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Legacies of Richmond and Sochi a world apart

Photos of Adler Arena Skating Center from earlier this month show the building is nearly ready for competition.  - Sochi 2014 Winter Games photos
Photos of Adler Arena Skating Center from earlier this month show the building is nearly ready for competition.
— image credit: Sochi 2014 Winter Games photos

Past the iridescent staircases, gleaming floors and sweeping lines of a building five times the size of an aircraft carrier is an arena floor that will soon host the fastest ice skaters in the world.

This is the Adler Arena Skating Center, a largely-complete Olympic venue that will host long track speed skating events for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. It’s a world away from the last Olympic oval built here in Richmond.

The two venues have much in common but their legacy plans are oceans apart. After 2010, the Richmond Olympic Oval was rebuilt into a centre for high performance sport, community recreation and wellness. The Adler Arena, however, will transform into a trade and exhibition centre once the Sochi Games end.

“It’s got a lot of space inside the building,” said Bob Johnston of Cannon Design, a firm involved in the creation of both venues. “It’s a different plan than what we did in Richmond.”

Sochi is a western city of 400,000 on the edge of the Black Sea. It’s the first subtropical city to host a Winter Games.

All venues for the Games are being built from scratch, along with the supporting infrastructure. Yet despite Russia embarking on the “most ambitious construction project in Europe, if not the whole world”—according to Sochi’s Olympic boss Dmitry Chernyshenko—venue construction appears to be on track.

Officials are now putting the finishing touches on the Adler Arena, which is scheduled for completion this year ahead of its first skating competition in early 2013.

Johnston, whose work on the Sochi oval includes interior design of signature spaces, said the venue was built with trade shows in mind. Large corridors abound and the 8,000 seats and cooling system are temporary.

And unlike Richmond, where the oval stands alone from other venues, the Adler Arena and other ice competition buildings are clustered in a single park. Another key difference between the venues is planning, said Johnston, who served as lead project architect for the Richmond oval.

“The building was under construction while we were doing the design of the interiors. They were designing and building concurrently, whereas in Richmond we designed the building, it went out to the construction marketplace, and it was built as a single package.”

That brought its own challenges, but Johnston said he believes the Adler will be a “perfectly successful venue.”

“There’s no issues with it from the Olympic Games perspective, and of course the legacy has to be defined completely by what their post-Games needs are. Just like what we did in Richmond. That’s where we went through the legacy redevelopment in Richmond to change the building into what it is now.”

And a trade centre is needed in the coastal Russian city, given its attractive year-round climate, according to Sima Aivazian of Sochi’s organizing committee.

Johnston was also involved in the design of ovals in Salt Lake City and Calgary—the world’s first speed skating long track housed inside a building—and his team was able to successfully lend their past Olympic experience to Sochi.

“You learn on every project and you always have aspects that you can apply to the next one…because you never stop learning,” he said. “They’re really interesting buildings, and I’ve been around them now for like 24 years.

“It’s funny what you stumble into.”

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