16 years ago, BC Place Stadium's inflatable roof tore open and collapsed (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Jan 7 2023, 3:17 am

The “marshmallow in bondage” in the downtown Vancouver skyline deflated one final time just three months after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games for BC Place Stadium’s massive renovation project, including the installation of a new cable-supported retractable roof.

But prior to its demise, 16 years ago, on January 5, 2007, BC Place’s air-supported roof incurred an unplanned deflation — the first since the stadium’s completion in 1983 — when accumulating snow cascaded down the air-supported Teflon fibreglass roof, and caused a large tear where the roof meets the concrete rim. Stadium maintenance crews performed a controlled roof deflation to reduce the potential for greater damage.

Needless to say, this was a particularly alarming incident for organizers of the Olympics, stadium operator Pavco, and government officials: the incident happened just three years before the stadium was set to take centre stage in the world as the venue for the 2010 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies and the nightly victory ceremonies.

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The original air-supported roof of BC Place Stadium. (Shutterstock)

Up until this point in the planning of the 2010 Games, extremely little attention was given to the readiness and state of BC Place, despite the age and condition of the stadium, and its forthcoming high-profile use.

Six months after the deflation, the roof received a temporary repair, and was reinflated.

Realizing the importance of BC Place for the 2010 Games and the need to reinvest in the venue regardless of the Olympics, the provincial government also immediately began to assemble plans to perform an extensive renovation of the stadium, including a new retractable roof. But with a tight timeline before the Olympics, it was later decided that the work would have to be split into two phases, with an initial small phase of some of the interior upgrades performed in time for the Games, and the remaining phase of extensive interior work and the new roof built after the Games.

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Artistic rendering of BC Place Stadium under the scenario of all renovations, including the new retractable roof, completed in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Government of BC)

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Setup work underway in late 2009/early 2010 for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Opening, Closing, and Medal Ceremonies held at BC Place Stadium. (David Atkins Enterprises)

Closing Ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at BC Place Stadium. (s.yume/Flickr)

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Fireworks erupt from BC Place Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. (mediamon/YouTube)

These post-2010 improvements have turned BC Place into Canada’s flagship stadium, which is evident with the venue’s hosting of the country’s most high-profile sporting events over the past decade, including the annual stop for World Rugby’s Canada Sevens, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the future hosting role for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

BC Place reopened in September 2011 after its extensive makeover at a cost of $565 million, with the upgrades and added layers to the concrete bowl offering the feel of a new stadium — but for less than half the price of building a similar new 55,000-seat stadium completely from scratch. The Discovery Channel even produced a feature documentary on the feat of engineering of installing a retractable roof onto the existing stadium.

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May 2010 activities inside BC Place Stadium in preparation for the controlled deflation and removal of the old air-supported roof. (Pavco)

bc place stadium new roof construction

Summer 2010 removal of BC Place Stadium’s old air-supported roof and interior. (Pavco)

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New retractable roof being installed at BC Place Stadium in early 2011. (Pavco)

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BC Place Stadium nearing completion on its 2011 reconstruction. (Pavco)

The 2010 Games would have immensely benefited from this reinvestment into the stadium. Those who were close to the Olympic ceremonies production previously told Daily Hive Urbanized the high air-pressure environment of the stadium’s interior, necessary to keep the roof safely inflated, highly constrained the productions of the opening and closing ceremonies.

The stadium’s entrances for moving in large production equipment, sets, props, and mass performers were small and had air lock barriers to prevent air from escaping. As well, the non-rigid, air-supported roof had weight restrictions that limited the amount of equipment that could be suspended from the roof. The myriad of challenges with using the air-supported stadium ate up more of the ceremonies budget that would otherwise have been spent on the core production components.

And over the first three decades with the air-supported roof, spectators would feel the rush of high winds when entering and exiting the building through the revolving doors.

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New retractable roof being installed at BC Place Stadium in early 2011. (Pavco)

bc place stadium new roof construction

BC Place Stadium nearing completion on its 2011 reconstruction. (Pavco)

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April 2011 construction progress on BC Place Stadium’s new retractable roof. (Shutterstock)

bc place stadium new roof construction

April 2011 construction progress on BC Place Stadium’s new retractable roof. (Shutterstock)

As for BC Place’s upcoming role for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, it was previously suggested this venue could host as many as six of the 10 matches assigned to Canada, including possibly as one of the three venues for the three simultaneous opening ceremonies and opening matches — one for each of the co-host countries of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Following its removal, acres of the old roof material were cleaned, reused, and recycled, including for the giant bean bags of the temporary “Pop Rocks” installation, which was initially placed on the street plaza above Robson Street, and then on the Main Mall of the University of British Columbia campus.

Some of the powerful turbines that kept the old roof inflated were repurposed for the ventilation needs of the stadium’s post-renovation design, especially when the retractable roof is closed.

Along with BC Place, the number of large indoor stadiums around the world with air-supported roof has dwindled over the past two decades.

The Metrodome in Minneapolis, built a year before BC Place with a similar air-supported roof for the home of the NFL Minnesota Vikings, was demolished in 2014. The RCA Dome, the home of the NFL Indianapolis Colts, was built a year after BC Place and demolished in 2008.

The largest air-supported stadium currently in existence in the world is the 1988-built, 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome, which serves a primary purpose as a baseball stadium.

It is possible BC Place could shed its birth name over the coming years. In 2019, the provincial government restarted the process for securing a naming rights sponsor.

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BC Place Stadium hosting a MLB baseball game in the 1980s. (@ChrisRichardsPD/Twitter)

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The “Pop Rocks” bean bag installation on Robson Street above Robson Square in Summer 2012 reused the old roof material of BC Place Stadium. (City of Vancouver)

Construction of BC Place Stadium in the early 1980s

BC Place Stadium roof deflation in May 2010 for a new retractable roof

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