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München 72

‘Not linear, rectangular, serious’: the Olympic Park


Before the Olympic Park was created Oberwiesenfeld was a flat area with few buildings. From the end of the 18th century it was first used for military purposes and, since the beginning of the 20th century, as an airfield as well.

Oberwiesenfeld on 14 July 1969, the day the foundation stone was laid. The construction site was 2.8 square kilometres in size.
In: Olympia in München, Offizielles Sonderheft der Olympiastadt München, ed. By Hans Weitpert, Munich 1969, p. 20

The architect Günter Behnisch and his partners transformed this plain into a modelled landscape. In doing so, they integrated existing components such as the mountain of rubble made up of debris from World War II and the Nymphenburg-Biederstein canal that they widened into a lake. Buildings such as the television tower and the ice rink that had been planned before the Olympics were also integrated.

The competition winners Behnisch & Partner with Jürgen Joedicke (top l.) behind their model: Günter Behnisch (top centre) and (clockwise) Winfried Büxel, Erhard Tränkner, Fritz Auer and Carlo Weber.
Unknown photographer, 13.10.1967, Horstmüller

The architects designed the central sports venues not as massive or even monumental individual buildings, but as part of the Olympic landscape – as a ‘continuation of the landscape in a different form’. They embedded the stadium, arena and swimming hall in hollows, protecting them under a transparent roof. Unlike the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, their design systematically symbolised democratic values, enabling them to be experienced and to be tangible in the form of a landscaped sculpture.

Model of the Olympic site on a scale of 1:1000 from the collection of the Münchner Stadtmuseum.
R. Augustin and G. Ott (model construction), c. 1970, wood, plastic, aluminium, Münchner Stadtmuseum, photo: Gunther Adler

The Olympic Park has been a listed ensemble since 1998. Initiated by the residents of the Olympic Village efforts are currently being made to have the Olympic Park declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Construction of buildings for the Olympics between 1970 and 1972,
UFA-Dabei 1970 / UFA-Dabei 1972

‘The Super Roof’

For a long time it was unclear whether the roof that Behnisch & Partner presented in their model for the Oberwiesenfeld concept and architecture competition, using wooden sticks and nylon stocking material, could even be built at all. The jury almost rejected the design of the later competition winners in the early stages for this very reason. The chairman, Egon Eiermann, however, recognised its qualities and focussed on these.

As an alternative solution, for example, flat shells were considered for the roofing of the central sports venues in the Olympic Park.
Christian Kandzia, photograph, 1968, Archiv Günter Behnisch, saai - Archiv für Architektur und Ingenieurbau, Karlsruhe

After various alternative roof forms had been examined, the decision was finally made to erect a point-supported suspension roof. Alongside the civil engineer Jörg Schlaich, the architect Frei Otto in particular was involved in the development of its respective construction. In conjunction with Rolf Gutbrod he had designed the pavilion for the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal on which Behnisch & Partner’s idea for a tent-like roof was modelled.

View of the roof covered with acrylic glass panels.
Max Prugger, photograph, 1971, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München/ Fotoarchiv Prugger

A pre-tensioned steel cable net was made for the Olympic roof that was suspended from 51 pylons and supports up to 80 metres high. The roof had to be translucent so as not to impact colour television transmission by casting shadows. Earlier thoughts of cladding it in wood or lightweight concrete were disbanded altogether as a result. Instead, acrylic glass panels, nine-metres square, were mounted on the steel cable net.

The steel cable net bolts are coated with red, anti-corrosion paint.
Herbert Michalke, photograph, 1971, Aldiami/Herbert Michalke/Timeline Images
Countdown for the Olympic roof, UFA-File, 1970

From an original estimate of 18 million Deutschmarks, construction costs ultimately rose to 170 million Deutschmarks. In retrospect, Hans-Jochen Vogel, the mayor at the time, said: “A society [must] [...] sometimes also have the courage to spend a large sum of money on a project that is not for a specific purpose in the strict sense, on an architectural work of art. There must be certain areas that are exempt from economic principles and common utilitarian considerations. Many buildings of the past that have, for us, become indispensable constituent parts of our cultural heritage would never ever have come into being without such a departure from economic principles and fiscal considerations, and humankind would otherwise suffocate from the sheer utility of things.”


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Bernd Krönert, a civil engineer and architect, headed one of the teams at the Olympia-Baugesellschaft construction company and was responsible for the construction of the Olympic Hall, the swimming facility and the boxing arena. During the Games he was the technical manager of the Olympic hall.

‘Democratic Green’ – a ‘Park for Everyday Use’

The landscape architect Günther Grzimek was commissioned to develop the ‘Olympic landscaped park’ and plan its planting. Günter Behnisch had already worked with him previously.

Together they shaped the hill of rubble. Depressions, hills and valleys were created, citing the landscape of the alpine foothills. The widths of the paths specified for large events, that can quickly look like military parade grounds, were altered by the designers in favour of a network of differently wide, frequently curved paths with varying surfaces. As an alternative, people were explicitly encouraged to walk on the grass.

View of the network of paths in the Olympic Park up the Olympic Hill.
Karsten de Riese, photograph, 1971, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München/Fotoarchiv De Riese

In order to minimise the boundary between indoor and outdoor spaces, the new sports venues partly had glass façades. In the same way the park was not divorced from the city, but interwoven with it in a variety of ways, for example through lines of sight.

Landscape design and architecture as a gesamtkunstwerk. The idea of creating a dam on the Nymphenburg-Biedersteiner Canal to form a lake came from Cord Wehrse in Günter Behnisch’s team. The lake has a maximum depth of 1.30m.
Unknown photographer, 1972, Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum

Grzimek marked specific areas with ‘key trees’. At the entrances to the park, for example, he planted lime trees – typically found along avenues in Munich. He planted the hill with mountain pines, a low-growing tree that makes the hill appear to be higher. As the ‘key tree’ for the lake he chose the white willow.

Not only young trees were planted on Oberwiesenfeld: numerous trees up to 60 years old and 16m high were moved there from parks and avenues in Munich or from nurseries.
Unknown photographer, c. 1970, Archiv Günther Grzimek, Lehrstuhl für Landschaftsarchitektur und öffentlicher Raum, Technische Universität München, 04_Grzimek-Archiv_Dia_069

Grzimek created a landscape rich in variety, suitable for a number of different uses: a ‘landscape that is natural and at the same time durable, like a good object for everyday use should be’.

  • As is customary with public building contracts a certain percentage of the contract sum was to be earmarked for contemporary art. The construction costs for the Summer Olympics amounted to 1.35 billion Deutschmarks in total. Initially, eight million Deutschmarks were put aside for ‘art in the pulic space’. Later, the amount was reduced to five million.

    Intensive discussions were held on how the money was to be spent. One major project in particular was at the focus of attention: the Olympic Earth Sculpture by Walter de Maria. The American artist’s proposal was to drill a 120-metre-deep hole with a diameter of three metres through the 60-metre-high hill of rubble and cover it with a sheet of bronze that could be walked on.

    This ‘invisible monument’ would have fitted in well with the ‘non-architecture’ of the Olympic Park, not only from Günter Behnisch’s point of view. The project found numerous supporters from the international art and museum world. Nevertheless, the Olympia construction company planning committee ultimately rejected it. Similarly, other contributions proposed for the park and the sports venues by prominent artists such as Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol, did not come about either.

    The largest project that actually became a reality was Heinz Mack’s Water Cloud in the Olympic lake. Through a mechanism that has since been dismantled, its appearance varied from a horizontal alignment to a 36-metre-high fountain. In addition, more than 20 other works were commissioned, such as Otto Piene’s Light Satellite for the northern part of the Olympic Park or Fritz König’s bronze sculpture for the shooting range in Garching-Hochbrück. Many of the works of art no longer exist today.

    Skizze einer Skulptur
    Not a classical concept for a monument: the ‘Olympic Earth Sculpture’ by Walter de Maria.
    Walter de Maria, sketch, 1970, Stadtarchiv München (DE-1992-OLY-226-001)
    The proposal submitted by Mathias Goeritz, Dietrich Clarenbach and Jürgen Claus to erect large concrete sculptures up to 40 metres high on the five motorway access roads was also rejected.
    Unknown photographer, in: Olympia in München, Offizielles Sonderheft 1972 der Olympiastadt München, ed. by Hans Weitpert, Munich 1972, p. 81
    Heinz Mack’s Wasserwolke (Water Cloud) was lit up at night by 112 underwater spotlights, turning it into a ‘Light Cloud’. The technical apparatus needed to operate the artwork has since been removed from the lake.
    Erika Groth-Schmachtenberger, photograph, 1972, Stadtarchiv München (DE-1992-FS-NL-GRO-314-01)
    For the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics Otto Piene’s ‘Olympic Rainbow’ stretched across the lake. The helium-filled tube in the colours of the rainbow was 460 m long and seven m wide.
    Karsten de Riese, photograph, 1972, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München/Fotoarchiv De Riese
    Otto Piene’s ‘Light Satellite’ was installed in the inner courtyard of the former DOZ (now the ‘Zentrale Hochschulsportanlage’ – University Sports Centre). It consisted of glass bodies suspended in a steel framework over 20m high.
    In: Westermann 2/72. Welt Kunst Kultur, ed. by Georg Westermann Verlag, Braunschweig 1972, p. 29
    Rudolf Belling’s ‘Flower Motif as a Symbol of Peace’ was also considered for the top of the hill in the Olympic Park. The bronze sculpture, donated by the German Trade Union Confederation and the City of Munich, was ultimately erected in a hollow below the summit.
    Gerhard Weiss, photomontage, 1970, Stadtarchiv München (DE-1992-OLY-226-002)