Aussie rules

Bridget Stott asks how designers for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games created a theme that could be effectively applied across all elements of the games

A once derelict Australian backwater will be the focus of world attention come 15 September 2000, as 4.5 billion people witness the 24th Modern Olympiad opening ceremony at Homebush Bay in Sydney.

During the 15 days of competition, futuristic architecture and flamboyant graphic images, such as the Sydney 2000 logo by FHA, will be used to draw attention to Sydney’s best features. The games organisers are determined to create a strong visual identity using original and positive images and icons that not only raise symbolic and cultural awareness of the Australian way of life, but also give people around the world a feel of what Sydney is about.

The overall masterplan or “look of the games” is the responsibility of the Olympic Co-ordination Authority and the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. Craig Hassall, manager of the Image portfolio under SOCOG, oversees a five-strong team, responsible for the design and delivery of all graphic applications. The team must ensure that the hundreds of design professionals involved in the project bring a coherent, yet highly individual look to every design area of the Olympics. Each piece of work must be approved by all the associated groups, which include SOCOG, the OCA, the Government of New South Wales and the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland.

“Our abilities as a liaison and communications machine will directly reflect the success of the branding of the games,” says Hassall. SOCOG created the look of the games after consulting with leading Australian-based designers. A three-hour seminar was held to establish the essence of Sydney, and the words most often used to describe the city were then applied to the design briefs. This idea led to the creation of visual messages that work independently and together to create strong, consistent and coherent themes. A palette of 12 hot, bright colours including aqueous blues, lime, fuschia and orange characterise Sydney as a modern urban metropolis. Key cultural icons such as the boomerang, indigenous species including the kookaburra and the platypus, and the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge were chosen for their quintessentially Australian appeal.

The organisers wanted to bring an honest and open approach to the designs that people might associate with the lifestyle and openness of Australians. The designers were also briefed to allude to a sense of space and to incorporate natural, native and locally-recycled products where possible. From there, however, the designers were given free rein. “We wanted designers to have almost complete creative freedom to interpret the brief as they saw fit, yet retain a sense of coherency and accessibility that would appeal to a worldwide audience and still convey something Australian,” says Hassall.

To achieve this successfully, the organising bodies agreed that all visual aspects of the games should have a highly individual look that nonetheless worked as a unifying theme using colour, form and consistency. Everything from infrastructure such as transport links, architectural detailing, way-finding systems, landscaping of public spaces, street signage and furniture, to Olympic merchandise such as audio-visual imagery, public art, mascots, banners and logos were designed with this theme in mind.

“It’s been a real team effort to co-ordinate and oversee the many different components of this project,” says Hassall. “Now all the design applications have been approved, the production timings over the next six months are crucial to ensure that the various components are installed in time for the 15 September opening.

“It’s very important that we remain vigilant to ensure that everything is ready on time. We are really the Olympics ‘style’ police and we are always on the look-out for anything that doesn’t meet the required standards,” he explains.

As well as the graphic applications, the OCA and SOCOG supervised the architectural development and designs at Homebush Bay, alongside a major ecologically sustainable redevelopment project for the area, promised when Sydney made its Olympic bid back in 1993. The OCA has since spent $137m (£54m) to make the site a model of urban renewal, using principles of ecologically-sustainable development.

David Richmond, director general of the OCA, chose some of Australia’s most influential architects such as Cox Richardson, Hassell, and Ryder SJPH to design the Olympic buildings. Some of these buildings have already won major international awards in their own right, but also successfully connect with other Olympic buildings and design elements. The most noticeable feature of many of these buildings is their futuristic look, achieved using enormous overarching roof spans that seem to float above their exposed steel supports. These huge elliptical forms offer extraordinary, light-filled spaces that make maximum use of natural ventilation, so minimising the need for air-conditioning.

“The buildings convey a real sense of space and openness that reinforce the brand and the feel of Australia,” says Wendy McCarthy of the OCA Design Review Panel. The OCA set up the panel to approve all architecture and design plans. The panel focuses particularly on the detailing, from the choices of natural and recycled materials to street lighting, signage, furniture and their successful integration. It has also commissioned public art works for the site.

Chris Johnson, the New South Wales government architect and chairman of the panel says: “The look of the games is driven by an overwhelming ambition to make every person look at the Olympic sites and the design elements and say, yes, it really does look Australian.”

Sydney 2000 Olympic Design of the New Millennium runs at the Royal Institute of British Architects until 31 October

Branding players

Craig Hassall has worked for SOCOG since 1997. He joined the body as general manager of the Olympic Arts Festival, responsible for delivering a successful four-year cultural programme. Since then, his role has broadened to include the Image and Special Events portfolio.

The Image portfolio is divided into two sections. Image Design reports to Jonathan Nolan and Look of the Games reports to Suzy Grierson. Both report to Hassall. Nolan deals with graphic design and Grierson deals with operational aspects, such as getting the look into the venues and dealing with government agencies to get the look into council, airport and city areas.

Consultancies involved in the games include Dot Dash in Brisbane, which worked on way-finding design. FHA Image Design in Melbourne, which created the games identity, is working on graphic print development.

Image still maintains a relationship with Michael Bryce, who designed the city’s bid logo, and is now principal design advisor.

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