The proud designer of Montreal’s extravagant Olympic Park gazed over his aquiline and royally upturned nose and spoke like an indignant pharaoh summoned across time by some dreary court accountant demanding receipts for building Giza’s pyramids.
“We are speaking about works of art,” French architect Roger Taillibert pronounced last week as he appeared before Quebec’s inquiry into the cost of the 1976 Games. But for Judge Albert Malouf, Taillibert’s works were just so much concrete, frozen like fossils in the city’s east end after their exoskeletal organisms had devoured the environment that sustained them: Quebec taxpayers are stuck with a $l-billion bill
for the stadium, Velodrome and other Games’ installations the cost of which was estimated in 1972 at a reasonable $250 million. Taillibert himself was paid fees of $6.8 million after, according to previous witnesses, his refusal to compromise and his tardiness in delivering designs had sent soaring the cost of his still-unfinished symphony in concrete.
The 53-year-old architect and intimate of fellow inflationist Mayor Jean Drapeau was cornered into admitting that he had, for esthetic reasons, refused to shift the location of the Velodrome despite discovery before construction that the supporting bedrock
was flawed by a hollow fissure. Instead, Taillibert had $7-million worth of concrete injected into the rock.
Repeatedly, he sought vindication in history’s catalogue of man-made wonders: to deflect complaints that his designs were too complicated, the architect asked: “Was the cathedral of Chartres too complex?” And to demonstrate his wisdom in choosing concrete over steel for the stadium, Taillibert found justification even closer to his Paris home, noting that 8,000 tons of paint have been needed to protect the Eiffel Tower’s 7,000 tons of iron. Then, to excuse the cost of foundations for the stadium mast, he said: “This will be the first building in history deliberately built on a tilt—the tower of Pisa was an accident.” Elevation of the 552-foot Leaning Tower of Taillibert is to start in June with completion due two years and $65 million later. That will permit installation of the stadium’s retractable roof, which is still stored in boxes in the French village of Port St. Louis du Rhône—after accumulating warehouse charges of $738,000.
There appears little doubt as Judge Malouf ends public hearings this week that his report, due in September, will cite the grandiose designs of Taillibert and Drapeau as principal explanations for the legacy of sports facilities so uneconomical that last year they cost taxpayers $6 million to operate. But Taillibert may be right: the Olympic structures are true monuments whose price Quebeckers appear willing to pay, as Drapeau’s critic-crushing electoral sweep proved last December. For, like the towers of Pisa and Paris, Taillibert’s stadium, with its magnificent mast, will in future be held in awe not for its price but of its grandeur.
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