Olympic Gold for Town Planning and Architecture

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Here at The Design Partnership we like to reduce our impact on the environment so today we’re recycling an old blog post. Did you know that between 1912 and 1948, architects and town planners were competitors in the modern Olympic Games?

The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, had always intended for the event to showcase both the achievements of the body and the mind. “He was raised and educated classically, and he was particularly impressed with the idea of what it meant to be a true Olympian—someone who was not only athletic, but skilled in music and literature,” says Richard Stanton, author of The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions.

Medals were awarded by juries for original, previously unpublished works of art inspired by sport. There were five categories in the art competitions, which each had various subcategories in different years:

  • Architecture (later divided into Architecture and Town Planning categories)
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Painting
  • Sculpture

The quality of entries was hugely variable; not all medals were awarded for every category. Juries might award a silver but no gold, or award no prizes at all. Artists were allowed to sell their works at the end of the Olympics, which caused some controversy due to the amateur nature of the games. The artistic events were abandoned in 1954 because artists were considered to be professionals – the modern Olympics require competitors to be amateurs. Nowadays, arts form the basis of the non-competitive Cultural Olympiad – most recently this took the form of a four-year arts programme beginning in 2008 and culminating in the London 2012 Festival.

The town planning category was introduced in 1928. The architecture and town planning awards were predominantly awarded for sport stadiums and parks. In 1928 Jan Wils won the gold medal for his Olympic stadium designed for the 1928 Amsterdam Games. In 1936, Werner March won the gold Town Planning medal for his design of the Berlin Olympiastadion (below).

Berlin Olympiastadion
Werner March’s Berlin Olympiastadion (1936) – Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_March


The oldest Olympic medallist in history is John Copley, who was 73 when he won a silver medal in the 1948 engravings and etchings category.

Two people have won Olympic medals for both art and sport: Walter Winans (United States) and Alfréd Hajós (Hungary). Winans won gold (1908) and silver (1912) shooting medals and a gold (1912) sculpture medal. Hajós won two gold medals for swimming in 1896 and a silver medal for architecture in 1924.