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the Water Cube in partnership with the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and the CSCEC Shenzhen Design Institute (CSCEC+DESIGN). As well as providing a multifunctional aquatics centre, the brief required extensive use of digital technology, energy-reduction and water-saving methods, as well as the incorporation of new construction materials. With proposals from ten countries, including China, the US, Japan, the UK and Germany, three designs were shortlisted for the design competition. These were submitted by Chinese architects, Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design, Rafael Vinoly Architects from the US and the subsequent collaborative Chinese-Australian winning design. The winning Water Cube, the focal point of the swimming centre grounds, measures 176m on each side, rising to a height of 31m. It holds 6,000 permanent seats with capacity for an additional 11,000 temporary seats to accommodate Olympic Games spectators. Design details The Ove Arup / PTW design plays on the geometry of water bubbles within a square form. The structure's shape is specifically designed to work in harmony with the circular main Olympic stadium by the Swiss architectural team of Herzog & de Meuron Architekten with China Architecture Design and Research Group and Arup Sport London, known as the "Bird's Nest", giving the area a visual "yin and yang" balance. The square form was also used in acknowledgement of its significance in Chinese culture, architecture and town planning. There are two parts to the Water Cube's structural framework – internal and external. The external structure forms the actual roof, ceiling and walls and comprises a flat web of rectangular boxed sections. These sections are then clad with the inflatable material transparent "teflon" material known as ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). The internal steel frame is based on the unique geometry of biological cells or soap bubbles. Ove Arup and PTW based this "soap bubbles" structural concept on a solution from two Irish professors of physics at Trinity College, Dublin, known as the Weaire-Phelan structure, whereby a recurring pattern of
has been the key figure advocating the reinstatement of symbolism in the definition of architecture. Venturi‟s decorated shed proposed the reintegration of symbolism in architecture.polyhedrons is packed together to occupy a three dimensional space in the most efficient way possible. their highly articulated facades have reached a level of sophistication Jeffery Kipnis acutely describes as not ornamental. Over 22. ETFE plastic and digital fabrication." The Imperativeness of Symbolism in an Age of Computed Efficiency An Essay on the Beijing National Aquatics Center (the ‘Water Cube’) by PTW Architects The exclusion of symbolism in architectural discourse established by the Modern Movement is responsible for the long-standing disconnection of architecture from its contextual culture. Thus. as well as resembling water bubbles. the most exemplary evolution of the decorated shed has been the work of Herzog and de Meuron. the Water Cube achieves a level of symbolic legibility as well as architectural integrity superior to even the cosmetic techniques of Herzog and de Meuron.000 bubbles. During the past twenty years. physically separating symbol from program and structure. digital fabrication and the decorated shed typology in the progression towards a Symbolic Architecture of Complexity. which are welded at the joints to more than 12. Robert Venturi. the Water Cube is a milestone in the history of symbolic architecture that brings to light the limits and potentials of parametric design. the largest of which is 9m in diameter. built for the 2008 Olympics by PTW Architects.000 stainless steel members form the sides of these "bubbles". is that it is ideally suited to the seismic conditions found in Beijing. was a practical and economical solution that reflected both its era‟s conventional construction methods (embodied in the generic . Yet recent years have witnessed a further evolution of the decorated shed exemplified by projects such as the Beijing National Aquatics Center (also known as the „Water Cube‟). "The Water Cube has more than 4.000 spherical steel nodes. through his writings in the late 1970‟s as well as his proposed decorated shed typology. The benefit of this frame design. Through the development construction methods utilizing computer genetic algorithms. From Decorated Shed to Cosmetic to Parametric In the late 1970‟s. but „cosmetic‟. Its strategy.
cosmetics work as fields. Thinness. utilizing new materials and building methods to combine the billboard and the building envelope into one single element .building) as well as its dominant forms of graphic symbolic communication (the billboard). In this case. which retains its status as a separate entity. Like the Library and the Signal Box. alludes to Faraday cages and inter-urban infrastructures through its shape and material.” (Kipnis 8) The Library of the Eberswalde Technical School and the Signal Box in Basel. While Venturi‟s decorated shed uses symbols denoting commercial culture. which is more visceral than intellectual. The Water Cube exemplifies the next evolution the decorated shed. These two projects exemplify two strategies of the cosmetic: the graphic strategy demonstrated by the silk-screen and the sculptural strategy illustrated by the copper banding. adherence and diffuse extent are crucial to the cosmetic effect. through the analysis Herzog and De Meuron‟s architecture. Jeffery Kipnis‟ essay The Cunning of Cosmetics. the ETFE soap bubbles shaped façade panels allude to the program that it houses – the water of the swimming pool. illustrate two strategies of the cosmetic applied to the typology of the decorated shed. The billboard thus ceases to be an entity in itself but is infused into the building envelope as a cosmetic field. the curvature and translucency of the plastic panels produce a three dimensional sculptural effect. as aura or air. By being simultaneously graphic and sculpture. both designed by Herzog and de Meuron. more atmospheric than aesthetic. the Water . The major evolution of the decorated shed typology occurred in tandem with the advancement of construction techniques in the 1990‟s. the symbolic medium. the rectilinear façade is divided into an evenly distributed grid. This façade system simultaneously employs both graphic and sculptural cosmetic strategies. the symbols on the facades of the Eberswalde Library and Signal Box are expressions of the function and program within the building. describes this transition from the applied to the integrated as the shift from the ornamental to the cosmetic: “Where ornaments retain their identity as entities.a highly articulated façade. While its aluminum mullions create a striking two-dimensional graphic. This shift in the employment of symbols – from disguising the building as something which it is not to articulating what the building actually is – is a significant step towards a symbolic architecture of greater integrity. a new breed of decorated sheds emerged. The Signal Box achieves its cosmetic effect through a system of twisting copper bands that wrap the waterproof enclosure. In the Eberswalde Library. as blush or shadow or highlight. each concrete or glass panel in the system is embedded with a silk-screen photographic image. While maintaining the strict divide between exterior symbol from the interior program and structure.
parametric software and digital fabrication as liberators of architecture from the constraints of the grid. however. This exemplifies the potential of symbols. the WeairePhelan structure of the Water Cube Façade (which improved the efficiency of the Kelvin‟s model by 0. In both the Signal Box and the Eberswalde Library.” (Bollinger. we are in a position to create a whole population of load-bearing structures. depth of the façade). released from the confines of the applied billboard and the cosmetic field. to become the defining force shaping the building structure and material. As Ludger Hoverstadt describes in his article Technical Reconstruction of Architecture in the Information Age. Klaus Bolliger. That is why one speaks of the “post-digital age”. In the article Methods and Tools in Digital Structural Planning.3 percent) was developed in 1993. Manfred and Tessmann. The first soap-bubble structure was discovered by Lord Kelvin in 1887. there is no longer any technical. photo-realistic rendered or produced with computercontrolled machines – “printed” in a sense. In its design process. Between virtual and reality. as Hoverstadt describes. can potentially be powerful tools of expression : „„Our buildings are drawn with the same technical apparatus. 1486) The Water Cube confirms this pronounced role of the architect as a selector of systems. therefore. This evolution is directly in tied to advancements in building technology. width. The selection is the sole control mechanism. this then prompted the application of the .‟ (Hoverstadt 1438). The bubbles of the Water Cube. aside from the limits of the square box. Digital technologies therefore. Machines and Human Intuition When given the equation and the constraining parameters (the height. Manfred Grohmann and Oliver Tessmann writes that the emergence of computational tools is demanding the redefinition of the architect‟s role .Cube facade achieves a symbolic legibility which exceeds both Herzog and de Meuron‟s architecture of cosmetics as well as Venturi‟s original decorated shed. Thus. genetic algorithms which generate the Wearie-Phelan structure are able not only produce an infinite number of structural configurations but can also be programmed to identify the ones with the greatest efficiency. the organizational framework of the rectilinear grid can be clearly read in the symbolic elements. A decisive factor for the success of such strategy is defining the correct selection criteria for determining the best individual in a population of this kind. structural difference. are geometrically independent from the internal structural grid.as a selector of criteria: “Today. this fundamental mathematical formula has been documented for over a century the missing link between this math model and architecture has been but the digital device facilitating the translation of geometrical information to the fabrication machine. the architects first decided to employ a symbolic representation of water on its façade.
phenomenon of computation should not be discounted. In this digital age. But as Greg Lynn describes in Animate Form. Subsequent formal decisions. selfevaluate these generated data and translate this information fabrication machines – bring to light the capacity of machines to dictate the form of buildings. According to Bolliger. whose building and structures were based on experience. Machine intelligence might best be described as that of mindless connections. even the choice of structural system can be determined by the computer.Wearie-Phelan structure. or rule-based. we see parallels to the design methods of the master builders in history. Fortunately. rather than attempting to build criticality into the machine. Manfred and Tessmann 1486) The new digital tools. “Every improved (structural) individual is based on the genetic information of previous generations and has undergone a process of adaptation. The architect must do what the machine cannot understand and create culture. remains still a decorated shed in its lack of consideration for the symbolic and spatial quality of its interior spaces.‟ (Lynn 19) In an age where the computer can propose the most efficient structural and mechanical systems for every scenario (as well the most efficient programmatic layout through statistical analysis of people movement). as Greg Lynn suggests. the size and profile of mullions). Yet at the same time. „The genetic. which have the ability to generate infinite variations. Grohmann and Tessmann. the number and shape of the panels. it is impossible to program human intuition. this project reminds us that the survival of architecture hinges upon the reinstatement of symbolism in its basic definition. were determined largely by engineers whose purpose was to achieving maximum structural. (for example. though extremely successful in the integration of functionality and symbolism through the utilization of computational and fabrication technology. the redefinition architect‟s role is imperative. but in its symbolism.” (Bollinger.” (Lynn 19) The fact that the Beijing National Aquatic Center has been coined „Water Cube‟ and not „The Wearie-Phelan Structure‟ proves that the memorability of the building lies not in its highly efficient engineering. “…the failures of artificial intelligence suggest a need to develop a systematic human intuition about the connective medium. This may be justified using the same arguments of the original decorated shed – the interior must be practical and economical to facilitate the expression and cost of the billboard . observation and an ongoing development of constructional reality. it is not computers but people that create architecture. electrical and mechanical efficiency. Shedding the Decorated Shed The Water Cube. The computer is not a brain. genetic processes should not be equated with either intelligence or nature. In processes of this kind.
program and form. cultural meaning cannot be limited to the exterior of the building. Ben van Berkel takes this concept further. programmatic and aesthetic aspects of the building interior. However. In a true architecture of symbolic complexity.façade. to take control of her tools and be guided by that which can never be replaced by machines. if transparent. but also the relationship between them. is so marginal. embodies the essence of a Symbolic Architecture of Complexity. the plastic multi-colored spectator seating. can achieve the same unity between symbol and function of the Water Cube façade in the spatial.‟ (Berkel 1430) This vision of architecture which through the use of genetic computation and digital fabrication. . Epilogue The Water Cube brings to light the opportunity for architecture to overcome the overly rational dogmas of the Modern Movement and reengage with the longstanding Vetruvian definition of architecture – the balanced interplay of structure. as exemplified by Water Cube‟s ETFE skin. would transform the stands into yet another field of bubbles. toward the creation of a Complex Symbolic Architecture of human-ness. expression does not necessarily equal to the compromising of function. The problem of the Water Cube‟s interior is that it shows no evidence of the desire to express. It reveals the potential for new technology to serve as incredible tools of expression as well as its potential to enslave us within its limits of relentless mindless procedure. Thus. in the grand scheme of the project. The bulky white tubular handrails. but must permeate all aspects of the project. it is imperative for the architect to invert the Modernist methodology of „form follows function‟. advocating the use of parametric tools to create diverse and meaningful spatial experiences. if instead were a thin cable system might be reminiscent of nautical lines. As the cost to integrate these allusions. It‟s a question of how a building responds to people‟s movements. volumetric. the Water Cube exemplifies the problem of the decorated shed. which by definition locates the symbolic medium on the façade and abandons the interior to pragmatic banalities. „A parametric model means that you‟re not only able to define the position of various points in space. In this era. it becomes clear that the absence of symbolism in this culturally significant interior is the result of simply the lack of attention. culture and meaning. The revolutionary aspect of this paradigm shift in design lies in considering how we can conceive spatial qualities in a new way. where maximum efficiency is a tangible solvable equation. For instance. The generic concrete diving platform could have been subtly sculpted to resemble an elegant coastal cliff.
1999.” Detail (Dec 2007): 1424-31. technical feasibility study and votes by the public prove that the B04 Plan is relatively outstanding and feasible. Besides. Moreover.” Detail (Dec 2007): 1486-7. “The Technical Reconstruction of Architecture in the Information Age. which owns the center's rights. At the signing ceremony the Beijing State-owned Asset Management Co Ltd noted that the National Aquatics Center is a landmark building for the 2008 Olympic Games. This is the first venue among the sports centers for the 2008 Olympics to have officially signed a design contract. Klaus.706 (May 2000): 6-9 Hoverstadt. and the designers. Through negotiations between the Beijing State-owned Asset Management Co Ltd and the design consortium and approved by the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee and Beijing Municipal Government. Manfred Grohmann and Oliver Tessmann. “Digital Sustainability and Spaces that Follow You. The winning plan. Greg. The conceptual design for the National Aquatics Center was finalized as Plan B04. it integrates architect design into structural design and is in tune with the National Stadium.Works Cited Kipnis. Results of expert appraisal. which was designed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation jointly with Australia's PTW Architects and Ove Arup Pty Ltd. Bollinger. Gesprach." Du 5 no. Jeffery. embodies the notion of "Cube of Water'. the design. Animate Form New York : Princeton Architectural Press. was picked from shortlist of three designs. The deal for the venue was officially signed on the morning of July 29 between the Beijing State-owned Asset Management Co Ltd. the design fully meets the requirements for events of the 2008 Olympic Games and is adaptable to after-game operation. . Ein and Ben van Berkel. Ludger.” Detail (Dec 2007): 1436-8. name "Water Cube". Lynn. whose design and construction will naturally catch the world's attention. "The Cunning of Cosmetics. “Methods and Tools Used in Digital Structural Planning.
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