Tourists flock to China’s floodlit Olympic ‘nest’ and ‘cube’


Beijing : China’s two most spectacular Olympic venues are already attracting hundreds of sightseers, forcing the police to send crowd control officers and divide a footbridge that offers one of the best views of the two buildings.

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Floodlighting makes the silver-painted steel structure of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium appear predominantly red and yellow, while intense blue lighting highlights the bubble-effect surfaces of the “Water Cube” aquatics centre.

Many visitors park their cars in roads surrounding the venues, photographing each other in front of the venues, which are always at least 200 metres away, or pressing their cameras through the wire fencing to get an uninterrupted shot.

Some picnic in their cars as they admire the ground-breaking architecture, and other walks or cycle around the entire area to search for the best views. Inside the fences, workers put the finishing touches on lawns and flowerbeds and hundreds of paramilitary police patrol the perimeter.

The Beijing Olympic organizers, BOCOG, held the first of four full dress rehearsals of the opening ceremony amid great secrecy at the stadium July 10.

State broadcaster China Central Television said the armed police maintained strict security in three concentric cordons around the stadium before and during the rehearsal.

All stadium workers and gardeners on the site had signed confidentiality agreements with the organizers.

IOC officials have said China’s showpiece Olympic venues are likely to become global landmarks once they are seen by a worldwide television audience forecast to reach four billion over the Games.

At the end of his final inspection tour of Beijing in April, an emotional Hein Verburggen, the IOC’s coordinator for the Games, described the main venues as “truly iconic”.

“It will be the icon of this city in the future, like the Opera House in Sydney,” Verbruggen said on an earlier tour.

The 91,000-seat venue was designed by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron at an estimated cost of 3.1 billion yuan ($450 million).

Its “Bird’s Nest” nickname comes from the lattice of hundreds of overlapping, curved steel beams that form the basic outer structure.

The stadium is one of 12 permanent and eight temporary new venues built for the Games, with 11 other refurbished to give Beijing 31 sites for Olympic events. The venues employed an estimated 30,000 construction workers.

Other eye-catching arenas include the 17,400-seat, 16-court Olympic tennis centre housed in one corner of the Olympic Forest Park, which will become downtown Beijing’s largest open space.

The Laoshan Velodrome looks like a flying saucer from the outside but quite different from the inside, where its roof resembles a spoked bicycle wheel.

The designs of several other venues incorporate motifs from the sports they will host, such as the bow and arrow effects on the external and internal structures of the Shooting Range.

In the suburb of Shunyi, the Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park will host competitions for 32 gold medals, the largest number of events after the Bird’s Nest and the aquatics centre. The park includes a boathouse with a “rolling wave” roof.

The Water Cube has 6,000 permanent and 11,000 temporary seats for Olympic swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming competitions.

Its estimated one billion yuan ($145 million) cost was met mainly by donations from overseas Chinese.

The cushion-like blue membranes are made from modified ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene, or ETFE, which the manufacturers say have a self-cleaning function.

The government did not declare the budget for construction of new and temporary venues for the Olympics, but it promised that the total operational costs of the Games would not exceed the $2.4 billion spent in Athens in 2004.

More breathtaking new buildings have sprung up away from the Olympic venues.

Just west of Tiananmen Square is the futuristic low dome of the National Theatre, designed by French architect Paul Andreu and reportedly incorporating the world’s largest single arch, spanning 212 metres under the 6,475-ton dome.

The egg-like theatre complex has three main halls, including a 2,400-seat opera house, a 2,000-seat concert hall and a 1,000-seat playhouse.

The theatre is one of the contenders to become the symbol of early 21st-century Beijing, competing with the new airport terminal and the two main Olympic venues.

A few kilometres away is the China Central Television (CCTV) Tower, whose angled walls and offset structures joined at the top have earned it the nickname “Trousers”.

But many visitors are likely to be awestruck from the moment they emerge into the vast arrivals hall of the Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3.

British architect Norman Foster designed the world’s biggest air terminal in a dragon shape with traditional Chinese-style red pillars and gold details.

Expect to get delayed by passengers stopping to look up at the dragon-scale motifs on the translucent ceiling.