With its new La Défense Arena, Paris sets the benchmark for sustainability

Paris La Defense Arena will be the Olympic swimming venue in 2024 (Paris La Defense Arena)
Paris La Defense Arena will be the Olympic swimming venue in 2024 (Paris La Defense Arena)

Paris La Défense Arena is not your typical Olympic and Paralympic swimming venue. For one thing, there is currently no water. Moreover, until recently, the area where the pool must go was plastered with dozens of trucks and sparkly sequins, dismantling the set of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, whose European leg kicked off in Paris earlier this month.

Yet within hours, both the hardware and glitter had gone. Thanks to its modular and multi-purpose structure, the arena - which first opened its doors in 2017 and was designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc - will soon be host to an Olympic-sized swimming pool and warm-up areas, as if Taylor (or the rugby pitch belonging to Racing 92, its resident club) never existed.

It is difficult to describe the arena’s scale but let me try. It is Europe’s largest indoor venue, capable of hosting up to 45,000 people. It is home to the world’s largest interactive giant screen, with 1,400 square metres worth of display area, equivalent to seven tennis courts. Its roof can handle 250 tonnes of weight.

The history of the Olympic Games has all too often been one of cost overruns and white elephants. Paris 2024 wants to change all that - an impressive 95 per cent of its Olympic venues are existing or temporary, which is vital for an event with sustainability at its heart.

In this way, Paris La Défense Arena is a worthy venue which has incorporated energy efficiency and sustainability into its development from the very beginning. Rather than traditional (and energy-intensive) heating and air conditioning systems, the facility relies upon high-performance thermal and acoustic insulation, which can ensure uniform temperatures regardless of outdoor weather conditions.

In addition, any collected rainwater funnels into an 800m³ storage tank located beneath the underground car park. This water provides 100 per cent of the lawn irrigation needs. Meanwhile, solar panels on the roof are used to power the adjoining brewery.

The arena’s waste management policy is also impressive. Since May 2022, it has established its own on-site waste sorting centre. By 2025, it aims for an 80 per cent recycling rate and 40 per cent energy reduction.

If it’s good enough for Taylor and around 180,000 Swifties, it should work for the Olympics and Paralympics.