MVRDV unveils the proposal for the Aquatic Centre at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. It is envisioned as a refreshing antidote to the trend for self-consciously “iconic” Olympic venues that subsequently become expensive, oversized burdens upon their cities. MVRDV’s design, by contrast, takes as its starting point the needs of the area, improving connections between neighbouring locations and creating a vertical park and “green lung” within the city while assimilating itself into its surroundings.
Located in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, separated from the Stade de France by a highway on its eastern boundary, the location of the Aquatic Centre is not lacking in iconic structures. Instead, it is in desperate need of improved pedestrian connections, green space, and amenities for the neighbourhood – in particular, for the residents of the concerted development zone (ZAC) of Plaine Saulnier, located to the west of the site. The proposal provides for these needs, with a broad avenue and a pedestrian bridge connecting the ZAC Plaine Saulnier to the Stade de France.
Rather than competing with the stadium for attention, the shape of the Aquatics Centre is essentially a simple rectangle, with spaces for sport – including an indoor climbing area, fitness and meditation zones, a splash pad for children, coworking spaces, and a restaurant – arranged around the central space holding Olympic swimming and diving pools, with seating for up to 6000 spectators. Continuing this modest approach, the exterior surfaces – façade, roof, and paving – are all finished in a light-coloured low-carbon concrete, with gently curving edges giving the impression of a continuous sheet that has been “draped” over the new addition, blending the building with its surroundings.
The building’s signature feature is the explosion of greenery covering its roof. On its western façade, too, the building gradually rises from the floor, with a series of paths and steps leading upwards through shrubs and grasses, providing pedestrians access to outdoor leisure spaces, the first-floor restaurant terrace, and a climbing wall. This vertical park and its amenities animates the façade facing the ZAC Plaine Saulnier, adding a visible and lively piece of public space for the neighbourhood.
The roof is also covered in greenery, with smaller grasses and shrubs covering the centre of the roof and larger plants up to 2 metres tall closer to the roof’s edges, where the structure can support a deeper soil layer. At its very edges, the roof slopes downwards. These sloped edges reveal this green landscape to passers-by, with hanging plants at the very edges of the roof only adding to the impression of the diverse natural landscape behind.
This expanse of plants offers substantial benefit to the area in terms of sustainability, with this “green lung” of over one hectare within the city helping to improve air quality and lower local temperatures. Unlike the western façade, the roof itself is not accessible to visitors, making it a perfect attraction not only for plant biodiversity, but for animal biodiversity as well.
Inside, oval windows and skylights provide excellent daylighting for the pools, reducing energy consumption, while significant effort was made to reduce the water consumption in the pools themselves. Thanks to the partnership with Engie, 80% of the energy used by the building would come from sustainable sources.
During the design process, much attention was given to technical aspects of the project in order to ensure the feasibility and affordability of the proposal, so that the design maintained the original aim to develop an urban, sustainable, functional, green, and social Olympic Aquatic Centre while remaining comfortably within the proposed budget.
Principle in Charge: Winy Maas
Partner: Bertrand Schippan
Design Team: Michael Labory, Pierre-Emmanuel Escoffier, Daniel Diez, Davide Salamino, Josselin Jung, Federico Fiorino, Inez Wawszczyk
Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
Co-architect: BVL Architecture + Explorations Architecture, Paris, France
Contractor: Adim + Vinci Construction + Engie + UCPA
Project coordination: Adim
Landscape architect: TER
Structural engineer: Bollinger Grohmann + Tractebel
MEP: Tractebel + Ethis
Cost calculation: CBC + Prisme
Environmental advisor: OASIIS
Acoustic: Lamoureux Acoustique