Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere

Combine five Olympic Rings, four years of construction, three swimming pools, $200 million, and one dream, and what do you get? The Water Cube, Beijing's new National Aquatics Centre.

In less than seven months, the 2008 Olympic Games will begin. And now that the Cube has officially opened, they can begin in style.

The Water Cube bedazzles passersby with its unique exterior, both in the daylight and at night. Daylight offers viewers a softer approach: the large angular shapes scaling the walls appear like iridescent “bubble wrap”; however, come night, the Cube lights up. The bubbles are backed by a cobalt glow.

And bubble-shaped designs are everywhere.

They decorate the seats; the interior; the ceiling. According to an article on designbuild-network.com, “The [building] has more than 4,000 bubbles, the largest of which is 9m in diameter.”

The design was a collaborative effort of Australian architecture firm PTW, the China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, and the CSCEC Shenzhen Design Institute. An international design competition was held in July 2003, and after a panel of architects, engineers, and “pre-eminent Chinese academics,” along with other submitters and the public, voted, the winners were revealed.

Understandably proud of the accomplishment, architect and chief of the design team for China Construction Design International Zheng Fant said, “I believe this could be one of the most significant sports venues.”

But along with its beauty, the Water Cube touts function as well. It was built to hold three events — swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming — accommodate 17,000 viewers, and transform into additional venues. Eleven thousand seats are removable, allowing the Cube to transform into a training and recreational center. Other options for the venue even include a water park.

According to Jonty Skinner, an official for USA Swimming, “The pool itself is awesome. I think the kids are going to come in here and just go wild. When kids go wild, it just adds to the ambiance of the whole thing. It’s the grandeur, the size, that’s exciting.”

However, despite the building’s beauty and functionality, Skinner speculates that there might be a flaw. The ceiling’s design looks like “bubble wrap.” But as unique a design as this is, it might also be the Cube’s biggest drawback. “It’s almost like the sky to a backstroker. They may not know where they are going,” said Skinner.

And an article on news.yahoo.com concurs, noting that “Like the entire building, the high ceiling is made of a membrane-like cell structure — picture the pattern of bubble wrap. The design may make it difficult for backstrokers, who often use the ceiling for orienting themselves down the lanes.”

But for many, and for high-ranking IOC member Kevan Gosper, the Water Cube is a swimmer’s (and viewer’s) dream.

“I think it will be awe-inspiring for the athletes and overwhelming for the new Olympians,” said Gosper. “Almost every aspect makes it the finest aquatic center I’ve seen for an Olympic Games — by far.”
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