Meet the Winter Olympics’ $100 Million Pop-Up Stadium

Perhaps the ultimate example of ephemeral architecture, the 35,000-seat open-air arena in PyeongChang, South Korea, will be used only four times before it is torn down.

Meet the Winter Olympics’ $100 Million Pop-Up Stadium

Rendering courtesy of PyeongChang2018

In PyeongChang Olympic Main Stadium, you’ll get all the pomp and pageantry that is part and parcel of Olympic opening ceremonies. What you won’t get is a roof. The 35,000-seat stadium, tucked right into the snow-covered venues where athletes will compete in ski jumping, giant slalom, and bobsledding, will be fully exposed to the elements, and the elements in a Korean winter average well below freezing.

Architecture website reports that the pentagonal building—which cost 116 billion Korean won (about US$109 million) to build—was the subject of some controversy, with many factions pointing out that the winter is a bad time to sit outside in the cold. In the end, budget constraints won out, and in lieu of shelter, ticket holders will be given “a windbreaker, a lap blanket, knit caps, a heated cushion, and hand and feet warmers” to help them through a three-hour opening ceremony (a ceremony that this writer has trouble sitting through on his warm sofa).

But if there is to be a gold medal in realistic thinking, it must go to the South Koreans. Rather than make a promise that a stadium of this size would serve as some economic or cultural boon going forward, the South Korean government plans to simply tear it down after four uses (two each at the Olympics and the Paralympics). Would that Rio had been so smart, or honest.

The PyeongChang Olympic Main Stadium under construction last month

The PyeongChang Olympic Main Stadium under construction last month

Photo by Kim Sunjoo / Korean Culture and Information Service

I traveled to PyeongChang in 2012 right after the OIC announcement of dark-horse South Korea as the venue. There was already a hotel boom going on, as snow sports (and the all-night nightclubbing that goes along with them) had become extremely trendy. Everyone I talked to there was very excited about the winning bid, but aside from obvious national pride, people seemed more excited about new restaurants and promises of new government infrastructure than new luge runs. And indeed, highways from Seoul to the mountains have been notably improved in preparation for the games, and there’s even a new branch of the KTX—the country’s high-speed rail system—that runs through the area on its way to Gangeung, the coastal city that will host indoor Olympic events. They’re not going to be tearing any of that down when the games are over. In general, that’s all good news for post-Olympic travelers to the peninsula, who now have no excuse not to travel beyond Seoul.

And if those heated seat cushions are up to snuff, spectators of the 2018 ceremonies will probably not mind the missing roof. One of PyeongChang’s little secrets is that February is its driest month, and it’s not likely to snow much at all during the games.

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