When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin in February, the world’s eyes will turn to Fisht Olympic Stadium, which will host both the opening and closing ceremonies.
The stadium has been designed by architects Populous and engineers Buro Happold to have multiple lives. It will be a winter home for the Russian national football team when temperatures in Moscow freeze the turf, as well as a venue for the 2018 World Cup Finals.
Flexibility was therefore a key requirement of the brief. Aesthetic qualities and performance of the stadium were both vital, as was meeting the demanding sustainability targets set for all Olympic events.
The stadium's shell-like appearance alludes to the glories of Fabergé art, while the continuous glass surface of the stadium’s walls and roof are designed to reflect sunlight off the sea during the day.
Sophisticated design studies allowed the stadium to be constructed on just two huge eccentric arches, splayed at different angles and covered with translucent polycarbonate tiles. Its sweeping form responds to both the costal and mountainous surroundings. Vivid light shows projected onto the lightweight skin will be a principal feature of the iconic architectural and tourism strategy, particularly during the winter period.
In terms of functionality, the arches also provide access for the myriad performers and special effects teams who will comprise an essential part of the ceremonies.
The internal concourses possess a unique feature, spilling out onto enormous elevated viewing terraces all around the stadium and providing spectators with a panoramic view of the Olympic Park and the sea and mountains beyond.
Meeting the needs of spectators and enhancing their viewing experience was essential according to the engineers. Due to the shape and height of the roof, simply attaching lights to its perimeter would have failed to adequately light people on the pitch, so a steel frame just to hold lighting has been incorporated into the structural design. In addition, acoustic engineers collaborated with the structural team to optimise the bowl’s shape, dimensions and surfaces to ensure the best possible atmosphere for the crowd.
Capacity will vary from 32,000 for the Olympics, to 45,000 for the FIFA World Cup, and then down to 25,000 for its final role as a football and concert venue for the local community and university. This has been achieved through a combination of fixed and flexible seating within the amphitheatre, and is designed to give the stadium a sustainable future without altering its external appearance.
Architectural commentators, as is their wont, have indulged in snide analogies to describe the stadium, comparing it to a gigantic sea monster hauling itself up from the depths of the Black Sea on its powerful haunches, or perhaps a pair of ice hockey blades splayed to entice visitors inside.
As well as a cluster of new venues, organisers focused on modernising the telecommunications, electric power, and transportation infrastructures of the region in preparation for the game. Development was originally budgeted at US$12 billion but this has spiralled to in excess of US$51 billion, surpassing the estimated $44 billion cost of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as the most expensive Olympics in history.