Olympic Fever

I’m sure there are many of you like me that have been glued to the TV for the past couple of weeks watching the Olympics. While I’ve reveled in watching Michael Phelps win his eight gold medals and Shawn Johnson and Nastia Luikin take gold and silver in the gymnastics all-around competition, I have also loved seeing the cutting-edge architecture that can be see all over this newly transformed Beijing. Of course, the architect inside me can’t resist asking how these building were designed and built. For those like me, here is a quick look at some of the most spectacular of the Olympic venues.

The most prominent is the “Bird’s Nest” that hosted the opening ceremony and the track and field events. This building is a combination of two structures: a red concrete bowl for seating and an exposed steel frame that surrounds it. The steel frame is composed of 24 trussed columns connected at the top by crisscrossing trusses that form a 40-foot deep space-frame roof. Secondary beams are used to conceal the primary beams to give it its random appearance. The steel frame was design to conceal the large beams necessary to support the retractable roof. Ironically though, the retractable roof was removed from the project to ensure its structural integrity. It was replaced with translucent ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a transparent form of the plastic Teflon.

The building that has most interested me, and where I have spent several hours watching Phelps win all those medals, is the swimming center that has been termed the “Water Cube”. The idea for this building was a box made of bubbles. The structure for this building is a space frame that was welded on site from 22,000 steel tubes. Sandwiching the steel fames is two layers of ETFE that form “bubbles” from 12- or 14-sided cells. These cells are a variety of sizes, seven different sizes for the roof and 15 for the walls, the largest of those cells being 30 feet across. The ETFE is imprinted with blue frit on the outside and silver frit on the inside to provide coverage that ranges from 10 to 90 percent.

While those are two most noteworthy buildings on the Olympic campus, there are a couple others interesting buildings that have caught my eye. The first is the Basketball Gymnasium that is wrapped in aluminum-alloy cladding and incorporates solar panels. Also there is the National Indoor Stadium, which was designed to resemble an unfurled Chinese fan and uses a high-tech curtainwall made of 250,000 square feet of low-E glass and 1,124 photovoltaic panels.