Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium in Beijing, China by Herzog & de Meuron

Herzog & de Meuron recently were named the winner of an international competition to design the new National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. The Swiss firm proposed a seemingly random, lattice-like network of concrete strips forming the stadium's bowl shape, resembling a "bird's nest", in the architect's words. Gaps between the concrete structure would be filled with "inflatable cushions", another phrase the architects used to describe their innovative design.

While the basics of stadium design have changed very little since the Colosseum of ancient Rome - concentric corridor under seats with spectator distribution inwards to the different seating tiers - their aesthetics has changed dramatically. Lightweight steel structures have given way to longer spans and greater coverage and slick, modern designs. Subsequently, the roof has become important as the "fifth facade", especially to the home viewers seeing a stadium from the hovering blimp. In Beijing, the architects provided an irregular, oblong opening with a retractable roof, enabling games in inclement weather.

French architect Dominique Perrault (a finalist for the swimming pool competition, also in Beijing) was part of the 13-member jury, about half made up of local Chinese experts, the rest other international architects. His recent design for a velodrome and pool in Berlin, along with this design, signal a potential shift in thinking about stadiums. Each design treats all surfaces equally, wrapping their skins in an attempt to create distinctive objects within the landscape, hopefully acting as catalysts for urban renewal, much like the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Similar thinking is driving the JVC Cultural Center in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Definitely the most distinctive element in Herzog & De Meuron's winning design is its concrete structure. Appearing random, the concrete ribbons that start at the ground and curve over to the oculus are intersected by more ribbons that wrap the building around its perimeter. This system allows for resistance of forces in multiple directions, while also being the project's primary image generator. Together with the form, it helps to create something that appears like nothing before it in architecture.