A competition to design a sustainable Olympic Village for the future

The next Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo in 2020. © iStock

The next Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo in 2020. © iStock

On 3–4 May, EPFL will host a competition where students from universities around the world will have 24 hours to design an innovative and environmentally friendly Olympic Village drawing on various academic disciplines. This event is being held in partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The premise is simple: on 3–4 May, six teams of eight students will have 24 hours to come up with “Tomorrow’s Sustainable Olympic Village.” The villiages must meet several criteria: the design must be a good fit for the city in question, be based on solid reasoning, be financially and operationally feasible, and embody all the disciplines involved.

This competition is the brainchild of three EPFL students who are passionate about sports and Olympism, the philosophy behind the Olympic Games. The students are all competitive athletes as well: Clémence Thimonier plays tennis, and Thaïs Lindemann and François-Xavier del Valle play rugby. “It all started in 2017 after we took part in a hackathon-style competition on the restaurant industry in 2030, put together by the Swiss Hospitality Management School in Lausanne,” says François-Xavier, who is studying architecture. “Clémence and I thought it was a great exercise in teamwork, and we realized that the hackathon format, with its 24-hour limit, promotes a cross-disciplinary mindset – it forces you to look past your misconceptions about other fields of study.”

Creation of the CIEL Association

That’s when Thaïs – who’s studying life sciences – entered the picture. The restaurant industry competition was not repeated, and so the friends brainstormed their own Olympism-based version. Together they created the Concours Interdisciplinaire Etudiant de Lausanne (CIEL), a student club that now has some 30 members. “The Olympic Games were the obvious choice as the theme for our event. At the time, Sion was still in the running to host the Games, and Lausanne, which is the Olympic Capital and home of the IOC headquarters, will be the site of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games,” says Clémence. “The idea of designing a sustainable Olympic Village – especially one that’s a perfect fit for the city it represents – seemed like a great topic to challenge forward-thinking students.”

The student teams will compete for an Audience Award and a Jury Award. The jury will be composed of the organizers of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and the IOC's head of sustainability. A Committee Award will go to three people whose drive and ability to grease the wheels of teamwork were instrumental to their teams’ projects.

Collaboration first
The overarching focus of the competition is not on winning but rather on encouraging people from different academic backgrounds to work together towards a shared goal. The teams’ final projects must therefore reflect each of the disciplines involved: architecture, hospitality, civil engineering, urban planning, communications and sociology. The teams chosen to compete are from EPFL, the University of Geneva, the American University of Beirut, Politecnico di Torino, the Swiss Hospitality Management School in Lausanne (EHL) and the School of Arts and Communication (Eracom) in Lausanne.

“At the IOC, we believe in the power of education, innovation and youth,” says Michelle Lemaitre, the head of sustainability at the IOC and a member of the jury. “The Tomorrow’s Sustainable Olympic Village project will certainly help us unleash this power. We look forward to the results of this competition and are sure they will contribute to our goal of making future Olympic Games more flexible, more affordable and more sustainable.” In addition to representing an opportunity to partner with the IOC, the competition will also help commemorate EPFL’s 50th anniversary. The initiative has received both internal and external supports, such as from the Yunus Sports Hub and the Solar Impulse Foundation.

The event will get under way at 1pm on 3 May with a series of talks on Olympism and sustainable development in the Rolex Learning Center. Participating teams will then receive professional coaching before the 24-hour hackathon kicks off – and the clock starts running – at around 5pm. Each university will be represented by a professor or researcher. On Saturday, 4 May, the Rolex Forum will open its doors to the public at 4pm. The teams will begin pitching their projects at 5:45pm, and the awards ceremony will start at 8:30pm. This will be a zero waste event.

The projects will be on display on 28–29 May at EPFL’s SwissTech Convention Center during The Spot – an event put on by the ThinkSport network, based in Lausanne. They will be shown again on 5 June at Sport Future, an event run by the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP), in the presence of Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC.