields regeneration involves a variety of public and private actors, such as governments, property owners, developers and users. The integrated cooperation among them can potentially push forward redevelopment processes. For instance, the well-known 798 and 751 art districts in Beijing have been defined as successful cases of industrial heritage renovations with cultural and creative purposes. They were subject to local government’s redefinition of the city identity, which has shifted from an industrial city to a creative-oriented global metropolis (Chen, Judd, & Hawken, 2016).

Considering that Beijing in 2022 will host the Winter Games, the city is dealing with a dual impact on its urban processes: on one side, the long-term urban renovation planning and, on the other, the short-term international mega sport event. Thus, can the Winter Olympic Games be regarded as an opportunity to accelerate a positive renovation and to enhance the industrial heritage in Beijing? What are the influencing factors that could be emphasized in order to achieve a coordinated and integrated approach?

5.1 Olympic Games for urban renovation

As discussed in the first chapter, the Olympic Games have emerged as a significant catalyst of urban change. For this reason, brownfields regeneration, as significant part of urban transformations, could take advantage of mega sport events.

In the Chinese context, in order to promote these redevelopments, there are three crucial obstacles that should be overcome: the need for special policies which motivates inner dynamics and synergies among actors; the need for financial support and tax incentives which help to change the unfavorable investment climate; the need for publicity which can familiarize the public with new urban land uses and change the public opinion (Cao & Guan, 2007; Wu & Qin, 2018). It is clear that the Olympic Games can be an opportunity for long-term redevelopment of industrial areas, by gathering resources which match with the crucial needs of industrial areas renovation.

5.2 Urban renovation for Olympic Games. Peculiarities of the Chinese context

To better investigate the influence of combining Olympic Games with long-term urban renovation, it is necessary to understand firstly the whole Olympic Games’ lifecycle and its evaluation. In recent decades, the Olympic legacy has emerged as the key factor of the Olympic cycle (Preuss, 2018).

The IOC included officially the notion of “legacy” as its overall mission already in the Olympic Charter of 2003. Rule 2, Article 15 states that the role of the IOC is “to promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries” (IOC, 2019, p. 17).

In 2017 the IOC published the Legacy Strategic Approach, conceived through four objectives: embed the legacy vision and objectives as integral of the Games’ lifecycle since the bidding phase; periodically document, analyse and proactively communicate the legacy; encourage the celebration of the legacy; build strategic partnerships. “Olympic legacy is the result of a vision. It encompasses all the tangible and intangible long-term benefits initiated or accelerated by the hosting of the Olympic Games/sport events for people, cities/territories and the Olympic Movement” (IOC, 2017, p. 2).

Scholars claims that legacy is multifaceted and has to be considered from the perspective of various stakeholders (Chappelet, 2012). Cashman (2006) identifies six fields of qualitative definition of legacies: economics; infrastructure; information and education; public life, politics and culture; sport; symbols, memory and history. Differently, Gratton & Preuss (2008) structured the concept of legacy as five-dimensional. They suggest that legacies can be of three opposite sorts: planned or unplanned, positive or negative, and tangible or intangible. In addition, they recognize their limited or extended duration in time and the different scale of spatial influence.

Thus, how to mediate and organize the various actors? In the Chinese context, state-owned-enterprise (SOE) play a key role. A SOE is defined as a representative agent of the state with control, bargaining political power and objective functions on property (Wu & Qin, 2018). During the last decades, the SOE has changed its firm structure from purely industrial production to the interaction with broader markets and assets. One of these new realms of SOE interest is the ownership right over the land they have occupied. While the state still is the owner of the enterprises, the SOE, being the de facto owner, is given decision-making power over the firms’ operation (Li, 2011). Hence, during the process of brownfields regeneration, the SOE always plays the role of both priority owner and agency who, on one hand, bears the cost and pursues the profits, and on the other hand, interacts with local authorities, citizens and other conflicting actors.

In China, the stages of brownfields regeneration are three:

  • Relocation project: actors consist of (quasi-)private parties, such as SOEs, developers, and real estate assessment firms. At this stage, SOE is the main acting agent who is in charge of generating and submitting the land-transfer request to four government commissions.

  • Land development: SOEs firstly submit land development requests to the local Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources. A developer then has to collect comments from nine government agencies on specific requirements for planning, construction, transportation, landscape, heritage preservation, environmental protection, and public services, and execute the project.

  • Actual construction: the design and construction company becomes the main agent.

The case of Shougang, that will be later discussed, is even more special. The site redevelopment is executed by the SOE – Shougang Group, which means the SOE is also the site developer. Hence, in this case, the SOE is in charge of almost all the mediating and organizing works.

Consequently, in the context of China, by combining Olympic Games with brownfields regeneration, the special SOE system would come into play in both the planning and executing stage of the Games’ lifecycle. This process can help to increase efficiency of the negotiation, reduce the potential risks and adapt the Olympic usage of land to the local territory development. The SOE could guarantee the consistence of the whole lifecycle plan of the Olympic legacy and become even more significant in the post-game period. In the case of Shougang, the SOE shared opinions on post-game usage at the early stage of land planning. It took responsibility to negotiate with government and local citizens and it will be the future manager and operator of the Olympic venue throughout the post-games. With a more fixed and active management and by participating in the design and planning, costs of regeneration and redesign for post-game use can be minimized.

5.3 The coordination between Olympic Games and urban renovation: towards the long-term use of Olympic legacy

Since 2014, the IOC has recognized the bidding process as the most important period for shaping the long-term vision: the Olympic Games concept must align with the city/region’s long-term plans (IOC, 2017). Scholars also hold the view that the construction of sports facilities can play a role in programs of urban renewal by introducing new sporting and recreational facilities into previously poorly equipped areas (Essex & Chalkley, 1998), as well as, promoting the reuse of ex-industrial areas or functional change and architectural adaptation of existing buildings.

However, a positive legacy is not a natural consequence of the event; “it requires planning, coordinated action, monitoring and reporting” (IOC, 2017, p. 14). Looking through the Olympic history, the modern Olympic Games counts XXXI Summer and XXIII Winter accomplished editions. Now, the projection is to Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 Paris 2024, up till Los Angeles 2028. Archives of documents and data as well as physical facilities and urban transformations tell the story of a successful strategies or a controversial consequences. In most occasions, the former is put forward to justify the choice of bidding and hosting the Olympics. However, also the latter aspects should be taken into more consideration, and brownfields regeneration, as a sustainable part of urban renovation, are naturally coordinating with these aspects:

  • Think out the long-term urban investments. Cities often have difficulty aligning Olympic needs with post-event use. The investments in temporary facilities should be minimized, whereas investments in long-term projects should be maximized (Abebe et al., 2014). Sporting facilities and Olympic supporting infrastructures have the potential to become positive urban assets;

  • Balance the Olympic life-cycle. Much attention has been given to the Olympics’ economic and tourism impact, which stresses the role of the Games themselves. What has been neglected is how the Olympics are related to the long-term goals of the host city;

  • Limit costs for redesigning. Operational and technical upgrading costs are usually relevant, as well as those for functional changes. This is a significant issue because when the urgency of setting up the Games is over, governments give little incentive to provide further investments (Hiller, 2006);

  • Avoid “white elephants”. The expression “white elephants” refers to over-sized venues and facilities that are planned based on foreseen Olympic participation and ticket sales, providing an over-capacity for the ordinary use (Cashman, 2006). A positive legacy of Olympic facilities has the potential to stimulate the local economy by hosting other events and by thriving a wider engagement of the population in the sport industry (Essex & Chalkley, 2004). However, some sports (especially among the Winter Olympic Games) are very elitist. Thus, if not supported by national sport policies, the utilization may remain limited, causing unsustainable costs and a subsequent state of abandon;

  • Think over the local needs. Cities are increasingly interested in legacies that are not only strictly related to the sporting event, but that contribute to improve the quality of urban life as well as the image of the city;

  • Strengthen the environmental sustainability. The Olympic competitions often require the construction of new facilities or the modification of natural environments. If the principle of sustainability is considered as a priority already at the bidding phase, environmental protection projects may also become positive long-term legacies for the region (Abebe et al., 2014). Within cities, the reuse of industrial pre-existences can become an environmentally sustainable solution and lead to the recovery of abandoned and polluted areas.

6 Olympic legacy within industrial heritage: sport, health and leisure strategy

The design and planning of the Big Air venue for the 2022 Winter Games in the former industrial area of Shougang (Beijing) is here presented to address the following issue: how can the sporting legacy become the engine towards long-term urban planning and social progress? Considering the development plan of Beijing, the emerging needs of local citizens, the involvement and negotiation among SOEs, the national Olympic Committee and local government, the design team has raised the concept of “Active Health”.

A call for “Active Health”. Nowadays, chronic and “lifestyle” diseases, which include asthma and allergies, obesity, diabetes, heart problems, are emerging as one of the most significant health issue (Mah & Villoira, 2016). In order to face these global health risks, the Olympic Movement has the potential to foster sport participation and social development, to encourage people to be more physically active and to provide the opportunities to do so (DCMS, 2008).

In accordance to the principles of the IOC Agenda 2020, which invites to engage the Olympic Movement with the general public and the youth, this paper aims at introducing the concept of “Active Health”. It strives at promoting human well-being through the enhancement of leisure physical movement and activity among the wider public’s daily life. At the same time, “Active Health” addresses a human body oriented spatial design that focuses on bodily experiences in space, provides pleasure attraction and spatial open access within the city-scape, encourages people’s participation. Playfulness in space refreshes the common sense of “sport”, shifting it from specific activities in definite fields, to natural movements without predefinition throughout the urban public spaces. In conclusion, Active Health-oriented design aims to transform an urban space for events into a space for human body.

This approach has been the fundamental design concept and long-term strategy proposed for the renovation of Shougang area in Beijing, further analysed in the case study.

7 Shougang case: long-term postgame use of Big Air venue

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games will be used as a catalyst of urban transformation by coordinating the national health-promotion policies for the next 5–10 years and the urban developmental plan of Beijing (2016–2035).

In addition, the 2022 Winter Games will be a platform for applying “Active Health” as a core notion for long-term planning at pre-design stage. By embedding this concept into Chinese people’s common pursuit of healthier life and demand for multiple exercises facilities, the Olympic stakeholders and the local community could potentially reach a win-win condition in favour of both professional athletes and the general public, as well as for the Olympic event and the long-term urban transformation.

7.1 Sport in China and Beijing 2022

In the XX century, the formation of Chinese sports policy can be traced back to the 1920s and 1940s. Then, especially since the 1970s, sport was promoted both at competitive and mass levels. In the early 1980s, China initiated a profound economic reformation and the sport industry played an important role in integrating China within the world economy. Since the successful 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has been aiming at transforming from a large sports country into a strong sports power (Liu & Zhao, 2016).

In July 2015 the municipality of Beijing won the competition to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2022, becoming the first city to organize both Summer and Winter editions. With Beijing 2022, China’s objectives is to spread winter sports knowledge among common people, to cultivate winter sports talents and to promote social progress. The successful bid for Winter Olympics could be regarded as the long-term implementation of national Olympic strategies (Liu & Zhao, 2016) and “active” lifestyles.

7.2 The National Health Policies

Soon after the successful bid, China State Council (2016a, b, c) issued a grand frame for promoting public health. The programme is named “Healthy China 2030” and was presented along with a series of sub-strategies and guidelines for different domains: the National Fitness Plan (2016–2020), the Plan for Health and Hygiene (2016–2020), and the Recommendation for Enforcing the Development of Health and Leisure Industry.

The public demand for multiple exercises facilities and spaces is increasing rapidly and becoming a significant requirement to fit the social and economic development nowadays in China. Hence, the focus of governmental strategies has observed several shifts. Firstly, the State priority has been evolving from the pursuit of economic progress to the promotion of a coordinated development of ecology, health, and economy. “Based on conditions nationwide, health should be prioritized and placed in a strategic position in the whole process of public policy implementation” (China State Council, 2016a, Healthy China 2030, chapter 1). Secondly, the focus of health services has changed from disease treatment to health promotion, which refers to the increase and optimization of sport facilities and public fitness spaces (China State Council, 2016a, b, c).

The Chinese government has considered Beijing 2022 as an opportunity to catalyze public health promotion (China State Council, 2016a, b, c):

  • Improve the level and quality of health services by building a complete public fitness service system and upgrading fitness and leisure industries.

A network of sports and fitness facilities should be established on three spatial layers: city, street block and community scale. To achieve the goal of area for sports field per capita (1.8 sqm), the reuse and transformation of industrial heritage, abandoned commercial facilities and brownfields into sports facitlities is highly encouraged.

  • Develop extensive “National Fitness Movement” with the intention of having an increased quantity of people doing sports in daily life. At least 7 hundred million people should do physical exercise more than once a week.

To realize it, the locally-based daily health activities should be developed. The definition of health activities should also be fostered from normal sports to more exceptional physical exercises, such as X-games, square dancing and traditional Chinese exercises, which aim to increase participation experiences. Beijing 2022 is defined as an exemplifying chance to popularize and promote the public participation in snow and ice sports, which, until now, has been practiced only by few Chinese people.

  • Promote healthier lifestyles among citizens by increasing media broadcast of sport and health knowledge.

The Olympics, with their extensive publicity, will be used as a platform to advertise not only professional sports, but also the application of the Olympic spirit into the daily-life. The goal is to arise the public’s enthusiasm for regular physical exercises and healthy lifestyles.

7.3 The Renovation of Shougang area and long-term urban plan of Beijing

In August 2017 the IOC officially announced that Shougang District, once the burning heart of industrial Beijing, would have been transformed into the Big Air Olympic venues.

Before being involved in the Winter Games, Shougang was already considered as critical district in Beijing, both culturally and spatially. Shougang Group is a Chinese steel manufacturing state-owned enterprise. The former steel production was shut down in 2008 ahead of the Summer Olympic Games and moved to the city of Tangshan. Since then, the plant has been hosting only few managerial functions, slowly falling into architectural decay. Located in a significant geographical position for the long-term urban plan of Beijing at the end of the main west-east urban axis on the waterfront of Yongding River, Shougang district carries the memory of the city’s rapid industrial development (Fig. 1).

The Beijing Urban Master Plan (2016–2035) tackles the population control density, the total building construction, and the regeneration of derelict existing areas. Among the priorities, the development of cultural and technological innovation, the increase of green land and public space, and the implementation of public service infrastructures have been highlighted. Shougang District has taken over a significant position in all three aspects. It belongs to one of the three planned cultural belts, called “Xi Mountain-Yongding River Cultural Belt” and one of the three green circles radiating from the city centre (Beijing Municipal Commission of Planning and Natural Resources, 2016).

Considering the Winter Games as catalyst and following Beijing’s Urban Master Plan, Shougang District generated its detailed plan by dividing the future Olympic venue into five areas: the Winter Games plaza, the Industrial Heritage Park, Shijingshan Cultural and Landscape Area, the Creative Workshop Area for urban mending, and the supporting area with public services and open space. The plan links Shougang District to the surrounding urban fabric, on one side, with the waterfront cultural and leisure belt along Yongding River and, on the other side, with the green belt along the west-east city axis. In total, the area of planned green space is up to 117.1 hectare (Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning & Design, 2017). Although the Olympic venue corresponds to a small part of the whole district, it has been the opportunity to start and speed up the renovation of existing structures.

thumbnail Fig. 1

Satellite image of Beijing. Urban distribution of the Olympic venues of Beijing 2022.

7.4 Big Air, reuse of industrial heritages and post-game

In the last decade, the reuse of industrial heritage in Shougang District has become a strategic architectural interest and an urban necessity. The long-term use is the main focus. It will minimize the resource expenditure and provide the city of Beijing with a new sport green park. Via this short but big event, Beijing is acting to promote new and stronger concern for human body and “Active Health” principles.

Shougang area is still strongly characterized by industrial landscape and architecture. Four high cooling chimneys stand out against the profile of the surrounding hills and the cooling Qunming Lake opens up in a central position. The Olympic venue will be distributed on the western and southern sides of it. The lake adds landscaping value to the venue, allowing direct and variable perspectives of the Big Air urban landmark and the future renovated industrial buildings (Fig. 2).

The protagonist designers of the future Olympic venue belong to the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University, Beijing. They are in charge of the design of the Big Air, the sport park and some related facilities in the surrounding buildings. Among others, also a team of designers and scholars from the Department of Architecture and Design of Politecnico di Torino (Italy) is curating the renovation project of one of the industrial existing buildings. The planning and design processes finished in autumn 2018.

Taking advantages from the existing industrial heritage, new-built facilities will be mixed organically with existing renovated buildings. Together they will generate a multi-layered spatial texture in Shougang area. Located between the existing four cooling towers and the ex-factory, the Big Air venue will lay east-west towards the Qunming Lake. The factory, combined with other obsolete industrial facilities that were used for producing oxygen, will be the service zone during the Games and an area for sport consumption at post-games. In the north part, the main structure of cooling towers will be kept but transformed into a spiritual space for ceremonies.

Shougang area will be generated as a multifunctional sport complex, gathering professional sports training, competition and innovative daily leisure. A public open park for the post-game phase will cover the whole area. It will be oriented by “Active Health” design strategy to be a space for human body and activities (Fig. 3).

Inspired by Chinese traditional Flying Apsaras image from frescoes, Big Air venue will recall the fluency of a ribbon whose gentle and light curves echo the curves of cooling towers, act in cohesion with each other. The whole perspective of Big Air venue gives to the Shougang area an iconic image, a mixture of national cultural identity and regional memory. Moreover, two existing industrial facilities will be moved and reconstructed as judge tower for the Games, embedding the new-built venue within the existing context. During the post-game period, the usage of Big Air venue will be of two kinds: fitting professional competitions and inviting to daily sport and leisure. On one hand, the design of the Big Air facility has the potential to change its surface profile to fit different professional games’ needs. After snow covering it could be used by both Big Air and Aerials athletes. This approach aims to increase the utilization for competitions and athletes’ training. On the other hand, the design teams are exploring innovative use modes during the summer period by changing snow surface to grass surface. For instance, grass skiing has been established as a sport of its own right. The slope could be also equipped with a swimming pool or used to run up from bottom to top as for the yearly competition Red Bull 400.

Between the Big Air and the existing factory there will be the main public park of Shougang area. It will be fully accessible to meet requirements of spectators safety. Meanwhile, temporary structures for Olympic organization and service will occupy this place during the Games period. The area of the open spaces will become wider at post-game by removing temporary buildings. How to deal with such an over-scale open space is always an unavoidable question when it comes to plan the post-game use of an Olympic area. Beijing will gain a large green area, fully open to the public as city park. Oriented by “Active Health”, the natural landscape will be used as a prototype to form abundant spatial textures and sensual experiences. This area will be completely covered by accessible grassland with gentle slopes in order to increase haptic awareness. Other elements will also be added to enrich abundance and resolve over-scale space into human scale, such as wooden cross-ties from obsoleting railway, linear pavement and industrial machines from Shougang area. Industrial furniture will be reused as service pavilions during the Games and as playful installations at postgame. Besides, the area will be equipped with playgrounds and fields for parkour, skateboard, bike riding, running tracks for all types of leisure activities. In summary, the whole Big Air venue will become an open park for the public, offering abundant bodily experience and various exercise fields.

The east-south part of Big Air area will be a cluster of buildings, which contains regenerated existing industrial buildings and new buildings. The renewed buildings include an old factory and a concrete tower for oxygen production. Precisely, the factory will be used as service building for spectators during the Games and health-care centre at post-game. The existing concrete tower will be used for media broadcasting because of its strategic height and position facing the Big Air venue. It will host cafès, commercial spaces and guarantee open and pleasant views. New buildings, instead, will be built as shopping zone for Olympic sponsors. At post-game, their functions will change to sporty consumption, including fit centre, private studios, VR experience centre and restaurants. Hence, this part will give opportunities to investments in multi-functional typologies, necessary for fostering the vitality of the Olympic area.

As mentioned before, a team from Politecnico di Torino has been selected to curate the renovation project of one the ex-factory buildings. The existing structure covers a surface of 90 m on North-South direction by almost East-West 30 m. It was built in two phases: the first in 1986, the second in 2001. The architectural concept had already been defined by the Shougang client. The privileged position in proximity of the iconic Big Air guarantees a high economic value to the spaces and offers a pleasant view on the whole venue. The renovation of the building is included in a wider strategic approach to industrial heritage reuse. It allows the reduction of resources expenditure and the exploitation of the almost abandoned area. Moreover, the idea is to imply a human oriented design strategy to enhance bodily experience and offer playful renovated spaces where physical movement and public participation are encouraged (Fig. 4).

The aim is to keep the industrial memory of the area but, at the same time, to provide a new image of it. The former functions will be conceptually translated into sport related uses and healthy lifestyles promotion activities. The design project implies the demolition of the actual façade but the preservation and enhancement of the existing structure. It will remain visible on the perimeter as support of the roof while a transparent skin will be moved back of some metres, delimitating the indoor spaces. The section exemplifies the main design idea: three layers of functions and different plan distribution are organized vertically. The ground floor is conceived as an “open plaza”, a coherent extension of the surrounding sport park. The idea is to create an artificial topography that extends from the open spaces into the building and occupies the entire 6 m high ground floor reaching the existing slab of the first floor. Sport structures will characterize the open but covered space. Half pipes, ramps for skateboarding, climbing walls, football and volleyball fields will include the sport activity and vitality of the park into the renovated building. The landscape of the open spaces will become part of the built space as well, enhancing the human scale relation and the involvement of all the body’s senses. The above indoor floors correspond to the second conceptually compact layer, crossed by staircases and elevators. They will host offices, conference halls and high-tech sport experimental facilities. Ultimately, the existing roof will be maintained but pierced by structures that are spatially independent and formally different from the beneath spaces. The double-floors emerging volumes will be characterized by pitched roofs and a transparent glass external façade: they will guarantee top views on the surrounding area and assume a privileged value during the period of the Olympics. They are planned to be sold to private companies which will ensure a profitable return of the renovation works’ investments.

The design team has been focusing on the long-term use of the building since the initial assignment. The building will be functionally integrated into the new park, offering to Beijing’s population a space for physical activities, health and experimentation.

thumbnail Fig. 2

Schematic functional distribution of the Olympic area of Shougang. Picture taken and elaborated by the author.

thumbnail Fig. 3

Rendering of the Big Air facility and future open public park. Author: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University, Beijing.

thumbnail Fig. 4

Rendering of the ex-factory renovation project. Author: Design team of Politecnico di Torino, Italy.

8 Conclusions

Mega-events have become tools to catalyze large-scale urban transformations that might not happen otherwise or would take longer time. Among them, brownfields regeneration has emerged as a necessity in numerous ex-productive cities, both for environmental and economic reasons. The early planning of the legacy has thus become a strategic way to guarantee a successful exploit of tangible and intangible benefits, on one hand, and to integrate in the long-term urban agenda the short-term potentials of these events, on the other.

As presented, the Winter Olympic Games 2022 represent a huge opportunity for the city of Beijing to implement the renovation of Shougang Industrial District and integrate it with national policies concerning social progress and health promotion. The concept of “Active Health” has inspired the architectural and urban design strategies towards a coordinated development of intentions. The event will be the means to address public’s participation, aiming to stimulate sports, leisure and physical activities in people’s daily-life. This approach has the potential to become a replicable strategy for designing and managing future venues towards a synergic and positive Olympic legacy.

Authors contribution

PhD candidates Deng Huishu (Tsinghua University, Beijing) and Marta Mancini (Politecnico di Torino, Italy) equally contributed to the writing of the paper. Professor Zhang Li (Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing) and Professor Michele Bonino (Associate Professor of Architecture, Politecnico di Torino, Italy) acted as advisors for the writing and editing of the text.


The authors wish to thank the design team of the Shougang District project, the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University of Beijing, especially Teamminus, and the research group China Room, Department of Architecture and Design of Politecnico di Torino (Italy).


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Cite this article as: Deng H, Mancini M, Zhang L, & Bonino M (2020) Beijing 2022 between urban renovation and Olympic sporting legacy: the case of Shougang. Mov Sport Sci/Sci Mot, 107, 53–65

All Figures

thumbnail Fig. 1

Satellite image of Beijing. Urban distribution of the Olympic venues of Beijing 2022.

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 2

Schematic functional distribution of the Olympic area of Shougang. Picture taken and elaborated by the author.

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 3

Rendering of the Big Air facility and future open public park. Author: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University, Beijing.

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 4

Rendering of the ex-factory renovation project. Author: Design team of Politecnico di Torino, Italy.

In the text

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