Beijing's Drama Builds

Some of the world's hottest architects are setting the stage for the summer Olympic Games.

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The interior of the airport.

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Special Issue
WWD Scoop issue 03/24/2008
Some of the world’s hottest architects are setting the stage for the summer Olympic Games.

After nearly five years of design and construction, the buildings going up for the Beijing Olympic Games are some of the world’s most anticipated among architectural buffs. With international names such as Herzog & de Meuron, Sir Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas behind them, these new structures represent just a small percentage of the construction overtaking the Chinese capital as it readies for the onslaught of visitors during the Games, which will take place August 8 to 24.

Renderings of many of the designs already have been splashed across magazines and newspapers, which have made them appear as if they were pulled from the ether. But while the city has been—and continues to be—a massive construction site, the deadline imposed by the Olympics also means that a slew of buildings unrelated but certainly pivotal to them also will be completed, including the new Foster-designed airport and the Koolhaas-designed headquarters for China Central Television. And at least one thing remains a constant in Beijing’s ongoing building boom: They’re all monolithic structures designed to stir up awe and excitement. WWDScoop previews some of the more eye-catching creations.


ARCHITECT: Herzog & de Meuron

LOCATION: Olympic Green, north of the Forbidden City.

NOTABLE DESIGN DETAILS: The structure, which resembles a bird’s nest, features a massive basketlike weave of load-bearing steel that comes together to form the stadium’s shell. Perhaps the most famous project of all the Olympic buildings, the stadium design was commissioned after a worldwide competition in 2003, which was won by Herzon & de Meuron in collaboration with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The shape—circular, although shorter on the east and west sides and taller on the south and north—was inspired by Chinese pottery and vases, but also accommodates spectators’ sight lines along the largely rectangular field.

THE INSIDE STORY: The main focus of the Games, the stadium has had more than its fair share of controversy. In 2004, the immense cost, $500 million, caused the design to be scaled back, and features, such as a retractable roof, were jettisoned. Also, in the wake of mounting controversy over the government’s involvement in Darfur, Sudan, Ai distanced himself from the project, and the Olympics in general. Moreover, in January, The Times in London reported that at least 10 workers had died during the stadium’s construction, which the newspaper attributed to both the rush of the building schedule and the architecturally ambitious nature of the design. The opening ceremonies, to be orchestrated by director Zhang Yimou and artist Cai Guo-Qiang, will be staged on 8/8/08 to a crowd that’s expected to include President Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.


ARCHITECT: PTW Architects and Arup

LOCATION: Olympic Green, directly adjacent to the National Olympic Stadium.

NOTABLE DESIGN DETAILS: The National Aquatics Centre, or “The Water Cube,” takes its inspiration directly from its function—housing water. The facility, which will be the location of all the swimming and aquatic events, is a square box composed of more than 4,000 transparent bubbles that make up the exterior. Technically, the bubbles are made of a kind of Teflon called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE, and vary in size, with some as tall as 30 feet. They create a rubber membrane for the outside of the structure, and in essence are doubly insulated, making the interior climate easier to control and thus incredibly energy efficient. An intricate LED system implanted directly into the air-filled cushions will illuminate the building at night, giving the structure a luminous effect.

THE INSIDE STORY: The building will be one of the main focal points of the Olympics. It has managed to escape controversy over its $200 million cost, more than half of which came from prominent donors. After the Games are over, there is a plan to convert it into a retail center and an athletic facility with tennis courts.
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