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

By Patrick Sisson
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."

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Olympic Velodrome, OAKA, Athens. Photo by Jon Pack.

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.

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Grzegorz Kowalski’s sculpture “Reloj Solar," Mexico City. ’68 Olympics Organizers commissioned a series of 22 public artworks from around the world for the Ruta de la Amistad (Road of Friendship). The statues lined ten miles of road in a barren area south of the city, near the newly constructed Olympic village. Mexico City has tripled in size since 1968 and these statues are now in the one of the most densely populated areas of the city. The tiny road has become a major multi-level highway, the Periferico Sur. An effort is underway to restore the statues and relocate them to dedicated sculpture parks nearby. Photo by Gary Hustwit.

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.

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High Dive, Montjuïc Municipal Pool, Barcelona. Kylie Minogue used the pool as the setting for her music video for the song “Slow.” Photo by Jon Pack.

"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."

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Bar Olímpic, El Raval, Barcelona. Photo by Jon Pack.

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.