Paris Olympics: Forget Steel, for 2024 the Story Is Wood!

As organisers enter the final sprint, iconic architecture is out, and sustainable climate positive design is in!

Mon 11 Mar 24


With just 180 days before the 2024 Olympic Games begins, Paris organisers are flat out to complete venues behind schedule – with the mass timber Olympic and Paralympic Athletes Village finally inaugurated last week!

To celebrate the games – 100 years since the 1924 games, the last time Paris hosted the Olympics, organisers have unveiled the official Olympic and Paralympic posters, which it says pay tribute to the “Surrealist Manifesto” written and published by Andre Breton.

Designed by Parisian artist Ugo Gattoni, they complement each other to form a double poster, illustrating the main historical monuments in Paris, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Grand Palais.

The Champs de Mars Arena which was constructed using a massive glue laminated timber super structure (Image Credit: Eric Asselin via Twitter)
The Champs de Mars Arena was constructed using a massive glue-laminated timber superstructure (Image Credit: Eric Asselin via Twitter)

They also show the sports venues and facilities for the Olympic and Paralympic Games: the Stade de France, the River Seine and the Pont Alexandre III, and the sea, about Marseille and the Teahupoo surfing site in Tahiti.

“This represents some 2,000 hours of work,” according to Mr Gattoni, who provided an insight into the artist methodology behind both posters.

Paris is the first games to be delivered in line with the IOC’s “greener agenda”, with Etienne Thobois, the Paris 2024 CEO, confirming that all bar two of the 35 venues are already built and being upcycled for the games.

And because of this, it won’t, organisers insist, cost the earth. 

Paris is using its world-famous landmarks as venues to lessen its carbon footprint—footage courtesy of @TODAY.

In a significant shift, 95% of the Paris venues will be existing or temporary, with only the athletes’ village and aquatics centre constructed from scratch – a model now being promoted for all future games, including Brisbane 2032, where there is a major push to retrofit venues from the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

The 2024 Olympic Venues. (Photo Credit: Paris Olympics 2024 official website.)

That means the Games’ planned budget of €4.5 billion remains considerably less than that of London, Rio or Tokyo – with no further cost blowouts.

According to Nicolas Ferrand, CEO of Solideo – who is in charge of delivering the venues and infrastructure, more than 87% of the work has been completed, slightly behind the 90% planned in the original schedule.

He said delays in work across all venues can be attributed to the following:

  • Material delays at the Grand Palais 
  • Three buildings in the Olympic Village, which were subject to a dispute over visas last year, and
  • Minor defects at the Colombes swimming pool opened for synchronised swimming practice in December.
Wood Encouragement Policies and the Paris Games

Under French law, all new public buildings must use timber as their primary building material.

The Aquatics Centre and Athletes Village are the only venues required to meet this regulation for the Games; however, several venues are undergoing major timber makeovers.

A render of the all-timber Aquatics Centre – one of two new structures for the games. (Image credit: Proloog).
The Athletes Village

French studio PETITDIDIERPRIOUX designed the village, which combines hybrid timber and steel to reduce carbon in its construction. This template is now being utilised in the construction of the Milan and Brisbane Villages.

A rendering of the athletes’ village being built north of central Paris. All buildings under eight stories are made of wood and glass, and design features encourage airflow for passive cooling in the summer.(Photo Credit: Paris 2024)

The village, located north of Paris, on a 52-hectare site straddling the towns of Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis and L’Ile-Saint-Denis, has been constructed on a cluster of former industrial wastelands with the centrepiece being the Cité du Cinéma.

An aerial image of the Athletes’ Village in Paris. (Photo Credit: Solideo via Dronepress.)

It is now the anchor point of a new 330,000 square meter mixed-used development, which, according to Dominique Perrault, the operation’s chief urban planner and architect of the François-Mitterrand Library in Paris, “is arranged perpendicular to the Seine, as large boats moored at the quayside.”

The buildings rely on wood, integrating a regular structural framework for adaptability and reliability – with all towers being constructed from mass timber for the first 8 floors before being supported by steel for upper levels.

During the Games, 14,000 people are expected to stay at the Village; however, after both events, room partitions will be dismantled, bathroom blocks will be removed, paintwork will be redone, and parquet flooring will be laid.

This is part of the transition into its ‘Legacy Phase,’ with the precinct being “repurposed for 6,000 social houses in Saint-Denis, one of the poorer parts of the city,” according to Thobois.

The massive athlete’s village towers will accommodate 14,000 athletes throughout the games. The village uses a low-carbon hybrid construction system, incorporating mass timber and green steel. (Photo Credit: IOC)
The Paris Aquatic Centre 

Known as the main architectural icon for the games, the Ateliers 2/3/4/ and VenhoevenCS were designed and prefabricated several hundreds of miles away from Paris before being assembled piece by piece “like Lego.” 

According to Frank Mathis, the president of Mathis, the company manufacturing the timber used in the Centre, the process is so streamlined and effective that the mill has been preparing “enough components to build a tennis court-sized part of the structure every day.”

Machining of straight wood components of the Aquatics Center at Mathis in Alsace.(Photo Credit: Mathis)

The venue’s main hall, which will be instrumental in hosting artistic swimming, water polo, and diving, is topped by a 5,000-square-metre glue-laminated timber roof—supplied by Mathis—that spans 89 metres but is only 50 centimetres in diameter.

The curved roof is raised at the sides to accommodate the stands while dipping in the middle to reduce the volume of the space, making it more efficient to heat.

“The roof, stretched with wooden beams, magnifies the space thanks to its dynamic curves that make it both intimate and airy,” according to a statement by designers, who added that the design is “adapted to open heights and optimal visibility from the stands, this sculpted membrane seems to move and undulate like a living organism.”

Last year, FRANCE 24 provided a current construction update for the Aquatic Centre. Footage courtesy of @France24_en

All visible structural elements inside the Centre are made from timber, supporting loads of up to 800 tonnes. “By using wood for this monumental structure, the proposal doubles the required minimum percentage of bio-sourced materials,” meeting the organising committees’ sustainability requirements,” according to Laurie Mériaud, lead architect who discussed the design in Wood Central’s special feature.

A render of the Paris Olympic Aquatic Centre Wood Central 1 1
A render of the Paris Olympic Aquatic Centre. (Photo Credit: Ateliers 2/3/4/ and VenhoevenCS)

 “We wanted to use the least amount of material possible, and wood means we don’t have to use drywall or other fixes used in construction to hide structural elements.

That can give wooden buildings an extra sensual charm, according to Cécilia Gross, partner at VenhoevenCS. “We don’t have to paint it,” she says. “It has warmth, it has colour, and it has a scent. You can smell it when you’re in the pool.”

The new facility is located in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. (Photo Credit: Métropole du Grand Paris)
The new facility is located in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. (Photo Credit: Métropole du Grand Paris)

The roof is also topped with solar panels, making it France’s most significant urban photovoltaic farm.

The Champs de Mars Arena.

The Champs de Mars Arena was constructed in 2021 to host art, fashion, and sporting events while the Grand Palais was under construction – in October, Wood Central reported that the venue was constructed in just nine months, heavily leaning on prefab and modular construction to deliver the venue to budget.

Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte designed the arena “to aesthetically reflect the Grand Palais while showcasing sustainable design and materials.”

In the summer 2024, the Grand Palais Éphémère will host the judo and wrestling competitions of the Paris Olympics. The building can accommodate 9000 people and will be dismantled, and its components will be reused in new buildings at the end of the four years of operation. (Photo Credit: Wiki Commons)
A stunning example of sustainable design, the Grand Palais Éphémère showcases the versatility and strength of timber as a building material. (Photo Credit: WikiCommons).

The venue will host the wrestling and judo, which comprises a massive glue-laminated timber superstructure incorporating 1500 cubic metres of PEFC-certified European spruce, with the venue’s wooden structure “highly versatile, and quick to assemble, making it a cost-effective and practical solution for temporary structures.”

The use of glued laminated timber allowed for a quick and efficient construction process while also minimizing the building’s environmental impact.
The Georges-Vallerey Pool

One hundred years after the 1924 Paris Olympics, the Georges-Vallery pool is one of the venues undergoing renovations. It was the first Olympic pool with a 50-meter pool, which was defined by separating the pool into several lines to create lanes. However, due to its limited seating capacity, the pool will not host competitive swimming events at the upcoming games. 

Instead, it will serve as a training site – assisting Olympians in preparing for the games.

Wood Central understands that the work on the pool will be finalised later this month with the timber from the old framework used to make furniture and signage, which will be placed over the renovated pool.

Wood Central understands that the village will be finalised later this year.

Questions over corruption and misuse of public money.

Before then, though, questions are being asked of the organisers after French police raided the Paris 2024 headquarters last month.

 It was part of two preliminary corruption investigations, looking into allegations of favouritism and misuse of public money in the attribution of construction contracts dating back to 2017 and 2022.

“We are probably the most watched and controlled organisation in France right now with the various entities,” he says. 

“All the safeguards and watchdogs are in place to ensure these Games run smoothly and are ethical.”

Civil Unrest, Terrorism and Infighting.

The police probe is just one of the organisers’ many concerns. 

Brigitte Henriques, the president of France’s National Olympic Committee, resigned in May amid rumours of bitter internal conflict. 

Concerns about disturbances or strikes at the Games have also grown due to the recent turmoil in France. 

Thobois, however, is upbeat, “we have a very vibrant democracy,” he says. 

“But the Olympics is special. We also have a very close relationship with the unions, they sit on our board, and the discussion is constructive.”

In the face of terrorism, 30,000 police personnel will be mobilised, and Thobois says that organisers are taking every precaution to guarantee a secure Games.

The organisers assert that the Games will also leave behind “intangible” legacies, such as working with schools to encourage students to engage in 60 minutes of physical exercise daily to combat obesity, developing jogging and cycling routes around cities, or including disability considerations into their procurement strategy.

Time will tell. However, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, believes Paris is on course to be a huge success.

“After the necessary austerity of the Tokyo Games, there is high anticipation of a return to a full global celebration of the Games and the athletes in Paris,” says the man who knows a thing or two about such matters, having been in charge of London 2012.

The Aquatics Centre will be converted into an all-purpose community centre following the games. (Image credit: Prolong)

For now, Thobois insists nothing is keeping him awake at night. “I don’t sleep a lot, but I sleep very well,” he tells the Guardian. 

“There are problems every day, but there is also an ability to solve them day after day, and that gives us confidence.”

He pauses and smiles. 

“A project of that magnitude is complicated and challenging. But we are conscious that this thing is a bit special. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience as an individual and once in a century as a country. And so we’re very excited. Very excited indeed.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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