Located in Berlin’s western Grunewald neighbourhood, the Olympic Stadium is an acknowledged historic monument. A horse racing track at the beginning of the 20th century, it was already celebrated as an urban landmark and well connected to the city by the underground railway system. Preparations for the Olympics of 1916 saw it transformed into an Olympic Stadium – never used, however, on account of the outbreak of the First World War. The stadium underwent further transformation, hosting Hilter’s 1936 Games and becoming part of the nazi propaganda machine.
Given the stadium’s history, any modernisation to meet today’s needs, comply with sports regulations, and cater for a wide range of high-impact non-sporting or sporting events (including the world football cup), also had to envisage preservation.
The stadium is the focal point of the whole complex, the central node of a functional and visual east-west and north-south grid linking facilities like the Olympic swimming pool, entrances and the monumental Marathon Gate designed by Werner March for the 1936 Olympics. Von Gerkan, Marg and Partner have been careful to preserve the architectural features of the original structure. Services and facilities, like parking spaces and special stadium access areas, have all been placed underground outside the immediate stadium perimeter. Inside the stadium, the first job was to make a detailed assessment of the reinforced concrete structure and its viability to hold up the roof, upgrading where necessary. The central stands were renovated and accessory catering and meeting room functions added. Athletes’ facilities were thoroughly modernised. The stadium’s external façades and monumental columns were restored and the original cladding materials of fossil embedded limestone and Travertine preserved. Before de-construction, an accurate record of the condition and place of each stone was made to ensure they were put back exactly in the same position. Inside, the lower tier was completely rebuilt. The playing field was lowered 2.65 m, which as well as adding a further two spectator rows, solved regulation issues regarding visibility, distance and safety of the multi-purpose track and field arena, and single-function football pitch. The contemporary concept of a stadium is as a multi-purpose venue for diverse, sporting and non-sporting events.
The ring shaped roof has an opening that looks out towards the monumental 1936 Marathon Gate, on a direct sight line with the landmark bell towers. The steel trusswork roof cantilevers imposingly over the stadium stands. The support system is twofold: a series of steel columns adjacent to the stone-clad concrete pillars running along the external elevation, and, inside the stadium, a series of 20 slender tree-shaped columns whose base diameter of only 25 cm ensures minimum view obstruction. Both the shape and function of these columns recall the uprights that supported the temporary trusswork roof erected in 1973 for the north stand. Two Teflon and fibreglass membranes protect the truss structure from the elements (one on top, the other below) while allowing the passage of light. The membrane on the underside meets special acoustic requirements. Technical equipment and maintenance walkways are located in the membrane air space. The steel truss roof is about 68 m long and is clearly visible behind the membrane. Not rising above the height of the stadium walls, it does not distract from the restored historic façades.
The stadium’s lighting and tannoy systems are also unobtrusive. Placed around the inner ring of the cantilever, they do away with unsightly floodlight and loud speaker masts. Floodlights have a graduated luminosity control system to meet different event lighting requirements.
Work began in May 2000 and was concluded in May 2004. The project was completed in phases allowing the stadium to remain open and host a series of widely attended games.