Site-Specific Architecture

The buildings and facilities for the XXth Olympic Games in 1972 in Munich heralded a new epoch in the history of the still young Federal Republic of Germany and attracted much international attention. The vision of a cosmopolitan society and the desire for fundamental democratic change were reflected in the very architecture with its curved roof construction that followed the softly undulating landscape and the fresh, clear colors. The ensemble was construed worldwide as a hopeful symbol of Germany’s social and democratic renewal after the Third Reich and its rule by violent means.

Using the leitmotifs of an “Olympic Games surrounded by green and where everything is close at hand” and the properties “youthful, joyful, and lively”, Günter Behnisch and his partners Fritz Auer, Winfried Büxel, Erhard Tränkner, and Carlo Weber along with Jürgen Joedicke developed the visionary concept of a modulated architectural landscape. Taking their cue from a notion of “site-specific architecture”, they created stadiums and halls that were inserted into hollows, all spanned by a transparent, technologically innovative tent roof. Günter Behnisch did not conceive of this as a predefined, fixed notion of the shape but as an open approach to the design in order to derive the built form out of the conditions in the brief, the characteristics of the site as-was; it was a design that was then developed step by step with the other persons involved. Visionary ideas, role models, knowledge, and the ideals of all involved thus came to bear in the creative process of designing and were then linked to the leitmotifs, the conditions of the brief, and the technical implementation in the construction process. This process-based approach was to define Günter Behnisch’s entire later oeuvre.

“Situational architecture – by which I mean that the architectural solution lies in the situation and arises from the situation, through the forces that come to bear in the situation. We sought to give these forces, constellations of forces, which initially exist in the invisible world, a place in the world of visible objects.”
Günter Behnisch 1977

Buildings and Facilities for the XX. Olympic Games 1972, Stadium / Sport Halls / Aquatic Center

Behnisch & Partner

The competition idea with its mix of architecture, landscaping, and tent roof, which was highly exacting in both design and technical terms, could only be realized on the basis of extremely high-level collaboration between Behnisch & Partner and Jürgen Joedicke with countless architects, engineers, and designers. Not all of those who took part have been considered in the list here.

Overall design of the Olympic Park:
Behnisch & Partner, Günter Behnisch, Fritz Auer, Winfried Büxel, Erhard Tränkner, Carlo Weber with Jürgen Joedicke

Landscape architecture:
Günther Grzimek with Behnisch & Partner

Main sports venues:
Behnisch & Partner

Roofing for the main sports venues:
Behnisch & Partner, Frei Otto with Ewald Bubner and Berthold Burkhardt, Leonhardt + Andrä with Jörg Schlaich

Project architects:
Johannes Albrecht, Jörg Bauer, Hans Beier, Helmut Beutel, Gerd Eicher, Horst Friedrichs, Godfrid Haberer, Eberhard Heilmann, Lothar Hitzig, Wolfgang Illgen, Christian Kandzia, Karla Kowalski, Jürgen Krug, Frohmut Kurz, Jürgen Langer, Konrad Müller, Lucio Parolini, Hermann Peltz, Wendelin Rauch, Peter Rogge, Berthold Rosewich, Adolf Schindhelm, Horst Stockburger, Cord Wehrse, Udo Welter, Wilfried Wolf, Ulrich Zahn

Visual corporate identity:
Otl Aicher

Ideas and Buildings Competition for the Buildings and Facilities for the XXth Olympic Games in Munich in 1972

On Oct. 13, 1967, the submissions by Behnisch & Partner together with Jürgen Joedicke emerged the winner among the 101 entries. The jury chaired by Egon Eiermann almost unanimously chose the extraordinary design but doubted whether the tent-roof structure with its wide spans could be realized in practice. The idea arose only briefly before the competition entry was submitted and took its cue from the German Pavilion at the Montreal World Expo, the brainchild of Frei Otto and Rolf Gutbrod.

“Actually, we didn’t want a roof at all, because the design was not based on the idea of constructing buildings, but of creating sports in the landscape.”
Günter Behnisch 2001
“The 1972 Olympic Games and facilities were meant as an appeal to the world to accept Germany back into the circle of civilized nations.”
Günter Behnisch 2001

The “Spielstrasse” (Games street)

Werner and Anita Ruhnau designed the “Spielstrasse” in contrast to the conventional arts and culture program and the customary museum shows by the organization committee. The avantgarde street theater with countless experimental art actions at Oberwiesenfeld was the only art form to feature critical political content. It was, however, discontinued after the murder of the Israeli athletes on Sept. 5, 1972.

Visual design

Otl Aicher’s visual design conveyed a completely new image for the Federal Republic of Germany in the sense of a corporate identity. He developed a new visual language based on pictograms, symbols, and shapes to enable communication, orientation and the realization of the Games without language being needed. The bright, fresh colors, derived in part from the colors in the Bavarian countryside, were destined to give the Olympic Games an unmistakable mood, ensuring they had a relaxed, joyful, and tolerant character.

“Otl Aicher could think in pictures, and he was able to convey content through pictures. Images, after all, contain many references, more than words, which are constrained by their definitions. Pictures are poetic in themselves.”
Günter Behnisch 1998

Site studies for the sports venues during the competition

While devising the competition entry, the team studied various site maps created to reflect different sets of shapes in order to discern the possible positioning of the stadium, the sports hall, and the aquatics hall on the flat plain of the Oberwiesenfeld. The maps were drawn by Carlo Weber, with locations both north and south of the traffic artery (Mittlerer Ring) considered in this content. Moreover, the Olympic Village and Central University Sports Grounds needed to be accommodated, too.

“In situational architecture, architectural ideas are initially independent and are not influenced by construction and materials. The architectural solution to the call for an Olympics in a green setting, a youthful and cheerful Olympics, for example, is an ‘Olympic landscape,’ and not a ‘two-tier stadium made of reinforced concrete.’ And the solution to rain protection for certain situations is: ‘a light umbrella’ and not ‘a parabolic hyperboloid,’ ‘a light, load-bearing structure’ and certainly not a ‘concrete shell’.”
Günter Behnisch 1972

The search for a technically viable solution for the tent-roof

New load-bearing solutions had to be found for the roof idea, which was ten times the size of its role model: the German Pavilion for the Montreal 1967 World Expo (Frei Otto and Rolf Gutbrod). Behnisch & Partner along with various engineers developed a series of variants, but it was Frei Otto who came up with the successful solution: He divided the roof surface over the stadium into individual segments and suspended them from supports located behind the stands.

The various proposals for covering the roof included one using wood, which Olympia-Baugesellschaft preferred owing to the stabilizing effect of the bowls. In this context, Behnisch & Partner also planned the point-supported suspended roof for the Federal Horticultural Show, the Euroflor, in Dortmund in 1969: the sun-sail as it was called.

Assembly and covering the roof

The developer first chose the roof skin made of transparent acrylic glass in response to a call by the ARD and ZDF TV channels, who were going to broadcast the event in color for the first time, for a transparent roof. Numerous companies were involved in working out the details, for example in developing the cables and the Perspex for the roof skin and its connections to the swivel nodes of the cable net. To assemble the roof, the engineers directing work draped the net with the nodes already machine pressed on to it across the stands and screwed it in place. The net was then pulled up and into place using an ingenious concept, before being tensioned and covered. The sports and the aquatics halls were both equipped with a suspended climate skin made of PVC-coated polyester fabric with a pleated filler.

Structural details of the roof

It fell to the engineers at Leonhardt und Andrä led by Jörg Schlaich to develop the entire network structure with all the network detailing. He resorted to the old technique of cast steel for the innumerable nodes, mast heads, and tensioning elements to redirect forces, each of which was different; the casting molds were no longer made of wood but of polystyrene. Particularly impressive among the different foundation types used are the abutment for the large stadium tensioning cable and the strand bundles, which are not anchored in the clamping block. The concrete structure for the stadium was the brainchild of Swiss bowl engineer Heinz Isler, who had previously provided structural advice during the competition.

“The roof shows us all what power can be contained in architectural ideas, what energies they can release, and it proves all the architects and planners wrong who perform their work in an opportunistic manner as the wardens of what could be called ‘the status quo’.”
Günter Behnisch 1971

Provisions for visitors and pop-up restaurants

Günter Behnisch consciously invited avant-garde and highly experimental architects and artists from various fields of expertise to handle the smaller tasks. Among them were Graz-based architects Günther Domenig and Eilfried Huth, who together with Behnisch & Partner designed the seemingly futuristic Restaurant Nord. Munich architect Peter Lanz masterminded Restaurant Süd.

“Germany wanted to reintroduce itself with the Olympic Games. That was the prevailing sentiment, not only of those who were in charge there. Germany wanted to reintroduce itself as the new, free Germany, as a nation that did not exclusively pursue material and organizational principles.”
Günter Behnisch 1977

Pavilion in the aquatics hall

Günther Domenig and Eilfried Huth also designed the restaurant pavilion in the entrance area of the aquatics hall. The readily accessible organic sculpture made of welded and bent bright blue round steel is clad with a chromed nickel and steel mesh. Technical elements are left readily visible and emphasized with their coat of red paint.

“You can whistle and sing even when you are doing hard work. I would even argue that the important thing is to whistle and sing during hard work.”
Günter Behnisch 1972

The landscaping concept

According to the guideline of an “Olympics in parkland”, the landscape architecture was absolutely key. The concept Behnisch & Partner came up with and for which Carlo Weber then provided the drawings combines all the main elements of the site-specific architecture: overarching links to parkland and downtown Munich, existing elements, an artificial lake, modulated terrain, the forging of overarching green links, buildings in the park, transportation, and the principles for planning the parkland.

Planning the landscaping

Landscape architect Günther Grzimek took the basic Behnisch & Partner concept and developed it into multi-faceted “utility landscape”. Many of the elements could not predetermined in the plan but instead arose through intense collaboration between the architects, landscape planners, Munich’s Municipal Parks Dept. – and the dozer drivers on site.

Paths, surfaces, and illumination

Günther Grzimek divided the paths into a web of covered, more strongly frequented main paths on the embankments as well as small side paths and tracks, in order to avoid the impression of broad walkways down which people would march. Different surfaces such as gravel, turf pavers, or paving stones as well as the newly developed “Olympia-Mastix” guaranteed a natural appearance without the feel of asphalt. The illuminations concept was also calibrated to fit the respective landscaping.

“With the concept of an ‘architectural landscape’ it is possible – while retaining the individuality of the various parts – to create an architectural form that does justice to the significance of the brief and the situation. Built structures and parkland, existing elements and additions […] – everything can develop according to its own laws, interconnect and morph into an overarching architectural design.”
Günter Behnisch 1975

Transitions between the buildings and the landscape

Behnisch & Partner devoted much attention to the transitions between the buildings and the landscape, between indoors and outdoors, and to how smaller structures and furniture were inserted into it. The elements and details arose from the respective situation and its specific character and not in line with some uniform design principle. The edges of the individual buildings were eliminated through the choice of transparent spatial delimiters, and the shape of the terrain, the ground and the greenery thus brought into the halls.

“A landscape is an overall structure that consists of many hierarchies of further structures. You have to consider a building in the same way. You have to find an overall structure and break it down into hierarchies of individual structures. Then the building fits into the surrounding landscape because it is consistent with the overall structure of the landscape.”
Günter Behnisch 1977

Situations in the landscape

Bar a few exceptions, the highly differentiated situations obeyed the principle of creating an “organic sculpture” made up of landscaping elements – hill, embankments, hollows, paths, lake, trees, bushes, meadows, etc. The basic topographical elements offered various options for withdrawal or active appropriation in line with people’s social needs for privacy and communication. Quiet niches alternate with open areas for games, sports, or communicative activities.

“Architectural ideas are initially not technical or non-technical; they are probably more informed by your view of the world, by idealized concepts, very likely they are visions related to dreams.”
Günter Behnisch 1972

Subsequent usages

A fundamental goal of the plans was to ensure the sustainability of the landscaping concept over and above the Games. Günther Grzimek created a place for everyday use that “encouraged visitors” to make active use of their leisure time and functioned to offset the way green spaces had been squeezed out of the city. He succeeded in realizing a social utopia that reflected the social upheaval of the 1960s: There are no set, predefined usages, and instead options are offered that enable the greatest possible freedom and selfdetermined appropriation.