The next Winter Olympics don’t take place until February, but have Italy’s design teams already won gold? In the second of our features on making the most of the Games, we look at how Turin’s facilities are promising to be a success.

With all the fuss surrounding London’s Olympic win, everyone has forgotten that the next event on the Olympic calendar takes place in less than three months. That event is the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, which are being hosted by Italy. The torch will be lit on 10 February.

The Winter Olympics are being held in and around Turin. As the city is conveniently close to the Alps, the skiing events will take place up in the mountains. The city itself will host the opening and closing ceremonies, ice hockey, speed and figure skating and more. This Olympic win has precipitated a building boom, with new facilities in the mountains as well as in Turin.

Among the biggest and most impressive facilities being created in the city are a substantial Olympic Village and speed skating and ice hockey stadiums. Existing facilities are also undergoing refurbishment. Turin’s aspirations show an obvious parallel to London’s hopes for 2012: Turin has used the Winter Olympics as an opportunity to regenerate the former industrial heartland of the city and it has considered post-Olympic use carefully, while ensuring the developments are sustainable and affordable.

The regeneration area was formerly used for heavy industry. Luckily, this area contains the landmark industrial symbol of Turin – the former Fiat car factory, known as the Lingotto and immortalised in a scene from The Italian Job, where police chase Charlie Croker (played by Michael Caine) and his gang of Mini-driving bank robbers around the famous rooftop test track. Closed down in the 1980s, the factory has since been converted by architect Renzo Piano into a hotel and shopping and exhibition centre. But this has not been enough to kick-start wider regeneration. “The Lingotto is a huge building, full of activity, but you walk outside and there is nothing,” says architect Benedetto Camerana, of Turin firm Camerana & Partners, who led the team developing the Olympic Village. The Village is just across the railway tracks, west from the Lingotto, and will be linked by a footbridge. To the south lies the Oval, which will be used for speed skating events.

The city of Turin was particularly careful about not frittering away money on white elephants. It had a bad experience in 1961, when it went on a spending spree to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Italian unification. “We cannot make the same mistakes we made in the 1960s, when a lot of time, money and effort was spent on buildings that were useless afterwards,” says Camerana. “The real decision was what to do with the Olympic buildings post Games.”

Once the Olympic Village has been used for the accommodation of athletes, it will be transformed into housing and the adjacent media and athletes’ facilities will become shops and restaurants. The Oval will also have a new life – as an exhibition centre.

Italy has kept a tight rein on the budget. The entire Olympic Village has been built at a cost of £95m, which equates to £500 m2 for the housing element. The Oval has been built for an equally miserly £28m, which is impressive given that a standard ice skating rink without any legacy use would cost £35m in the UK. Yet the end results are superb and are a tribute to the creativity of the design teams involved, as well as a worthy inspiration to those who will work on London 2012. Here, we take a look at the Olympic Village and the Oval to see how they have done it.

The Olympic Village splits neatly down the middle into two distinct zones. A completely new residential area has been created, consisting of 39 apartment blocks housing a total of 2500 bedrooms. Right next to this is an old fruit and vegetable market, which has had the Covent Garden treatment – it will contain shops, restaurants, media facilities and a fitness and medical centre.

Camerana won the competition to design the Olympic Village in October 2002. “I had the idea of joining together different architects from across Europe. The idea of having architects from big European countries cropped up because we were designing an Olympic Village, rather than an Italian village,” explains Camerana. “It was also important to decide what it would be used for after the Games. Its long-term function will be to house university students – they like variety and come from all over the world.”

The result is a cornucopia of colour, which brightens up this grey part of Turin. “We wanted the concept of coloured flags and to indicate Torino is no longer just an industrial town,” says Camerana. Not all the blocks are coloured, though. Camerana distinguishes the blocks designed by guest architects by leaving them in more subdued colours – a block by Swiss architect Roger Diener is a chocolate brown. The blocks are laid out “like the black squares on a chess board, with the community spaces on the whites”. This ensures clear views through the development to the Lingotto and plenty of external social space at the same time.

The contract period for the works is just 18 months. In Britain, such a compressed programme might be a signal to bring on the prefab, but Camerana kept away from modern methods of construction. “In Italy, only a small number of companies can do more high-tech construction,” he explains. “We didn’t want any innovation, as we had a very short construction time, and we couldn’t take the risk in case we ended up with low-quality contractors doing the work.” The answer is a simple structural system and traditional insitu concrete that is widely used and understood across Italy.

Making the scheme look good on such a low budget required some lateral thinking. A neat touch are the sliding external shutters. When these slide over the windows, a bright block of contrasting colour is revealed. “You can have lots of games with the colours, as you only see the colour when the blind is closed,” says Camerana. “It’s very dynamic and it’s very low-cost.”

The converted market

The original fruit and vegetable market was housed in purpose-built concrete structures. Two large blocks of arched colonnades that housed the market traders face onto a much smaller, canopied area sandwiched in the middle. These buildings were excellent examples of 1930s architecture and were unspoilt by any subsequent interventions. Camerana was keen to maintain the purity of the original structures and has only used steel, wood and glass for new work – “never concrete, so it is always clear what is old.” He has also managed to successfully echo the industrial aesthetic of the Lingotto.

The arched colonnades have been glazed in and the former market stalls now boast shops and restaurants. Some of the larger units contain mezzanines to take full advantage of the generous floor-to-ceiling heights. These have steel frames and wooden decks and are clearly identifiable as modern insertions, which can be easily removed for post-Olympics use.

The central canopied area, or “the aeroplane” as Camerana calls it, since the cantilevered canopy looks like the wing of a jet, has been glazed in below. “We wanted to retain the sense of floating,” explains Camerana. He has used floor-to-ceiling glass, which is folded origami-style. “It looks as if it is standing up on its own.” This area will contain a bank and post office, plus more shops. Costs have been kept down by using a variety of dodges, including cheap flooring tiles and not installing plant – it is cold in Turin in February and a cooling system can be put in after the Olympics.

The footbridge is a symbol for the Games and links the Village to the Lingotto. “I wanted the bridge to be a very special and innovative structure in metal, which is something we don’t have in Italy,” explains Camerana. Designed with the help of Paris-based engineer Hugh Dutton, it has a 65 m high gently leaning metal arch, which supports a 375 m long curved deck with 16 cables. The lighting scheme is designed by engineer Faber Maunsell. Camerana went for a riskier high-tech structure because it isn’t needed for the Olympics. “If it isn’t finished on time, it doesn’t matter. What is more important is a symbol for Italy,” he explains. “But it will be finished on time.”

Speed skating rink

Speed skating isn’t a sport for the faint-hearted: skaters zoom around a 400 m long iced track at speeds up to 40 mph. The track must be made of extra hard ice and housed in a well sealed and ventilated building. If it isn’t, the 8500 spectators wouldn’t be able to see the competitors, as the cold track has a tendency to turn any moisture in the air into swirling mist.

Italy didn’t have such a facility – it doesn’t really have speed skating – so the track has been designed for the Winter Olympics by HOK Sport with Italian architectural firm Zoppini Studio. As ever, post-Olympic use was a key consideration. “There are only eight speed skaters in Italy, so there will be no use for it afterwards,” explains John Barrow, senior principal architect at HOK Sport. Because the adjacent Lingotto hosts exhibitions, it was decided to use the building for exhibitions after the Games.

A major constraint facing the team was an extremely tight budget. According to Barrow, a typical ice skating rink costs £35m in the UK. This one has been built for £28m including the legacy use, which couldn’t be further from the building’s original function. “The cost constraints were really severe, so it was difficult to create something that was iconic. It would have been easy for it to end up looking like a very big shed,” says Barrow. “The question was how to make the building special.”

This was important for Barrow, as he had already designed the speed-skating rink in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics and had been disappointed by its interior. Structural engineer Paul Westbury of Buro Happold came to Barrow’s rescue by devising a spectacular roof structure that spans the full 105 m width of the building. It has six huge roof trusses that gently curve down at the base from the building perimeter to a low point in the middle. The secondary roof structure is supported by the trusses and curves in the other direction to a high point in the middle between the trusses. The effect is sculptural and dramatic. Barrow says the roof was relatively inexpensive. It slopes gently down to a gutter at the rear of the building, simplifying drainage and, according to Westbury, the roof structure has a high degree of repetitive elements that kept the cost down.

The ice rink sits on top of the concrete floor, so once it is dismantled, the floor will be left flush for exhibition use. Service points for exhibitors have been incorporated into the floor and the roof is able to accommodate two huge partition walls that can be slotted into place to split the massive space into three separate areas. Only 2000 seats are permanent – the rest will be brought in just for the Games. The areas used by Olympic officials will become spaces for conferences and offices after the Games end. Barrow is thrilled with the end result. “That’s one hell of a building for *42m,” he concludes.

Turin Olympic Games key points

  • Winter Olympics a vehicle for regenerating a former industrial district of Turin
  • Facilities based around the Lingotto, the former Fiat factory now a retail and exhibition centre
  • Turin was determined to avoid creating white elephants and to keep costs low
  • Village made up of new housing and a converted market. Will be used for housing and retail
  • New speed skating rink will be converted to an exhibition centre

Making the Olympic Village sustainable

British multidisciplinary consultant Faber Maunsell designed the Village’s services and also acted as the sustainability consultant. “Sustainability is a big thing for the Olympic movement,” explains Mike Maslin, a regional director at the consultant. “They are asking the host country to construct a lot of buildings and they feel they have to push the sustainability agenda as they are creating all this work. We will see this in London for 2012.”

Maslin says Faber Maunsell was involved with its Italian partners, Mascheroni Studio Associato and Softech, right from the start. This meant it could recommend refurbishing the market. “It was a robust 1930s building, which was ideal for the Italian climate as there was a lot of mass to absorb heat,” explains Maslin. Preventing excessive storm water run-off was important. Faber Maunsell found disused air-raid shelters under the market and converted these into storm water attenuation tanks – excess water can run into these and be released later.

Thermally efficient buildings were also a priority – a target of 50% more efficient than current Italian standards was set. The Village has been connected to the efficient district heating system and the new apartments have high levels of insulation, plus 20% of the site’s needs are supplied by thermal solar panels.

“Plastics and PVC were not in the specification at all,” says Maslin. “We also attempted to use as many locally sourced materials as possible.” Some buildings have green roofs and cars are excluded from the site.