Editorial: Olympic Gag

New London Architecture Chair Peter Murray sports a T-Shirt bearing the names of the architects who made the London Olympics a reality. Dezeen
New London Architecture Chair Peter Murray sports a T-Shirt bearing the names of the architects who made the London Olympics a reality. Dezeen

The various televised events of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games provided viewers around the world with over two weeks of the dramatic highs and lows of competitive sport. For years, the City of London and other municipalities in the UK have been anxiously preparing for this highly anticipated and lucrative event where billions of pounds have been spent not only on building the sporting venues themselves, but on housing for the athletes and on improving transportation infrastructure. While event organizers and politicians have received much praise in the media for organizing the Games, we haven’t heard much from the architects who have dedicated years of hard work to make this ultimate sporting event a reality.

For months, architects, engineers and building product suppliers have been calling on the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to end the gag order that prevents companies involved in actually building the London 2012 Summer Olympics from publicizing their work. The reason for this publication ban, in case you are wondering, is to protect the rights of major sponsors.

More than 40 architectural practices have helped design the venues, the Olympic Park and the Athletes’ Village, but only those who have paid to sponsor the Olympics are allowed to boast about their achievements. For this reason, architects like Zaha Hadid and Sir Michael Hopkins are prohibited from entering their Olympic projects for awards, publishing photos of completed venues, and even exhibiting photos of their work until 2013. To disregard the gag order risks legal prosecution. Olympic organizers most certainly relied upon their architects to complete the task of designing the various sports venues, so it seems shameful that these architects have been denied the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments. Moreover, with the eyes of the world trained on London, it’s good business for the city to celebrate the architecture industry, as the architecture of the Games represents a valuable cultural export.

The reason why the architects, engineers and building product suppliers agreed to the gag order when they accepted their commissions for the Olympic Games is obvious: they wanted the job. Jim Heverin, a partner at Zaha Hadid Architects (the firm that designed the Aquatics Centre in East London), was quoted in The Guardian: “It is hard to understand how somebody providing tiles or doors is going to ambush Adidas or BMW by marketing their involvement in the Games.” When architects are prevented from entering their projects for important awards programs such as the Civic Trust Award, or when firms such as DSDHA cannot promote their tower for the Athletes’ Village as a new model for social housing, their efforts go unrewarded while also running the risk of missing out on future business opportunities altogether. “Imagine the impact on the world if our architects and designers had been invited to take a bow at the opening ceremony,” noted highly respected architecture critic Paul Finch.

During the Olympics, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Angela Brady approached Ed Vaizey, the British Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, asking him to wear a T-shirt promoting all the architects who are banned from promoting their Olympic work–an initiative co-developed by Peter Murray, Chair of an organization called New London Architecture. Vaizey agreed to wear the shirt to a creative industries event, but failed to persuade the Olympic authorities to end the gag order. Brady has continued her efforts in bringing attention to the Olympic organizers’ extreme prohibition, but has remained unsuccessful thus far.

While British Prime Minister David Cameron has supported calls for firms working on Olympic contracts to be allowed to publicize their involvement in the Games, it is unlikely that anything will be done until at least October. This is unfortunate, as by that time, the camera crews will have been long gone, and the world’s attention will have shifted to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps by then, architects will be able to take at least some credit for the tremendous work required in making such an enormous celebration of elite athletic achievement possible.