London 2012 Olympic Stadium
Courtesy Populous London 2012 Olympic Stadium

Washington, D.C., mayor Vincent Gray says that there's no way the nation's capital alone could handle hosting the Olympic Games. After all, a previous effort to bring the 2012 Olympics to D.C. failed, putting the rings out of reach for at least a decade. Plus, D.C. would need help from other cities, right? But Dan Knise, past president and CEO of the local Olympics-nominating body the Washington-Baltimore 2012 Regional Coalition, told The Daily Record of Baltimore in July that he may give Washington another shot and vie for the 2024 games.

Gray is bearish on the prospect of a 2024 Washington Olympics: He thinks it can't be held in the city alone. Surely, Gray says, such an effort would need to rope in the partipation of what Washingtonians call Greater Washington: Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland, and well beyond. "I think you'd have to go as far away as Philadelphia," the mayor told Washington-area radio station WTOP. "I think you'd have to go as far south as Richmond to do this effectively." (And in fact, Knise would also see the Olympics spread across the Mid-Atlantic region.)

Beyond the usual doubts over the costs, transportation, and politics, Gray's central concern is that all the built architecture goes to waste after the games. Doubts about D.C. corruption and WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority) notwithstanding, Gray's concern about stadium architecture falls flat after what we're seeing in London this summer. In fact, bringing portable and temporary stadiums to D.C. could be a boon to the city's finances and infrastructure.

Jeff Keas, Populous principal, and project lead of the 2012 Olympics, says that one of the reasons for building within London's existing infrastructure and city grid was to advertise the city for potential tourists. "One of the reasons a city bids for games is for tourism for years, if not decades, afterwards. That happened in Barcelona, Athens, and Beijing," he says. It's hard to see how a city could go wrong by having 9.2 million captive TV audience members for over two weeks. This year, NBC has constantly cut to shots of the temporary and permanent Olympics structures on the London skyline in between game coverage and athlete interviews. I confess: Even though I was just in England in March, I find myself subject to the propaganda and wanting to go back soon and spend my tourist myself.

Infrastructure-wise, the Metro could benefit from the repairs and updates necessary for a worldwide event. Washingtonians complain about the annual summer influx of tourists that crowd the subway, but daily commuters could probably all agree to withstand unprecedented tourist levels if they get a better Metro out of the deal. And the region's electric service provider, Pepco, has recently come under attack after a summer storm caused a week-long blackout—its infrastructure would also have to be updated to prevent such outages in the middle of Olympics broadcasting, and would help guard against the same outages for residents.

But then there's the waste. Gray says that he went to Beijing for the Olympics in 2008 and saw all of the magnificent architectural works, but knows that they are falling into disrepair now, WTOP reported. "The stadia that are build [sic], the indoor arenas, the pool and all of those and then what happens to them in the aftermath," Gray said.

His criticism about Beijing is warranted. Herzog & de Meuron's Bird's Nest has hardly been used since 2008, and rumors swirl about it falling into disrepair: the Beijing Guo'an soccer team draws some 10,000 fans to its matches—in a stadium designed for more than 90,000. PTW Architect's National Aquatics Center—or Watercube—has only been partially converted for use. Those stadiums are only two examples of valuable, underused pieces of real estate. But the structures for Beijing, in all fairness, were practically designed to fail. As ARCHITECT's own Kriston Capps wrote, the Beijing Olympics was "a way for China to demonstrate before the largest possible audience its progress as a culture and an economy."