In addition to being a global sports spectacular, the Olympics (at least in the modern televison-era) is known as an arena for marketing and merchandising sponsorship. This commercial aspect of the Games is just as competitive as the athletic component. Swoops, arches, apples, and more: graphic logos abound on every surface, vying for attention. In a way, this is historically appropriate; the Olympics are Greek in origin, and logos is a Greek word meaning “word.”
Successful logos have some core qualities. They are simple, cleanly rendered images. They are memorable; it’s important to create a distinct and lasting impression. Logos avoid trendiness, which makes a design—and by extension, the company it represents—look dated and out of touch. A timeless look will communicate the message most effectively. The image must be versatile. This means it should be suitable for a wide variety of uses: for small and large applications, reproduced on different materials, in black-and-white as well as in color. Finally, a logo should be appropriate to the business. The mark ought to convey something meaningful about the company and its values.
The good sports at AIGA gave us permission to share some of designer Milton Glaser’s thoughts on Olympics logos. Here, we’ve excerpted a few of his comments on some winning imagery…
Tokyo, Summer 1964
Appropriately redacted and without any confusion. The parts fit. Score: 92 out of 100
Athens, Summer 2004
The olive branch representing the games is executed in a fresh and unexpected way. Because it looks less like a corporate logo, we feel more affectionate toward it. The blue feels right reflecting both the event and Athens at the same time. Score: 90 out of 100
Barcelona, Summer 1992
This mark is unexpectedly convincing. The 3 strokes representing the human figure have a good scale relationship to the world ‘Barcelona ’92’ and the rings. Score: 85 out of 100
Rio, Summer 2016
A presentation that looks fresh and contemporary. The athletes joining hands at the top are executed in a way that works well with the other elements. It feels like something new. Score: 85 out of 100
…and his observations on some less successful logos:
Paris, Summer 1924
Bad beginning, the elements are unrelated visually and the imagery is confusing. The surprinted lettering is unreadable. Score: 20 out of 100
Berlin, Summer 1936
Strange and lacking focus. The Olympic rings become subordinated to the eagle and bell forms. The spirit of the Olympics is totally absent. Score: 20 out of 100
Los Angeles, Summer 1932
A visual disaster; combining the rings, a laurel leaf and the American shield in an overlapping pattern is impossible. The typography goes on its own unrelated way. Score: 25 out of 100
The Rio games may be over, but we’re happy to help wean sports fans off their recent diet of swimming, gymnastics, and track and field [to say nothing of badminton and water polo], with a survey of some memorable Olympic architecture.
Rio de Janeiro 2016
Golf is a sport of precision and balance, and the design of this complex reflects those qualities. Locker rooms, lobbies, pro shop, and administration areas are located in small, low buildings around a courtyard, with views opening to the course beyond. The translucent fabric roof over the plaza funnels rainwater into a collection tank; the water is used for grounds maintenance.
The concept for this building was inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the riverside landscape of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a wave, enclosing the pools of the Centre with its unifying gesture. After the Olympics, the facility was downsized: the wings were lopped off, and seating capacity reduced from 17,500 to about 2,500.
The architect was fired from the job in mid-construction; that’s just the first salvo in a fusillade of failures for this stadium. More than a decade after the games were over, the retractable roof was finally completed in 1987; functionally deficient, it was removed in 1998 and replaced by a fixed roof. The 575-foot tower element of the stadium contains a funicular, which runs up to an observatory. The 56,000-seat stadium was used for several years for professional baseball and football games; today, the deteriorating structure is infrequently used as an events venue.
Through its dynamic, curving walls, the design of this venue evokes the flow and precision inherent in competitive shooting. Three buildings sport crisp, white double-curved façades studded with brightly colored circular openings, which act as ventilation intake portals. They also function as tensioning rings, keeping the PVC-fabric façades from flapping in the wind. After the Olympics, the buildings were dismantled—as intended—flat-packed, and shipped to other sites for use.
The last full month of summer, August presents a final opportunity to enjoy recreational pursuits—as a spectator or participant—before the autumnal commitments of school and work return. In weeks to come, we’ll take a look at the architecture of the Olympics, as well as the graphic branding of the Games over the years. Today, we’re indulging in a survey of a rarefied design sector: yachts designed by architects and artists.
Frank Gehry sets sail in Foggy, which he designed in collaboration with German Frers. Titanium details and wavy, lattice-like ports give the 74-foot daysailer a most unusual presence. Foggy was built at the venerable Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine.
Dazzle camouflage certainly influenced Jeff Koons’ design for this 115-foot craft (christened Guilty) and we detect a bit of Roy Lichtenstein in the comic-book colors and Ben-Day dots, too.
Koons’ Guilty accomplishes optically what Zaha Hadid’a Z-Boat does in three dimensions. Its squared-off bow defies conventional thinking about what constitutes a streamlined vessel; nonetheless, it conveys an impression of speed and power. The 24-foot powerboat was produced in a limited edition of 12 by Shoreteam.
Not a slack halyard or an untidy coil in sight—John Pawson’s B60 is shipshape, indeed. Pawson teamed with naval architect Luca Brenta to create a sloop in his signature minimalist style. The hull, a graceful arc of polished carbon fiber, seems to float above as much as in the water.
For a more accessible seafaring experience, we recommend any of the excellent Around Manhattan tours, produced by the NY AIA in partnership with Classic Harbor Line. Expertly led by professors and practitioners of architecture, the tours offer a waterfront perspective on landmarks new and old from the vantage of teak- and mahogany-detailed, 1920s-style yachts.