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The end of the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang was also the end for its 35,000-seat stadium. The open arena in South Korea will be dismantled this month, and partially reconfigured as a 5,000- to 10,000-seat venue, which will be more useful and manageable for the mountain community of some 43,000 people.

A pop-up stadium was used for the Winter Games at Albertville, France, in 1992, and could be seen again, if Boston is successful with a bid for the 2024 Summer Games that may include a temporary arena. In 2010, the BC Lions moved their football games to Empire Field, a temporary arena with seats for 27,528, playing more than a season there while the team's usual home at BC Place was being renovated.

On a smaller but more intensive scale, Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil opened a stadium show in southern China in January, in a building designed to be trucked away in pieces after the 120th performance ends on May 1. Toruk, a lavish multimedia spectacle based on the James Cameron film Avatar, premiered two years ago at Montreal's Bell Centre.

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Sanya, a resort city on the southern shore of China's Hainan Island, didn't have a building that could handle the show, physically or technically. Cirque, which did a couple of productions in Europe in rented pop-ups last summer, bought a portable modular stadium from Spantech, a European company that specializes in non-permanent buildings.

Cirque's portable stadium for Toruk is about the size of a football field, though it can be expanded or made smaller at will. It seats 3,500, as compared to the 6,000 that could be fit in at Bell Centre, or the 2,500 that Cirque can accommodate in the peaked tents it uses for smaller, less technically demanding shows. Etienne Allard, Cirque's director of infrastructure, says that 3,500 is actually an optimal crowd size for Toruk, and makes for a more intimate experience. That impression is further enhanced, he says, by draping curtains around the curved stands, creating a concert-bowl shape within the shed-like, rectangular building.

The pop-up arena took two weeks to set up, and though it's warm in Sanya right now, the aluminum-clad arena is insulated for cold weather and can handle a snow load. "We could set it up in Montreal in winter," Mr. Allard says.

All this pop-up talk has a bitter resonance in Montreal, where a third roof for the insanely expensive, all-too-permanent Olympic Stadium was recently approved by the provincial government, at a cost that could reach $300-million. The existing soft roof has torn thousands of times and is not rated safe with a snow load of more than three centimetres.

We can only imagine what other civic projects might have been possible if Montreal had built a pop-up stadium in 1976. Much of the city's staggering $1.2-billion Olympic debt was directly attributable to the existing stadium, which has no anchor tenants.

The debt wasn't retired until 2006, and was apparently a factor in the failure of a well-detailed 1997 plan to raise a new baseball stadium downtown for the Montreal Expos. Then-premier Lucien Bouchard was apparently not interested in committing funds to a new sports palace while the old one was still being paid off. The project died, and the Expos left town.

Montreal has since become adept at using temporary infrastructure, albeit on a much smaller scale. Summer is a great time for pop-up experiments, including haltes piétonnes – pedestrian stops – made from converting shipping containers into patio-like spaces that are then plopped onto street parking spots. A patio culturel in the city's east end converted part of a street into a small park, equipped with large planters, sandboxes and Adirondack chairs.

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The city's best-known civic building project was almost entirely a pop-up adventure. Expo 67 was built according to the rules of the Bureau international des expositions, which required the fair's structures to be dismantled or repurposed soon after closing day.

The pop-up model may have many urban applications, and not just in Montreal. Toronto has had a long and often nonsensical fixation on expensive subway extensions along dubious routes. The city might be better off focusing on a well-known, well-tried form of transportation infrastructure that can be changed, expanded or rerouted at any time. I'm talking about high-occupancy buses, running in sufficient numbers along exclusive bus lanes.

That solution would be far cheaper and more flexible than subway lines, and could start working sooner. As Olympic organizers at Pyeongchang realized, it's far better to plan for actual needs than to get hung up on the notion that something permanent is always better.

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