Canadian Consulting Engineer

Sydney’s Green Games score B-

October 1, 1999
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

BUILDINGWith the 2000 Olympics in Sydney less than a year away, the Australian host city has completed more than 85 per cent of its buildings and infrastructure for the Games. Located mostly at Homebu...


With the 2000 Olympics in Sydney less than a year away, the Australian host city has completed more than 85 per cent of its buildings and infrastructure for the Games. Located mostly at Homebush Bay near the city, the site’s sports facilities are as grandiose as they are green. The organizers have not only built on a scale as befits the games that will usher in the third millennium, but also, for the first time in Olympic history, they have followed a comprehensive environmental agenda.

The centrepiece is the massive Stadium Australia — the largest stadium ever built for an Olympic Games, with 110,000 spectator seats. Opened in February, the structure is a dynamic hyperbolic curve, said to resemble the two halves of an open seashell, something of the nature of the famous Opera House. The stadium roof covers about 80 per cent of the seating and is supported by two curved steel trusses, each anchored in six-storey high triangular concrete thrust blocks and covered in four layers of polycarbonate sheeting. Weighing 4,000 tonnes, the translucent roof filters out the sun’s rays and also acts as a rain collector to irrigate the field.

The roof of the next largest facility, the 21,000-seat indoor SuperDome, has different merits. Its roof is distinguished not just by its height — at 39 metres it is Australia’s highest — but also by its photovoltaic array which is said to be the largest solar powered plant on earth. It will feed into the electricity grid and save 85 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

There are many other successful green strategies, including a big reduction in the use of PVC in pipe and materials, a waste management strategy that will ban all polystyrene and plastic product packaging on the site, and the extension of a rail line to the site to minimize the use of cars.

However, the Games scored only a B- from Greenpeace when the environmental group issued its “report card” in September. Greenpeace has been involved with the Sydney proposal from the beginning when it helped to draft the environmental guidelines that were instrumental in helping the city to win over other competing cities (including Athens) as the site for the historic games. Greenpeace architects also helped design the Olympic village.

One of the major disappointments for the environmentalists is the New South Wales government’s failure to clean up dioxins on the site. The contaminants, now sealed in barrels, are from industrial waste that has been dumped in Homebush Bay over the years.

But the biggest failure according to the Greenpeace report card is in the air-conditioning of the buildings. Though the environmental guidelines specified avoiding chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), when Greenpeace filed under a freedom of information Act this summer, it discovered not a single venue has complied. All the buildings are being cooled with ozone depleting or potent greenhouse gas chemicals. Greenpeace had intended that the Olympics would become a showcase for new ammonia and hydrocarbon coolants.

In Canada the group bidding to hold the 2008 Olympics in Toronto will be taking notice of Sydney’s successes and failures as Toronto is going to need every tactic it can find to win the race. The city is competing with many others, including Beijing, and the fact that Torontonians themselves are lukewarm about playing Olympic hosts does not help.

Those same citizens, however, might be swayed in favour if Toronto’s organizers followed Sydney’s lead and promoted the Olympics as a force in greening Canada’s largest city. Marshall Macklin Monaghan consulting engineers have teamed up with PCL Constructors Canada to identify potential sites for the sports and other facilities, and to provide a financing plan and guaranteed construction price. So far, the Toronto bid committee led by John Bitove and David Crombie estimates that spending on Olympic buildings and facilities will be $687 million. They say no government funding will be required.


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