Inside Beijing's National Swimming Center

A multidisciplinary design team employed an innovative digital process to produce a surprising, highly integrated envelope-and-structure combination
The $100 million National Swimming Center in Beijing is clad in pillows of ETFE, a lightweight material akin to Teflon. LEDs are integrated into the pillow frames. Getty Images

Of course, a facility meant to host the swimming and diving events for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing should be all about water. But realizing such a concept in bricks and mortar is far from straightforward, and more challenging still if the designers intend to create more than a container, but hope to capture the "spirit" of water. "We wanted the building to dematerialize, to change moods, to react to changes in the environment around it," says Min Wang, a design principal with China Construction Design International (CCDI), a state-run design institute that worked on the project.

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