The cost of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens was an estimated $15 billion. Today, the city is littered with abandoned sports venues and empty parking lots.

British photographer Jamie McGregor Smith spent 10 days recording this fraught built legacy.

“A lot of the inspiration came from my own background photographing sites of significant industrial or social change,” Smith says. “For me, Olympic construction like any large-scale developments should be future-proof and allow for functional adaptability.”

“The most surprising part of the project was the small number of people I encountered whilst photographing the sites,” he says.

After a while, the desolation started to get to him. “I feed off the loneliness and solitude whilst documenting locations like this, it helps your concentration and it’s easier to ‘get your eye in’ so to speak," he says. "[But] at times it was even too much for me, and I’d rush back to my hotel to pick conversation with the evening barman.”

These photographs represent the ultimate cautionary tale.

It’s impossible to glance over these photographs and not wonder if London will suffer the same fate.

London’s organizers took pains to avoid some of the biggest problems that’ve plagued other host cities.

They repurposed existing arenas, built temporary structures where they could, and designed new facilities to transform into smaller buildings after the Games.

But London still has eight new venues it didn’t have before. Let’s hope that years from now, Smith doesn’t have reason to photograph them.

In The Ruins Of Athens 2004, A Glimpse Of London’s Future?

A new photography exhibit at the Print House Gallery in London zeroes in on the apocalyptic landscapes of the 2004 Olympic Games. How do you say “cautionary tale” in Greek?

With the close of the Summer Games Sunday comes the toughest contest of all: the one in which London vies to overcome the curse of the Games themselves. Some experts say that few, if any, Olympic host cities of recent memory reaped long-term economic rewards. Nowhere is that more evident than in Athens, where eight years after the estimated $15 billion Summer Games, abandoned venues and empty parking lots stretch across the city—hunkering monuments to the dark consequences of welcoming the world into your living room.

British photographer Jamie McGregor Smith spent 10 days recording this fraught physical legacy. “A lot of the inspiration came from my own background photographing sites of significant industrial or social change,” Smith tells Co.Design. “For me, Olympic construction like any large-scale developments should be future-proof and allow for functional adaptability.” Obviously, very little of that “adaptability” is on display here. The Athens Olympic Aquatic Centre, Marousi, sits empty and derelict. Patches of weeds sprout up in the sand of the Faliro Olympic Volleyball Centre. The parking-lot asphalt seems to span miles, all of it oddly devoid of oil stains. The desolation verges on the cinematic, and you start to wonder how much of what you’re seeing reflects the venues’ day-to-day lifelessness and how much results from careful editing.

Whatever the answer, Smith didn’t have to work too hard to evoke a sort of post-apocalyptic void. “The most surprising part of the project was the small number of people I encountered whilst photographing the sites,” he says. “I feed off the loneliness and solitude whilst documenting locations like this, it helps your concentration and it’s easier to ‘get your eye in’ so to speak. [But] at times it was even too much for me, and I’d rush back to my hotel to pick conversation with the evening barman.”

It’s impossible to glance over these photographs and not wonder if London is hurtling toward the same fate. Organizers there endeavored to avoid some of the biggest problems that’ve plagued other host cities: They repurposed existing arenas, built several temporary structures, and made it possible to convert new facilities into smaller buildings. Still, London now has eight new venues that didn’t exist before, including the large, controversial main stadium. Here’s hoping Smith doesn’t have reason to photograph it in eight years.

Smith’s photographs will be exhibited at the Print House Gallery September 7 to October 3. Limited-edition prints can be purchased by contacting Smith or the gallery.

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8 Comments

  • Konrap

    The olympic basketball arena was built in 1991 (1996 olympic games bit) not for the 2004 olympic games.......Photo1
    The indoor arena is not 8 years old but 21 years old!!!!
    Few people know that!!!!! LEARN IT

  • Manoj Manduva

    How , can they not think about sustainability. So much waste of material !

  • jonsenc

    so Athens can get a summer olympics (which then turns to shit), but San Francisco can't get a run? (fyi, SF got beat out by London 2012).

  • Stan

    "THAT FIRE" is right on point! that's the first thing that crossed my mind after seeing the photos... i wanna skate these!

  • Néstor Iván Parra Martínez

    If that Olympics was in Colombia, that places would be now really ruines! hehe It don't look that was 8 years ago!!

  • Flipify Media

    This will not happen in London. We've learnt a lot of lessons from the 'Millenium Dome' mistake in the early... you guessed it... 2000s. The dome is now known as the O2 Arena, named after a leading UK mobile network provider (part of Telefonica) and is well recognised as one of the leading music and entertainment venues in the UK. The same, I am sure, will apply to all London 2012 facilities - although some might have other uses than sport.