40 Years Olympic Park Munich “Please walk on the grass”

2012 marks a year of celebrations for the city of Munich. The most important celebrations is definitely the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic Park – and in its wake celebrations marking 40 years of the Munich Public Transport Network and the city’s pedestrian area.

Vorschaubild Architekturfilm - Olympiagelände
Konzept/Kamera: Andreas Christoph Schmidt, Schnitt: Michael Auer, Schmidt & Paetzel Fernsehfilme GmbH im Auftrag des Goethe-Instituts, 2012

This already shows the impact the International Olympic Committee’s decision had on the city’s urban and transport development, when it named Munich and Kiel as host cities for the 1972 Summer Olympics. The key task of the “Transport” department of the Organisation Committee was the construction of the U3 subway line from the Münchner Freiheit to the Olympic Centre: some four million visitors used this service during the 17 days of the Games.

Cheerful games

In spite of the horrendous terrorist attack on September 5th 1972 in which eleven members of the Israeli team were killed by the Palestinian terrorist group known as “Black September”, the Munich Olympics are also remembered for their friendly and open-minded atmosphere, this mostly being due to the genius of Otl Aicher who was responsible for the identity design concept: a system of variable, interrelated core elements – the colours light blue, yellow, dark blue, dark green and orange, Adrian Frutiger’s “Univers” typeface, the Olympic rings and the logo of the Munich Games that could all be combined in many different ways.

From the 104 participants who took part in the competition announced for the Olympic Park in February 1967 the contract was awarded to Behnisch und Partner (structural design: Heinz Isler; landscape architecture: Günther Grzimek). The design of the Olympic Park was inspired by the rolling green hills of the Allgäu region – creating an architectural work of art moulded into the topography of Munich’s Oberwiesenfeld where Günther Grzimek was also able to realise his vision of a robust and user-oriented park: “Please walk on the grass”.

The concept of a light and airy tent-roof architecture came from Frei Otto who had already designed such a project on a smaller scale for the German Pavilion at the Expo ‘67 in Montreal. The use of computer aided design and numerical control was still in its infancy in 1967 and for their 1:1000 competition model the architects used nylon stockings for the roof – today this precious item belongs to the collection of the Architekturmuseum of the TU München.

Innovative town planning

The Olympic Village was build between 1968 and 1972 as a terraced, finger-shaped “City within a City” with green planting throughout, and included shopping facilities, school, kindergarten and cultural establishments. The plans were designed by the Stuttgart-based architects Heinle, Wischer und Partner who also introduced en passant a revolutionary urban development approach that put the private transport under the ground, separating it from paths for pedestrians and cyclists on the surface. Instead of the impression of driving on roads, car drivers experience this enclosed environment as a tunnel system or a huge underground garage. Despite a massive increase in living quality, this system has remained a unique development. The entire Olympic Park has also been a protected architectural ensemble since 1998.

The bungalows, or rather maisonette houses to the south of the residential blocks of to 18 storeys, were designed by Prof. Werner Wirsing as the women athletes’ quarters. After the Olympics these and two tower blocks were used by the Munich Studentenwerk (student union) for students’ residences. Because in-depth studies made it evident that a refurbishment of the bungalow village, upholding the architectural quality, would not be cost efficient, the complex had to be completely rebuilt, focusing at the same time on “critical historic preservation”.

Until now used and estimated

Once ridiculed in the nineteen seventies as a “concrete jungle” the Olympic Village is today a much sought after residential area: nine out of ten moves take place within the village. And, 40 years on, the Olympic Park has not lost any of its aesthetic quality. In spite of various changes regarding the use of the individual sport facilities – the former Velodrome, for example, has become an event arena, football has moved from the Olympic stadium to Fröttmaning – the Olympic Park has proven its worth as a highly successful development.