Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Building an Icon

Building the Bird's Nest

Last night when I was running on the treadmill, I watched a National Geographic show on the construction of the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest.
It talked about the whole bidding process that began in 2002 and how the Chinese government wanted to have a building no one had ever seen before.
Which explains why Herzog & de Meuron's Bird's Nest design was chosen a year later.
There were also scenes with them discussing the design with artist Ai Weiwei who said these architects were interesting because they wanted to start completely fresh and new; they said he encouraged them to push the boundaries. 

They looked into Chinese art and found design inspiration in ancient Chinese vessels, bowls and jars to give the round feel. Then they wanted the building to have a contemporary look, and an inviting building that gave people the ability to go in and out of it easily. In the end they did a de-constructionist design of putting the skeleton of the building on the outside. When the Chinese officials saw this, their immediate impression was that it was like a bird's nest and the name stuck.
The design was chosen and then a ground breaking ceremony was held. But then in 2004, a new section of the Charles de Gaulle Airport collapsed and China got very concerned about how sturdy the bird's nest would be. Construction was halted while everything was checked over again. The architects had to wait five months before they were given the green light again, but now there was no more retractable roof and so the open-air roof was made bigger, and cut down costs.
There were also tests to check its ability to withstand earthquakes and it was decided to separate the steel beams from the concrete floor and to break up the nest into sections so that one part would not affect the other.

Some 110,000 tons of steel was used as well as hundreds of tons of concrete; 7,000 workers were employed on the site working in three shifts 24 hours a day. Then came the time to create the weaving of the bird's nest and the steel created was never or manufactured before ever in China, and the beams which twisted had to be made in sections from near Shanghai and then transported by truck to Beijing. Why they didn't go the shipping route to Tianjin was not explained.

Anyway the pieces were brought to Beijing and then hoisted by cranes bit by bit. Welders had to put the pieces together -- but at the right temperature because steel will expand during hot temperatures, and contract in the evenings. The welders also had to lie on their backs at certain points to weld the pieces together.

All this time the stadium was held up by hoists. When all the steel frames were in place, it was time to take away the hoists so that the stadium could "sink" into the ground. It was recorded live on television and so the drama unfolded millimetre by millimetre as the hoists were ever so slowly lowered.

What's also interesting is that during the construction phase, Herzog and de Meuron aren't seen at all watching the action; perhaps it was left to the British engineering firm Arup. Throughout the entire design process and construction, the teams had to constantly refer to 3-D computer-generated images -- there was no way they could be drawn on a piece of paper. It was the first time they had extensive used 3-D imaging to solve problems which was most of the time.

In the end Herzog & de Meuron did create a building that no one has ever seen before.

But now it's sad to see it isn't used as a public space anymore or for events; it's just a reminder of the 2008 Olympics as a tourist draw. There are plans for a shopping mall and hotel to be built nearby.

So much for encouraging Chinese citizens to exercise and have a healthy lifestyle. It's just a monument to prove the government can spend the people's taxpayer dollars however way they choose.

1 comment:

  1. all governments/leaders want to leave a legacy behind to mark their place in history. from arc de triomphe to pompidu centre are examples. chinese leaders are no different. these are white elephants a waste of money for a glorious moment. pity the poor northwest people of china living in utter poverty with very little handout from the prosperous central government.