Gold Medal Design: Sochi's Olympic Makeover

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How Russia transformed a coastal community for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi

Aerial view of Coastal Cluster circular design for the 2014 Sochi, Russia Winter Olympics
Coastal Cluster Design Plan in 2013. Clockwise from the unfinished Fisht Olympic Stadium: Shayba Arena, Bolshoy Ice Dome, Ice Cube Curling Center, Adler Arena, Iceberg Skating Palace. Press photo © Olympstroy State Corporation. All rights reserved.

Urban Designers Faced an Olympic Challenge in Russia

When the International Olympic Committee awarded the Olympic XXII athletic events to the Russian Federation resort city of Sochi, urban planners faced an enormous task. Between 2007 and 2014, they had to transform a section of the Black Sea eastern shoreline and build a complex new community. We've heard about the 30 Minute Makeover, but how did Russia re-invent a sleepy resort city in 7 years?

Urban Design and Planning:

Planning public spaces is as old as architecture itself. In ancient Baghdad, buildings and roadways were arranged in a circular pattern, which provided security for the residents. In Paris and Washington, D.C., radical new approaches to urban design promoted freedom and openness. In many cities, roads and buildings are arranged in a highly logical grid pattern.

What type of plan would work best in Sochi? Designers chose a dual approach.

Mountain and Coastal Clusters:

Sochi is near the mountains, but the coastal resort city wanted the attention. To accommodate the range of Olympic events, the host city created two "clusters."

  • The Mountain Cluster, 48 kilometers away from the Olympic Park, is the community for non-ice events, including skiing, biathlon races, sledding, ski jumping, and snowboarding.
  • The Coastal Cluster, with its palaces devoted to ice events, have transformed the coastal city of Sochi.


Sources: 2014 Host City Election, International Olympic Committee (IOC); Sochi Olympic Venues 2013 Press Kit at, Olympstroy State Corporation [accessed February February 5, 2014]

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2014 Sochi versus 1980 Moscow Olympics

Black and white photo of linear plan of rectangular buildings, a model for the 1980 Moscow Olympics
Architect's model of the Olympic complex for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, circa 1978. Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images ©2004 Getty Images

Two Olympics, Two Urban Environments:

Long before Winter Games in Sochi, Russia hosted the 1980 Olympic Games, held in Moscow. These two Olympic events illustrate two very different approaches to urban design. For the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, designers placed rectangular buildings in rows, like a typical city grid. Sochi, however, follows a circular design.

Linear Design

Ever since Ptolemy chunked up the world with latitude and longitude, designers have relied on predictable and symmetrical grid designs. Cities designed according to a linear model have  many access points—many roads in and out. A linear plan is practical, and can make good sense when security issues are not in the forefront.

Circular Design

Sochi's circular patterns are naturally aesthetic and insular, natural like drops of water or ice. Sochi's non-linear plan also provides greater security in a world facing terrorist threats.

Designing with grids, like building rectangular box houses, is more prevalent than circular designs. Straight-edges and T-squares are common designing tools, which makes Sochi's Coastal Cluster an uncommon and special place.

Designing with Grids:


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The Coastal Cluster

Map of the circular coastal cluster venues of Sochi Olympic park for the 2014 Winter Olympics
Map of the coastal cluster of Sochi Olympic park for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Illustration ©Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (or Free Art License)

Good designs tell a story. The Master Plan for the Winter Olympics in Russia, 2014 tells the tale of Mountain Cluster snows and Coastal Cluster ice.

Sochi's Coastal Cluster is built upon the ancient traditions of Geometry and Architecture. The circle, like a snowflake, is a natural form and has influenced design for centuries. Sochi sports buildings for ice events rose in a circle, like wagons encircling a campfire—or an Olympic flame. The competition venues told the icy story:

  • The Ice Cube
  • The Iceberg
  • The Ice Fault
  • The "Hockey Puck"
  • The Bolshoy (or Bolshoi)

Ice Palaces in the Coastal Cluster

Visually, the stadia for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia are architectural variations of Faberge Eggs, the well-known and historic creation of the Russian jeweler and artist Peter Carl Fabergé. Russia's new Ice Palaces, modern in design and charged with high-technology inside and out, have transformed an urban landscape and the architecture of a country. To learn more about venues in the coastal cluster, see Ice Palaces in Sochi, Russia >>

Fisht Olympic Stadium in the Coastal Cluster

Populous, a leader in sports architecture, designed the open-air Fisht Olympic Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2014 Olympics. Named after Mount Fisht, the stadium is constructed like a split brain held together with a retractable roof. Once the Olympics are over, soccer fans will fill the 40,000 seat stadium. Russian national football hosts the 2018 FIFA World Cup at this new stadium.

Source: Sochi Olympic Venues 2013 Press Kit at, Olympstroy State Corporation [accessed February February 5, 2014]