Olympic City: Gary Hustwit on Sochi and the Afterlife of the Games

While Sochi’s true legacy is yet to be written, the questions raised by inflated budgets and shaky construction are already being debated. It’s nothing new. Generations of host cities have had to live in the shadows of the games and a find a second life for billion-dollar stadiums and sports complexes. With their ongoing Olympic City project and book, filmmaker Gary Hustwit (Urbanized, Objectified and Helvetica) and photographer Jon Pack are documenting the aftermath, to show how these massive infrastructure spending sprees leave a mark on the landscape long after the torch moves on. Hustwit sees Sochi as just the same old games.

“Any time you’re doing that much construction and development from scratch, you’ll have problems,” Hustwit says. “How it’s affecting people in Sochi is harder to gauge. But who knew Sochi two years ago? It’s fantastic branding.”

It appears like they didn’t learn the lessons of Athens, says Hustwit. Sochi is a purpose-built site with no demand, and it’s hard to know how some of the post-Olympic plans for the facilities (casino resorts, training center for the Russian football team) will pan out.

Hustwit and Pack, who have already documented past host cities such as Athens, Moscow and Sarajevo, plan to visit Sochi in a few years, to see how the site has evolved.

“This is about afterwards,” he says. “It’s not about an agenda, it’s just showing what’s it’s like It’s most interesting to see when things return to normal. Cities are long-term experiments.”

It’s a coin toss as to whether future cities will find more sustainable ways to host the Olympics. But, there’s hope -- according to Hustwit, the IOC already ordered a few copies of the book.

You can find out more about the Olympic City Project here. A photo exhibit featuring images from the project will be on display at Block 37 in Chicago (29 W. Randolph Street) through March 7th.

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