Roger Taillibert, the controversial French architect who designed Montreal’s spectacular but costly Olympic Stadium and Velodrome, has died in Paris. He was 93.
Mr. Taillibert had recently been discharged from hospital after suffering a fall. He died in his sleep at home Thursday, said his long-time friend, filmmaker Alain Stanké, who had been in touch with Mr. Taillibert’s daughter, Sophie.
Mr. Stanké had been preparing a documentary about Mr. Taillibert titled Le dieu des stades, an allusion to the famous sports venues he designed, from the Parc des Princes in Paris to the ill-fated installations for Montreal’s 1976 Summer Olympics.
“What he did in Montreal was a revelation but he faced a lot of difficulties,” Mr. Stanké said.
Mr. Taillibert and then-Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau were partly blamed for financial mismanagement. A public inquiry documented that Mr. Drapeau hired Mr. Taillibert without a contract and the costs piled up as the innovative design – based on giant custom-made concrete elements – was delayed by poor workmanship and labour strife.
The stadium’s mast and retractable roof were not finished in time for the opening ceremony and it wasn’t until three decades after the 1976 Games that Quebec taxpayers finished paying off the $1.5-billion Olympic debt.
But the stadium, with its biomorphic lines, became a Montreal landmark and Mr. Taillibert staunchly maintained that his concept was sound but poorly executed.
Mr. Taillibert was born in 1926 in Châtres-sur-Cher in a central French region known for the Renaissance castles that dot the valley of the Loire river.
His father, Gaston, was a cabinet-maker who specialized in restoring vintage furniture in the Loire châteaux, giving young Roger his first glimpse into the world of design and architecture.
Mr. Stanké said his friend mentioned that another major influence in his life came after his father took him to Paris and he saw the Eiffel Tower. “He was amazed by it.”
Later, amid the post-Olympic discord, Mr. Taillibert would make the parallel between the poor reaction Gustave Eiffel received in the 1880s and the global acceptance the tower eventually received.
One of the first projects Mr. Taillibert tackled after studying architecture at the École des Beaux Arts was a swimming pool inaugurated in 1966 in the Normandy seaside resort of Deauville. He used thin concrete shells, a technique that would reappear in Montreal in the Velodrome, the indoor cycling track that he created next to the Olympic stadium.
For another swimming pool, on Rue Carnot in Paris, he used a retractable fabric roof, a precursor for his design for the stadium roof in Montreal.
In 1972, he successfully helmed the overhaul of the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, which paved the way for his work in Montreal, where he proposed a structure with a 21-storey leaning tower.
Since he was not licensed in Quebec, he was not formally in charge of the project but rather considered a consulting architect. This, he explained, was why he “was never given the mission of estimating costs.”
He remained unapologetic after the Games. When he was named to France’s Académie des Beaux Arts, Mr. Taillibert told a reporter he had no regrets. “All exceptional things had to face hurdles,” he said.
Mr. Stanké said Mr. Taillibert was a talented, complex man who could be bashful at times yet brash and undiplomatic at other moments.
“He was not very tactful. He was cut square and that didn’t help him. The public prefers people with smoother tongue.”
Despite the rancour, Mr. Taillibert still kept ties with Quebec. He owned a property in the town of Saint-Sauveur, in cottage country north of Montreal, where he dedicated himself to his other passion, painting. In recent years, he gave interviews to criticize changes made to his original concept as local governments repaired and overhauled the stadium, and transformed the Velodrome.
And more recently, his reputation was gradually being reassessed in Quebec. A 2016 conference of francophone scholars featured a seminar arguing that the stadium was a masterpiece. Mr. Taillibert’s drawings were featured in an art exhibition this summer.
Despite their contentious genesis, the Olympic Stadium and its tower have become icons of the city of Montreal, said a 2017 study by the Quebec chapter of Docomomo, a non-profit dedicated to documenting and preserving modern architecture.
“The heritage value of these structures, or rather their historical and cultural significance … point to many technical, athletic and organizational achievements, to many moments of glory and common joys,” the study said.
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