January 28: Bubble Cube

2016/01/28 § Leave a comment

On this day in 2008 construction of the Beijing National Aquatics Center came to an end.

Construction on the complex had lasted just over four years since the groundbreaking on December 24, 2003 in preparation for the Summer Olympics.  With the National Stadium, the Aquatics Center was a central event site and main architectural symbol of the Olympics.  As they are better known, the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are significant in Olympic architectural history.  Oftentimes a particular building becomes symbolic of the games (at least while they are underway), but none so intentionally as these two structures.  Built to a combined sum of just over two billion dollars (the Bird’s Nest is about a quarter of that, a virtual bargain by comparison with the Cube), symbolising not just these summer games and China’s gigantic investment in them but also, perhaps more importantly, the emergence of Beijing and China as a major financial force in the global market.

Engineered to display China’s power, most of the games’ pomp was staged next door at the Bird’s Nest, which would also be an arena of more contested argument due to the participation, and later disassociation, of Ai Weiwei with the project. As much as it expressed the intended glory of China, the Stadium also then attracted the most criticism, being the poster child of the destruction of Beijing’s historic fabric (countless irreplaceable hutongs torn down to make way for this vision of future glory) and a monument of human rights abuses.  The Water Cube sidestepped (side-stroked?) the political fray, which may have made it less spectacular, but ultimately more engaging.  It’s also much more architecturally innovative: its exterior steel framework mimics the sections of soap bubbles, rendered here as huge ethylene tetrafluoroethylene pillows that are illuminated from within.

The post-games fate of buildings specially constructed for the Olympics varies from place to place, project to project. The Water Cube seems to have found a fine adaptive reuse as the Happy Magic Water Cube, a very trippy and fun looking water park.

Image: synchronized swimming event, photographed 22 August 2008 by Al Bello (from this source)

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