The Beijing National Stadium, better known as the “Bird’s Nest”, China is one of the world’s largest engineering marvels. The colossal structure, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron along with stadium designer Arup, and China Architecture Design & Research Group, was originally meant for the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. However, it is planning on hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics too. The stadium, which stunned the world with its blend of technical excellence coupled with visionary creativity, is located in Olympic Park, just north of Beijing, and its deconstructivist modern style fits right into the location’s urban fabric.

Here are ten things that you didn’t know about the Bird’s Nest.

1. What went into building the stadium?

The stadium has a floor space of 254,600 square meters and it took around 5 years to build this massive structure with contributions from offices across the globe, as far-reaching as Europe, Manchester, and London. Its construction began in December 2003 and lasted till March 2008. The enormity of the project is reflected in its total volume of 3 million cubic meters!

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2. The largest steel structure in the world. 

This bowl-shaped masterpiece with its elliptical crosshatched latticework, depicting phenomenal artistic maturity, was constructed using 42,000 tons of steel and had a total weight of 110,000 tons of structural materials. The roof itself weighed 11,200 tons and was supported by temporary columns until the stadium was unveiled and the web held up the structure. This design was based on 24 trussed columns, each weighing 1000 tons, that needed to be assembled and welded in situ as it was beyond the strength of any crane to position them into place. The lattice frame itself is composed of 26 kilometers of unwrapped steel.

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3. Engineering challenges and life

Beyond the iconic lattice design, that radically rethought sacred architecture, the use of new-age steel presented an unanticipated set of problems. Since this type of steel needed higher welding temperatures, it could be done only in atmospheric temperatures ranging from 15 degrees to 16 degrees Celsius. This meant that the 400 workers had to weld the steel frame only in the evening hours. As one of the larger constructed structures, the stadium is set to live and represent the apogee of sports architectural mastery for over a 100 years!

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4. Cost

The construction of the Bird’s Nest cost a whopping $423 million but this was a small fraction compared to the $40 billion being spent on the preparation of the Beijing Olympics.

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5. The symbolism of the stadium

Chinese culture played an important role in the design of the Beijing National Stadium. The stadium was meant to symbolize the ‘great nature’ on earth with an overall theme of balance. Apart from its aesthetics, the space was designed in a way to show the coexistence of the urban Olympic games amidst natural surroundings, symbolized by the Olympic Green, the main site of the 2008 games. The original concept for the facade came from the idea of a single thread wrapped around a ball and due to its organic and interlocking shape, it was aptly nicknamed “Bird’s Nest”. The brilliance of the latticework is denoted in the multiple pentagrams created by its functional geometry, which are reminiscent of the stars on the Chinese flag.

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6. Energy design features

The stadium, with its seemingly dematerialized leitmotif, garnered attention not only for its bewildering architecture but also for its sustainable design that included the incorporation of natural ventilation, maximized use of daylighting, rainwater harvesting techniques, and solar photovoltaic power generation among others.

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7. Earthquake resistance

Bird’s Nest, China was designed to be able to withstand earthquakes of 8.0 magnitude, a mandatory requirement by the Chinese government. As China is prone to earthquakes, the roof was separated from the seating bowl to withstand quakes. The stadium was constructed and designed for the people keeping in mind aspects of safety, comfort, and best visibility.

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8. As a public space

The space between the interiors and the outside acts as a well-designed public space. The space features restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail shops and the structural grid of the stadium provides spaces for walkways, pathways, and recreational spaces like sunken gardens, bamboo groves, mineral hill landscapes, etc that enhance user experience and the idea of public life that the city of Beijing loves.

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9. Seating capacity.

The stadium had an original capacity of 80,000 seats which was increased to 91,000, for the Olympics. The stadium also has more than 200 accessible seats which are slightly higher than normal seat height to ensure optimal viewing, in keeping with the user-centric approach.

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10. Visual design

The inside of the stadium Bird’s Nest, China features seats colored red on the lower tiers to white on the upper tiers. This gradient provides a feeling of lightness to the otherwise massive structure. The weatherproof roof is composed of a double-layered transparent ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) membrane and a translucent PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) membrane under it. This helps in filtering light and deflecting sound in a manner that intensifies user excitement. The incorporation of spotlights into the rim of the roof opening creates an ethereal backdrop to the cityscape at night.   

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Consequently, it can be stated without doubt that,  this iconic structure that evokes awe-inspiring nature in the midst of an urban landscape and which is a visual tribute to the power of imagination coupled with technical clarity and rationality, will continue to inspire generations of designers long after its time.

Rashmi Nair
Author

Rashmi Nair is an architect, interior designer, and fashion illustrator who is an ardent lover of all things design. She strives to be sustainable in design and life and strongly believes in the ‘Less is More’ idealogy. She enjoys exploring museums, reading, making lists, and a hot cup of coffee

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