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‘Festive federalism means trying to steer the Olympiad back to the idea of a festival in which it has its roots’

Archive: at the 1984 Olympic Games, Los Angeles explores a new way to organize a worldwide festive event

Originally published in August 1984

In contrast to the nationalist monuments built for recent Olympics, this year’s Games in Los Angeles have returned to the carnival spirit of the original. Ephemeral decorations in hot colours give a festive atmosphere to existing facilities.

Previous Olympics in Berlin 1936: Deutschland uber Alles.

Previous Olympics in Berlin 1936: Deutschland uber Alles.

Previous Olympics in Berlin 1936: Deutschland uber Alles.

Previous Olympics in Los Angeles 1932: opening ceremony

Previous Olympics in Los Angeles 1932: opening ceremony

Previous Olympics in Los Angeles: 1932 opening ceremony

Showmanship is imbedded deep in the Los Angeles metropolitan psyche. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Fame, wealth and youth may not last forever but while they do… ! Hollywood of course is the apotheosis of the concept but the showmanship urge is apparently primal, fed into the municipal life support system like fluoridation in other cities. State of the art mortuaries can market real estate lots 2 m x 1 m under a tree of your choice just as easily as a news-stand vendor can hire the Playgirl of the Month to boost sales. The City of the Angels is never short of ideas or people to make them work, but don’t be fooled by the endless sunshine or the fashionable freak show on Sunset or Venice Beach. Underneath the tinsel and candy floss flows a restless energy and an intense community activism.

What other city in the world could be contemplating at one and the same time: Stirling, Maki or Meier for the Getty; lsozaki at the New Museum of Contemporary Art; Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer at the Los Angeles County Art Museum; with Gehry already up and running at the Temporary Contemporary. Four galleries at once sounds an indigestible diet of culture, but Los Angeles has an insatiable appetite for personalities, leisure and pleasure …. This drive for the City Bountiful (it is difficult to say beautiful) led to the contemporary equivalent of the quest for the Holy Grail, a Spielberg-inspired drama culminating in a return visit to Los Angeles of the Olympic flame, unseen in the area since the Great Depression of 1932.

Details from a pamphlet giving a preview of, and explaining the Olympic designs, colours, signs and symbols.

Details from a pamphlet giving a preview of, and explaining the Olympic designs, colours, signs and symbols.

Details from a pamphlet giving a preview of, and explaining the Olympic designs, colours, signs and symbols.

Other host cities in the modern era have reached the conclusion that the capital costs of the Games together with the running sores of boycotts and bombs are reasons enough to have it just once. In the past the final straw has been the permanent straitjacket of endless debt. In Montreal’s case liabilities will still be soaking the taxpayer in the twenty-first century. Unlike their predecessors, the Los Angeles Olympic Organising Committee is financing the Games without the aid of the two most traditionally significant sources of revenue for an Olympic Organising Committee: government subsidies and proceeds from an Olympic lottery. The Los Angeles City Charter provision approved by voters in 1978 forbids any capital expenditure by the Committee on the Olympics that would not, by binding legal commitment, be paid back.

The responsibility of organising and financing the ’84 Games rests with an independent nonprofit corporation, not with the City of Los Angeles. The sanity of this arrangement was underwritten comprehensively by the study conducted by the Economic Research Associates (ERA) , an independent LA-based research and consulting firm who have assessed the economic impact of many world fairs and both the Walt Disney themepark developments. They have in common with most research organisations a tendency to acute pessimism, and made Disney happy because his achievements always dramatically exceeded their projections. If they run true to form the economic benefits generated for Southern California will exceed the staggering $3.3 billion they have projected.

Image 4

Image 4

Source: Tim Street-Porter

View from behind temporary bleacher seating to USC swimming pool with playful pediments marking entrances. Temporary elements to transform Los Angeles into a festival setting

Scaffolding arch by John Jerde Architect marks post terminal on UCLA campus.

Scaffolding arch by John Jerde Architect marks post terminal on UCLA campus.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Scaffolding arch by John Jerde Architect marks post terminal on UCLA campus.

The revenue necessary to organise and administer the 1984 Games will come from three primary sources: the sale of television broadcasting rights, corporate sponsorship and tickets. The estimated television audience for the Games, despite the defection of the eastern block, is over two billion people, more than half the world’s population.

Whilst recent Olympic Games have had many hundreds of official sponsors, in 1984 that number is no more than 35. The estimated operating budget of the 1984 Games is $450-500 million. The LAOOC expect to realise a surplus of revenue over expenditure. Amateur athletics in the USA will be the beneficiary of any surplus. It is interesting that the thoroughly pragmatic decision to have a cost-conscious Olympic Games has led to a much more enlightened design attitude, avoiding the usual Olympic trap. Exploit ephemeral and neutralise nationalistic fervour. Cut out totalitarian graphics and monumental buildings which consciously project sport as a political weapon. Berlin in 1936 continued Speer’s marketing of the ‘master race’ principle seen first with his infamous and spectacular set piece graphics at Zeppelin Fields for the Nuremberg Rallies in 1933.

Speer made sure that the 1936 Olympic complex by Werner March was sanitised to conform to the Neo-Classical model that Hitler saw as the image of Aryan supremacy, a sinister essay in cynicism as yet unparalleled in modern Olympiads. But nationalistic one-upmanship has continued unabated in post-war Games, leaving in its wake memorable icons from Nervi, Candela, Tonge and Otto and culminating in the disaster of Montreal when for four weeks’ fun Montreal took out a 40-year mortgage.

Preliminary designs by Sussman/Prejza of columns to be used on various competition sites.

Preliminary designs by Sussman/Prejza of columns to be used on various competition sites.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Preliminary designs by Sussman/Prejza of columns to be used on various competition sites.

In the case of Los Angeles, Peter Ueberroth, the President and Harry Usher, the General Manager of the LAOOC examined the design options. They had been shrewd to realise that Southern California already enjoyed almost every kind of facility for every kind of sport and that low key additions to individual venues could be provided by a corporate sponsor creating permanent facilities for the University campuses and for the Los Angeles community.

That left the Organising Committee with a design problem which, though massive in quantity and difficult in the context of venue dispersal, could be simply defined, firstly as the preparation of the City for a street party lasting three weeks-primarily for the visitors and the residential population of Los Angeles, and secondly for the benefit of the more widely dispersed viewers: a pin-neat, frame-sharp, colour-rich refurbishment to cope with the hundreds of hours of television coverage. What could be more appropriate in a tinseltown cradled in the film city tradition than to have an ephemeral Olympics-the ultimate tribute to the disposal society? ‘Festive federalism’ was the phrase used by John Jerde to describe the ideas of the Design Forum set up in 1982 to think about the design image for the Games. Festive federalism means trying to steer the Olympiad back to the idea of a festival in which it has its roots. While reflecting the sunstruck cultural diversity of Southern California and the internationalism of the Games themselves what emerged was the idea summarised as an ‘Invasion of Butterflies’, a transformation of the streets, stadia and public spaces in which the Olympic events will be held which is fleeting, ephemeral, colourful and relatively cheap.

Image 3

Image 3

Disco paraphernalia by Peter Shire.

Disco paraphernalia by Peter Shire.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Disco paraphernalia by Peter Shire.

The overall design concept was developed by close collaboration of Architect John Jerde and his environmental programme manager, David Meckel with the key design group led by Deborah Sussman and Paul Prejza. Whilst Sussman and Prejza began to develop ideas about colour and the visual language for the Olympic sites the Jerde group began working with a kit-of-parts approach to environmental design objects: tents, gateways, colonnades of Sonotubes. The ideas were tested by the LAOOC in 1983 and some elements were added from that experience. The design team has carefully manipulated and co-ordinated colour, graphics, decoration, materials and structure. The colour palette and its manner of use was of critical importance. The effort to distance designs from nationalistic connotations has produced a unique look.

The key colour is magenta, this colour with vermilion, chrome yellow and vivid green reflecting the Californian spirit. The lighter Mediterannean colours, aqua, blue, pink and lavender are used occasionally for large backgrounds. The kit-of-parts and colour palette provided the key to commissioning and briefing accurately the many design groups needed to process the compressed workload. As the erection sequence was to be done virtually overnight, consultants were employed on a street and venue basis.

Columns and wind sculptures by Sussman/Pre1za mark archery events. Colourful, playful elements lend not only a festive spirit, landmarks and legibility, but also a bright frame for the tv viewer.

Columns and wind sculptures by Sussman/Pre1za mark archery events. Colourful, playful elements lend not only a festive spirit, landmarks and legibility, but also a bright frame for the tv viewer.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Columns and wind sculptures by Sussman/Pre1za mark archery events. Colourful, playful elements lend not only a festive spirit, landmarks and legibility, but also a bright frame for the tv viewer.

The scope of the project is immense. There are more than 30 Olympic sports venues and several Olympic Arts Festival sites in widely varied settings within a 100-mile radius of downtown Los Angeles.

Student residences and other facilities of the campuses of the University of California and Los Angeles and the University of Southern California will be converted into the Olympic villages, as will the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Fencing events will stand out against bright bunting and podiums.

Fencing events will stand out against bright bunting and podiums.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Fencing events will stand out against bright bunting and podiums.

The transformation in Los Angeles and other Olympic host cities will be achieved by utilising the design elements of the kit-of-parts worked and re-worked in limitless configurations. Fabric structures, whose prismatic shapes are colourcoded by function, are intermixed with other design elements to form a modern environment that enhances the communal feelings associated with festivals and marketplaces throughout the world. Scaffolding structures designed by John Aleksich painted with colours from the Sussman palette, and enriched with graphics, fabric and objects form monumental gateways, towers and walls.

Painted cylindrical columns with bands of brilliant colour are combined in different ways to enhance visual qualities that are playful, as well as classical. There are more than 80 miles of decorated fence fabric. Ceremonial backdrops, banners and graphic bunting- a modern adaptation of traditional elements-with miles of fabric and other decorating materials ringing fields of play, will frame cultural performances and exhibitions and decorate city streets.

The design patterns-derived in part from Robert Miles Runyan’s ‘Star-in-Motion’-have been adapted, along with pictograms developed by Keith Bright and Associates and elements such as stripes, stars, confetti and spray, for multiple uses.

Shade awnings for archers.

Shade awnings for archers.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Shade awnings for archers.

 

Winning swimmers set off by striking backdrop.

Winning swimmers set off by striking backdrop.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Winning swimmers set off by striking backdrop.

The look of ‘festive federalism’ will also be applied to Games staff uniforms and a wide variety of printed materials ranging from tickets, publications and signs to paper plates, napkins and place mats.

Print graphic projects, under the direction of LAOOC Design Director Larry Klein, include the design of Olympic medallions, ticket brochures, award and commemorative certificates, a series of regional billboards, a variety of manuals, hundreds of scoring forms, programmes for Opening and Closing Ceremonies, magazines and accreditation badges for athletes, staffers, officials and news media.

The smartest move the team made was to stay close to the Californian tradition of pop mobility. If you have sun on your side, spectacular landscape and a three-week invasion, back your strengths. ‘A city that has both Whittier Boulevard and Rodeo Drive ought to be able to do a hell of a decorating job …. ’

Concession tents are like those from medieval tournaments.

Concession tents are like those from medieval tournaments.

Source: Annette Del Zoppo

Concession tents are like those from medieval tournaments.

 

Design image co-ordinators
Sussman/Pre1za plus: Dan Benjamin, architect; Communication Arts and Michael Jurdan Inc; Kinsche Assoc1ates; Neuhart/Donges/Neuhart Des1gners Inc; Barton Phelps, architect and Victor Schumacher Associates

Venue architects
Jerde Partnerships plus: Arch1system; Peridian Group; Design Works; Rachlin/Roberts Architects AlA Inc; Malcome/Ware; Albert C. Martin & Associates; Glenwood L. Garvey & Associates; Dan1el, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall and Skidmore Owmgs & Merrill

Designers and artists include
Gere Kavanaugh Designs; Peter Sh1re; Beck & Grabowski Design Office; Michael Sanchez AssociatesDesign; Ted Wu; and Albert Wolskey

Photography consultants include
Annette Del Zappa; Tim Street-Porter