OLYMPICS

UA grad designs for Olympic venues

Beach-volleyball stadium is just the latest manifestation of Tucson architect Halchak's passion for the Olympics
2012-07-22T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:36:48Z UA grad designs for Olympic venuesPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 22, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Only after the Trooping of the Colour, the queen's annual birthday military salute last month, could the stadium at Horse Guards Parade begin to take shape with seating for 15,000 fans and 5,000 tons of sand trucked in from a quarry in Surrey.

The Olympic beach-volleyball home conceived by Tucson architect Michael Halchak and his co-workers at sports-facility designer Populous offers perhaps the most interesting view of the London Olympic Games, which start Friday.

The last row of the temporary stadium is a football field away from 10 Downing Street, the home of the prime minister. Farther in the distance stands, proudly, Buckingham Palace.

"It's this very bizarre mix," said Halchak, who helped design the London Games from his Tucson home office with 20 trips to England. "The entrance to the old royal court, and beach volleyball."

At the end of the Paralympics in September, the stadium will be removed, returning Horse Guards Parade to its original form, as if the Games never happened.

"It's very interesting to take a site and make it into a completely different thing, a temporary city that will never be again," Halchak said. "That's quite intriguing - that you can create a sense of place, and it goes from what it is as a park, a fairly passive place, to one of incredible energy, from a spectator side and an athlete's side."

Halchak, 53, an Olympics design-team leader, makes his living creating that energy.

He has provided urban planning, sports-facility design and operations expertise for eight of the last nine Olympic Games, both summer and winter.

"Michael's a 'rings guy,' " said Tim Larkin, a venue manager for Populous. "He knows the Olympics as well as anybody."

The former Peoria High School distance runner and 1985 University of Arizona graduate helped design on-campus buildings and renovate Hi Corbett Field before working on the 1994 World Cup. Halchak has been involved with 20 years' worth of Super Bowls, two Final Fours and four U.S. Open golf tournaments. He conducted a master-plan study for football stadiums at Cal and Stanford, and constructed the Rose Bowl's architectural plan.

But his passion is the Olympic Games.

"The range of sports, to me, is much more fulfilling, rather than the imposition of a single sport," he said. "The dynamic of multiple sports is pretty interesting.

"It brings together a wide range of people."

He constructed the winning bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"What Michael's become very good at is strategies to win the bid," Larkin said. When you're planning a bid, you say, 'Let's talk through some unique opportunities.

"'You don't need a permanent beach-volleyball court. There's your opportunity to choose some unique locations and hope the city and country buy into it.

"And in the end, the world's going to see your city for what it really is.'"

This year's Games will feature contests at legendary venues such as Wimbledon's Centre Court, but also at unusual locations.

Greenwich Park - the oldest royal park at 579 years - will host both equestrian events and the modern pentathlon.

The temporary grandstand will be lined up symmetrically on the Queen's House, a former royal summer residence.

From the sky, on television, the view will be stunning.

Designs do more than account for vistas, though. They allow for the overlay of security, transportation, media and athlete services on the property.

Halchak - a father of two grown children - hand-draws plans using his color code system, which has since become the International Olympic Committee standard.

Buildings for sponsors are pink, while athlete services are blue. Purple signifies delegations, and two shades of green represent television and print media.

Unlike some of his younger counterparts, he can sketch designs for clients on the spot, without a computer.

"His mind is always working," said his wife, Oona Feddis, who will travel with Halchak for the first week of the Games. "He likes things done in a precise and neat way."

The firm designs venues and their temporary components, then tracks and installs them and operates them during the Games.

"A day in the life of a spectator and an athlete in that city is really going to be a pleasant experience," Halchak said. "You're going to have 100 other things to do other than sport.

"There was not a sense of celebration in Beijing. Not for the spectator. And I went to all 36 venues."

That won't be the case in London.

From beach volleyball near the prime minister to equestrian events on the prime meridian, it's all part of the plan.

"As a city," Halchak said, "it's going to really show how you can have this sense of place for athletics and drama, just about anywhere."

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