Beijing Olympic Architecture

By: Rylie Griffith and Maeve Corcoran

Water Cube Exterior

Beijing National Aquatics Center | Also known as “Water Cube… | Flickr 

The structure was designed and configured by PTW Architects, Arup International Engineering Group, and China Construction Design International. The location of the building has much significance tied to the traditional Chinese philosophical statement called Tian yuan di fang which translates to heaven/sky round earth/land square. Because the square Water Cube sits beside the round Birds Nest it represents land whereas the Birds Nest represents the sky/ heaven. The connection between the Olympic structures demonstrates the traditional  Chinese culture. The structure itself also incorporates the Tian yuan di fang by putting the organic facade on a ridgid, rectangular structure. The building also indicates what the building is used for which is quite helpful for spectators to indicate what sporting event is where during the large event. 

Supported by a steel space frame. The cladding is made up of Copolymer which is a lightweight thin film. This material allows more light transmission than glass, decreasing energy costs by 30%, also while decreasing carbon emissions. In total the Water Cube is made up of 4,000 bubbles, some spanning up to 30 feet wide. 

This building was awarded the Venice Biennale, an award for most accomplished work Atmosphere section as well as the Outstanding Structure Award in 2010. The incorporation of science, architecture, and Chinese culture to create a breathtaking and comfortable space for sporting events to be held was noticed in many realms. 

Water Cube Interior 

水立方北京國家游泳中心全景The Water Cube, Beijing National Aquatics Ce… | Flickr

The Water Cube was used for swimming and diving during the 2008 summer olympics and is currently used for residents of the area. It contains two swimming pools, seating for 17,000 people at capacity, and of course flags around the perimeter, representing every country participating in the olympic games. It stands at 31 meters tall and covers 65,000 square meters of land, providing plenty of space for the sporting events. The varying seat colors start with mostly blue and then more white seats are added the further up you get. These varying seat colors within the stadium coincide with the bubble facade displayed on the exterior, resembling specs of water. The iconic facade is not only intriguing to outside viewers but has a strong impact on the interior of the space. Because the translucent bubbles continue to cover the roof it allows for an immense amount of natural lighting to shine through. Because of the bubble texture, the bubbles are then reflected onto the two swimming pools that lay below. After serving as an Olympic venue in 2008, it became open to the public in 2009. Later the same year it closed to undergo a renovation to create a water park along with cafes and shops. In 2013 the space was used to display the LED light show  by the artist Jennifer Wen Ma. Later on the Water Cube was used to host curing in the 2022 winter olympic games. The venue has reported an 18 million dollar revenue over the years and continues to increase. 

National Indoor Stadium Exterior

Designed by Glöckner, the Indoor National stadium hosted the 2008 summer olympics for artistic gymnastics, and handball events. Prior to the Olympic games, the space was used as a fitness center for local residents. It has since been used for various competitions such as the women’s ice hockey world championship in 2015 and the 2022 olympic hockey and paralympic hockey games.  

The inspiration for the structure was influenced by the traditional folding fan of china. During the Ming Dynasty folding fans became quite popular and would eventually be used to symbolize nobility and became an accessory artists or craftsmen carry to express their skills. The roof of the National Indoor Stadium has an arch similar to a folding fan, which deeply ties to China’s roots. 

The steel framework around the windows also helps create the folding fan effect by creating the creases in the fan. The glass brings a light feeling to the structure. Like many of the buildings constructed for the Beijing Olympic Games, there was controversy regarding the replacement of residents in order to create these massive structures. The two-way chord-tension steel roof itself weighs 2,800 tons and is known to be one of the largest steel spans in the country. However this was not an easy task as the builders and therefore required many discussions and debates. After four months they concluded that with the technology provided, it would be possible to build. 

National Indoor Stadium Interior

File:National Indoor Stadium, Bronze Medal Handball Match 2008.jpg – Wikimedia Commons 

The Indoor National stadium seats up to 20,000 spectators and takes up 809 square meters of land. In hope for economic development in the area the Olympic arenas were constructed in a way to change with the seasons to accommodate people for the entire year and not just one season. In addition the use of sustainable materials is crucial to the success of the buildings. The cooling systems in the venue used natural carbon dioxide technology to maintain the correct temperature. The system absorbs heat to create the ice and transfer absorbed heat to water and heating systems. 

The location of the stadium is crucial to the surrounding landscape. Because of the way the three stadiums are placed, it offers outdoor space, what would be known as the Olympic Green providing an urban area with a place to enjoy nature. The landscaping around the arenas tie the space together all while creating a functional environment. 

Bird’s Nest

National Stadium, aka Bird’s Nest | Edwin Lee | Flickr

Beijing National Stadium | “Bird’s Nest”, designed by Herzog… | Flickr

Beijing National Stadium | Bird’s Nest designed by Herzog & … | Flickr

Bird’s Nest is an indoor stadium built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics between 2003 and 2008 by architects Jaques Hertzhog, Pierre de Meuron, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang. On the interior of Bird’s Nest sits a field and 80,000 spectator seats. The exterior of the structure is covered with grid-like steel structures. Between these structures, peaks of the interior space shine through creating an inviting and welcoming look from the outside. 

The modern style of the building was meant to start industrializing the city but while the design of the building is physically beautiful, it caused a lot of damage and distress to the surrounding community; Many residents were forced to uproot their homes due to the construction of this and other olympic stadiums due to the large scale of the project, which is ironic because the meaning of the building was meant to symbolize openness and freedom. 

Additionally, the architects of Bird’s Nest brought up a lot of controversy and talk. This is because of their international roots. Many people believed that it was only right to have locals on the project design to incorporate a deeper sense of cultural understanding and information to the project. Yet, world renown architects are historically sought after in global and globalizing cities as a marketing and economic initiative for cities that want to be put on the map, and were hired in turn. 

In 2003, construction of the building was stopped due to a petition made by Chinese scholars who were worried about cost, extravagance, waste of materials like steel, and potential safety problems with construction. 

In the end, some of the downsides of construction were demolition of homes and relocation of locals, rise in real estate, spatial inequality in the city layout, and reduction of building resources. On the other hand, positive outcomes included improved transportation systems and local amenities and attraction of a large wave of tourists. 

Wukesong Sports Center

File:Multicoloured Wukesong Arena Facade (crop).jpg – Wikimedia Commons

The Wukesong Sports Center is another product of the Beijing Olympics. This dual sport stadium, built in 2008 for the 2022 winter olympics, was created by Beijing locals, BIAD-ZXD ARCHITECTS. Olympic events held in the Wukesong Sports Center include basketball and ice sports like ice hockey. Current uses of the building today include large scale concerts and sporting events. 

This is one of the biggest stadiums in China, as it has two levels: one being underground. 19,000 spectator seats fit on the inside and there are large green spaces around the building. On the exterior is a gridded wall system, symbolic of the winter games because it is patterned to look like ice cracks and ice flowers due to the resulting light and shadow effects. 

Author: Maeve Corcoran

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