Olympic House: The Most Sustainable Building in the World!
Updated: Aug 14
From its use of solar panels and rainwater collection, to its support of alternative transportation methods and promoting equity through sport, Olympic House serves as a beacon of sustainability and hope!
Nestled on the banks of Lac Leman, also known as Lake Geneva, sits the global headquarters for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Olympic House. This remarkable building is a true example of sustainable innovation in Lausanne, Switzerland, and is setting a precedent for both local and international organisations alike. In March of 2022, we had the opportunity to be invited inside and shown around to see what makes this place truly remarkable.
In June of 2019, the IOC officially opened Olympic House to bring together its over 500 employees who were previously spread out across four different locations in Lausanne. The building was collaboratively designed by Lausanne-based IttenBrechbühl and Danish architecture firm 3XN with the goal of creating a positive impact on the world, while reflecting the IOC's mission to make the world a better place through sport.
The Olympic Movement
The Olympic Games is an event that brings together people, languages, cultures, and incredible skills from all over the world. They were of course started in ancient Greece, but the modern Olympic Games as we know them today were not revived until 1894 by Pierre de Coubertin in Paris, with its first official headquarters established in peaceful Lausanne amid war-torn Europe in 1915.
The incredible surroundings–from mountains, to forests, to plains and the lake–Olympic House’s placement in Lausanne offered “every conceivable sporting possibility,” de Coubertin said. The IOC moved again a few decades later, in 1968, to Chateau de Vidy, still sitting next door to Olympic House, and acting as a beautiful reminder of just how far the Movement has come.
The Olympic Movement is so much more than just the Olympic Games. It is all of the people who take action under the Olympic values striving to make the world a better place through sport. At Olympic House, everything from human interactions, to the building itself is designed with its four main focuses in mind: integration with nature, unity, peace, and athletes.
As the IOC Team outgrew Chateau de Vidy, a new headquarters was built and opened in 1986. This served as the Olympic Headquarters for several decades, until construction began on the current Olympic House in May of 2016. To ensure that the construction of the new HQ created as little waste as possible, over 95% of the former headquarters was recycled, with some of that being repurposed in today’s Olympic House. Concrete, for example, was crushed on-site, and was reused in the foundations of the new building. The architects also sourced all new elements locally, from designers to materials to the people on-site, helping to reduce carbon emissions and support the local economy.
The five-story building is covered in angled glass to represent the flowing energy of an athlete and is surrounded by over 2,500 square metres of greenery! This design not only blends in with the natural setting of the Louis Bourget Public Park below, but also allows for plentiful natural light and better air quality.
The roof of Olympic House is adorned with over 1,000 square metres of solar panels forming the shape of a dove, an emblem of hope. This provides much of the energy the building requires for lighting, electricity, and more.
In addition to its reliance on solar power, Olympic House utilises water from Lake Geneva to cool and heat the building, and collects rainwater on site for use in irrigation and toilets. It also holds LEED v4 Platinum certification (the highest score ever given!), among other awards, making it one of the most sustainable buildings in the world!
Inside Olympic House
The interior of the Olympic House is just as impressive as the exterior, too. The most noticeable feature, visible when you first walk in, is the incredible Unity Staircase linking the five floors of the building, as well as the various teams that reside on each floor. This example of active architecture not only echoes the five Olympic rings, but is also designed to encourage interaction and movement. At the base of the staircase is an olive tree surrounded by the colours represented on the Olympic rings too, paying homage to the Olympics’ Greek roots.
The cafeteria offers both meals made in-house by local chefs using locally grown food, as well as provides employees with organic produce available to be purchased and taken home with them at the end of the day. Offices and meeting rooms are surrounded by glass walls to create a sense of openness and transparency, and outer balconies on the top floors offer views of Lake Geneva where employees can eat lunch or just step out for a breath of fresh air. All flooring, insulation, paint, and furniture was specially selected to be non-toxic, providing employees with the best possible work conditions.
Walking the Talk
In this Olympic Capital, the IOC believes in “walking the talk”, and works to actively contribute to sustainability and the local community in a number of ways; first and foremost, by ensuring that employees are motivated to live sustainably outside of the office, too.
Employees are encouraged to use alternative methods of transport in their everyday commutes. They are provided a subsidy if they choose to ride their bikes instead of driving, and are provided both ample bike storage and e-bike charging areas within the building. Similarly, the IOC worked with the City of Lausanne to create bus line 24, connecting multiple Olympic-related sites throughout the city, and providing employees a direct route to work. With these options available, if employees still choose to drive, they must pay a fee to have their car on-site.
Sometimes, high-ranking officials need to be transported around the city. To do this, the IOC has its own fleet of hydrogen powered cars and a neighbouring fuelling station, in partnership with Toyota. The hydrogen is produced using renewable energy sources like hydropower, and has inspired development of the local hydrogen sector.
To further benefit the local community, in association with the Lausanne Cantonale Art School (ECAL), the IOC has developed a new tourist attraction known as a Point of Interest, set to become a tourist attraction and is the starting point for visitors to venture down along Lake Geneva toward the endpoint Olympic Museum. Similarly, a brand new children’s playground has been constructed within Parc-Louis-Bourget, in front of Olympic House, for the public to enjoy.
For each Olympic Games, the IOC also provides the framework and standards of sustainability for host countries and committees, including mass efforts to reduce waste and conserve resources, while still celebrating each country’s individual culture(s). This was seen in the recycling of old electronics to make the medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, and can be seen in the upcoming Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games, where the organisers are using existing stadiums and arenas for nearly every sport.
The only exception to this is the aquatic centre being built in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. After the Games, the centre is going to be repurposed as a community pool and centre for all ages. Although this may not sound important, the construction of stadiums, athlete’s villages, and media buildings require a massive amount of resources, energy, manpower, and land. By using venues that already exist, the carbon footprint of the Paris Games can be substantially reduced.
Olympic House is a true beacon of sustainability and a model for other organisations. Its stunning design, innovative sustainability features, and commitment to supporting the local community make it a shining example of the IOC's efforts to make the world a better place through sport. If you find yourself in Lausanne, Switzerland, take a walk around the Louis Bourget Public Park and admire the Olympic House from the outside. Though you won't be able to go inside without prior invitation, seeing the building from the outside is a testament to the IOC's impact on the world!