Any discussion of Olympic sporting facilities in hockey-mad Canada begins with the Montreal Forum, which is considered the most storied building in hockey history. Home to the Montreal Canadiens — professional hockey’s winningest team — for 72 years, the Forum was ultimately abandoned in 1996 for a larger and more lucrative stadium several blocks away, and later converted into a theatre complex.

The Forum was a legendary Olympic venue. It was there, during the 1976 Montreal Games, that Nadia Comneci scored a perfect 10 on the uneven bars — an Olympic gymnastics first. The 14-year-old Romanian’s cumulative score couldn’t be displayed on the three-digit electronic scoreboard, so it appeared as “1.00? instead. She would go on to repeat the feat six more times and win three gold medals. The Forum was also the site of the Olympic handball, basketball, volleyball and boxing events in 1976. Although it’s architecturally unremarkable, the Forum is unparalleled as an historic site in Canadian sports.

The Montreal Olympic Stadium, on the other hand, is remarkable architecture. Infamous for its cost overruns, “The Big O” (or, less generously, “The Big Owe”) is also a striking landmark, holding its own against such noteworthy company as Frei Otto’s 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium and Herzog & de Meuron’s 2008 Beijing National Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”). French architect Roger Taillibert designed the stadium at the behest of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, who refused to permit any cost-saving measures to restrict his artist’s concept. The stadium cost $700 million (Canadian) to construct, more than 10 times Taillibert’s original estimate. The tower and the retractable roof it supports were not completed until 1987, and in the end, the roof never operated as intended. Still, the building’s sweeping skeletal forms and the dramatic cantilever of the 170-meter (560-foot) tower create a stadium experience unlike any other. The venue was host to a variety of events at the 1976 Games, including the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, and soccer. Given the spate of stadium demolitions across North America, perhaps Taillibert’s grandiose gesture is proving to have lasting value. In 1976, critics noted that Seattle’s Kingdome, which had a similar capacity and also opened that year, only cost $60 million (Canadian) to construct; the Kingdome, of course, was torn down in 2000. As Taillibert immodestly put it back then: “When you look at the Eiffel Tower, what remains to think about? The honorarium Eiffel received, or the structure he created?”

The Olympic Saddledome in Calgary, designed by the local firm Graham McCourt Architects with the engineering assistance of Jan Bobrowski & Associates, is an exercise in structural rationality. Its iconic hyperboloid roof, formed of concrete panels hung from a net of steel cables, was never intended to mimic a saddle. But in a contest held to name the building, more than half the entries incorporated the word “saddle,” and the name stuck. Another unintended benefit of the building’s shape is volumetric efficiency: Compared to other stadiums of equal capacity, the Saddledome has less interior space to illuminate and heat. Now known as the Pengrowth Saddledome, Calgary’s stadium was an essential ingredient in Calgary’s winning Olympic bid, and was host to figure skating and ice hockey during the 1988 Winter Games. It also helped the city secure its NHL franchise, the Flames.Though not as architecturally dramatic as its Montreal counterpart, the Saddledome has become an integral part of Calgary’s civic identity.

Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium, on the other hand, seems more anomalous than integral. Its positioning is awkward relative to surrounding Yaletown, Vancouver’s glittering collection of compact glass-clad apartment towers. It’s a cinder block resting uncomfortably in a gurgling brook (although in its defense, it did land first). Built in 1983 in advance of the 1986 World’s Fair (Expo ‘86) it hosted the opening ceremonies and will host the closing ceremonies at the 2010 Games. This is first time these events have been held indoors. When complete, Vancouver’s Yaletown development, seen to the left, will engulf BC Place in a shroud of glass towers. The Plaza of Nations complex, seen to the right, was also built for Expo ’86, and has since been demolished. (Thomas Quine, flickr.com/photos/quinet/) Originally designed by Studio Phillips Barrett, BC Place is scheduled to have its inflatable roof replaced with a rigid retractable structure after the Games. Perhaps this will attract the MLB team that the stadium was originally intended to lure — although Montreal’s loss of the Expos and Vancouver’s inability to retain its NBA franchise don’t bode well for that cause.

Jesse Colin Jackson is an architectural designer, instructor, and photographer based in Toronto.

Image courtesy of jofo2005

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