In 2002, Beijing was selected as the venue of the Summer Olympics 2008. Soon after then, dozens of international teams of architects and engineers were invited to design an iconic structure for the Olympics. The design brief was to build a structure for about 1,00,000 spectators which would be reduced to 80,000 spectators after the Olympic event was over. The brief also expected a flexible and multi-functional structure that could be used for various events in the future. The host wanted the structure to be green-conscious and also to be iconic.
The team & concept
Herzog & de Meuron was one among the 13 teams to participate in the competition to design the Olympics stadium which eventually made it to the final round. In an exhibition, with public and panel voting, Herzog & de Meuron won the competition who had an interesting concept in their design. The concept delivered by them was originally an architectural translation of Chinese art of woven lines around a circular vessel. Little did they guess, the panel and the public conceived the design of Herzog & de Meuron as a bird’s nest.
There is another interesting fact in the design of this Olympic stadium – the site chosen. The site for the Beijing Olympic stadium is located in the middle of Olympic Green of China. “To understand just how important the Beijing Olympics are to China, you have only to look at where the Olympic Green has been built. ” (Architectural Influence, 2009). Master-planned by Sasaki Associates, the Olympic green includes spaces and structures designed for the Olympic games.
It includes many venues and landmarks for the Olympic games symmetrically placed on both sides of a north-south axis. In this Olympic green, the Olympic stadium is located by Sasaki at the east of the axis and the Water cube to the west. It is opposed to the Chinese tradition of aligning important buildings but the architect of Olympic Green said, “ We decided that in the twenty-first century we were beyond that and that we should, instead, symbolize infinity, and the idea of the people in the center, not a building.
Planning of Beijing Olympic Stadium
The gross floor area of the project is about 254,600 square meters. The entrance of the Olympic stadium has an elevated platform. Where the visitors can enjoy the panoramic view of the entire Olympic complex. The plinth and the stadium merge to form one single element. Besides the walkways that enter the stadium, the amenities for the visitor’s zone. There are sunken gardens, stone squares, bamboo groves, etc. The ultimate aim of the planning for any sports building is to allow better views for all the spectators coming to the venue.
Likewise, in this Beijing Olympic stadium, the design team wanted to provide the best Olympic experience to the users. The form of the nest greatly contributed to the overall seating distribution. The maximum distance between a seat and the center of the stadium is 142 meters. There were about 91 thousand permanent seats and 11 thousand temporary seats. Since the stadium would use for multiple-sport events in the future. The planning of seating arrangement was great according to that. The team went through many analyses and used CAD modeling to make sure that the spectators with all sightlines could enjoy the sports events from any angle.
The façade of the Beijing Olympic stadium consists of steel and concrete. The stadium consists of basically two structures. One is the concrete bowl-like structure inside the stadium and the other is the steel-framed structure. A contrast between the grey steel structure and red-painted concrete inside the stadium well demonstrate. This structure, during night lights, looks like a sun that emits light. Initially, the concrete structure inside the stadium was completed. To create an illusion of birds’ nests, the form of the stadium has been built with massive steel beams and pillars. As the existing steel brands did not have the flexibility required for the stadium. Therefore they invented a new brand of steel namely Q460. The steel beam runs from the floor of the exterior. Which runs above the façade, bends to form the roof, and finally bends to reach the floor inside the stadium.
The primary structure of the steel frame consists of 24 girders that weld together as a single structure. The secondary structure consists of columns and struts that braided to link all the beams. The third structure consists of stairways and also provided a frame for the roof. For the effect of randomness that is seen in birds’ nests. The steel beams and columns are made to run randomly yet in a balanced manner. The roof cladding of the stadium is made of ETFE(Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) film to give the spectators protection from wind and rain. There was about 46,000 square meter of single-layer ETFE films use in the stadium.
Challenges at Beijing Olympic Stadium
Right after the completion of concept and planning, there were many practical challenges coming on their way towards the execution of the structure. As Beijing comes under one of the most active seismic zones, the engineering team ARUP used many advanced seismic analyses. As a result of the analysis, they came up with a brilliant solution to make the structure earthquake-proof. The stadium accommodated a large area where different seismic levels could occur in different regions within the stadium area. So the concrete structure of the stadium divides into 6 parts. Therefore, in the worst situations, the independent structures would not affect the adjacent structures. Also, the steel façade cum roof kept detached from the concrete structure. This would prevent the collapse of steel structures during the worst seismic conditions as the loss of concrete structure collapse can compensate easily.
The stadium today
After the successful hosting of the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics, the stadium also hosted the Paralympics the same year. It is once again planned to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in the Beijing stadium. The stadium is now a tourist attraction in Beijing that receives about 30,000 visitors per day. The stadium also hosts many sports events other than Olympics. Designed to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 8.0, the Beijing Olympic stadium. That will remain an iconic masterpiece in the pages of sports architecture all over the world.
Khushro Ansari is an Architect. While juggling between college submissions and research deadlines he finds time to write about architecture and founded archEstudy. He is a passionate individual with a penchant for architectural design, innovative design, and creative writing. He aspires to bring design activism and sustainability to the forefront in all his professional endeavors.