Beijing Water Cube

The 2008 Summer Olympics Games will be hosted by China, and probably that’s why this big-time country is building state-of-the-art and unique buildings for the event. One of this is my personal favorite: the Beijing National Aquatics Center, which is also known as the Beijing Water Cube, because of its structural design similarity as that of the soap bubbles. Cute huh? I saw this feature in National Geographic Channel, Made in China.

Peter Lucas, the prototype manager of the said design must have experienced tremendous pressure to model such complex building, especially if you are only given five weeks to finalize the structural design using rapid prototyping. Jeez, I’m not a know-how expert on this thing, but I was really impressed by this project and how it came to be. By July 2003, the Water Cube team finally fixed the design.

It was initially a challenge to build the 3D compulsive blueprint of the said structure, as this should resemble the virtual inside the whole space. Stuart Bull, the building modeler took seven months to model it. With 22,000 irregular steel beads, the prototype/blueprint should be hard, firm and accurate before building it.

It’s a crazy looking pattern, but very meticulous and artistic. With 100,000 square meters of bubbles, no wonder it’s the biggest ETFE construction ever built. The structural design is said to withstand the country’s occasional sandstorms and subfreezing winter seasons.

ETFE is a kind of plastic, transparent, and a super insulator. This specialized kind of plastic is used to cover the whole megastructure. Very convenient because it can block and withstand ultraviolet rays but thin enough to cut with a knife. People who are involved with the Water Cube maintenance team inspect the plastic every now and then, and repair minor scratches and cuts outside pillars. Because the Aquatics Center will host events like swimming, diving and synchronized swimming, the researchers constantly deliberated about the use of this plastic in any worst scenario cases as they couldn’t risk the expected 20,000 spectators at hand. They analyzed what part of the structure is the most vulnerable. Such cases like fires and explosions were studied. In the end, they explained that flames would have a hard time burning the plastic. During demonstration using prototype model, they explained that in case of fire instances, the plastic won’t burn or burst but would just gradually melt. They explained that the structural composition of ETFE is what we call “good chemistry”. Amazing!

Structural engineers also explained that in the case of earthquakes, this gigantic honeycomb has high possibilities of survival. It can withstand strong high winds and dust storms, and it is light enough not to collapse. All in all, a total of 190 different worst case scenarios were studied and the Water Cube fared extremely well.

By December 2003, construction started, where they assembled the 22,000 steel beads before covering it with the ETFE plastic. The plastic is dotted, used to regulate the temperature inside the Water Cube. The dots will store self-generated electricity to power the building, to save heat, or to heat the pool.

Very cool indeed.

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