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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Beijing bubble-wraps a green Olympics

Spread across the largest-ever Olympics aquatics venue are energy-saving ideas that could inspire India’s future sport venues. A report by Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Aug 07, 2008 22:55 IST
Reshma Patil, China Correspondent
Reshma Patil, China Correspondent
Hindustan Times

When television viewers across the globe watch the opening of the Olympic Games on Friday, two new icons of a changing China will be the centrepiece of the world’s greatest show.

The 91,000-seat Bird’s Nest national stadium hosting the ceremony is a mesh of steel twigs built to represent heaven, and partly inspired by Chinese porcelain. Beside it is the largest-ever Olympics aquatic venue — the Water Cube — that represents the square Chinese symbol for the Earth.

The never-before designs built to stun spectators, and also withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake, grab all the attention. But the two Olympic venues also mark a landmark in China’s urgency for green engineering as it battles pollution and shortages of water and energy, after decades of ignoring the environmental impact of unchecked industrial and urban growth. On paper at least, future projects must now meet national energy standards to be cleared.

“These days there are almost monthly changes in Chinese laws for water and energy conservation,’’ says Rory McGowan, a Director of Arup, the engineering and design firm behind Beijing’s new look. McGowan says China’s environmental outlook has changed dramatically in the last six years.

Making the Water Cube using theoretical physics to design the natural formation of soap bubbles and organic cells was a ‘bundle of fun,’ he says. But spread over its 79,500 sq m are also serious energy-saving techniques that could inspire India’s upcoming sports venues and Olympic-sized pools in some of the IIT campuses.

If all the 4,000 blue bubbles that wrap the Water Cube are laid in a row, the line will stretch over 90 km. The untrained eye may not notice it, but the Water Cube is a gigantic greenhouse. Its bubble-like plastic is recyclable, lighter than glass and bathes the interior in sunshine while also resisting the weathering effect of sunlight.

The Cube captures 20 per cent of the solar energy falling on it, and passively heats the building and pool water. The heat is stored during the day and released at night. This is equivalent to covering the entire roof in photovoltaic or solar panels.

Air-conditioning for the spectator area is rigged under the seating, and switched on only during events.

Rainwater will be stored, filtered and used for hot water services.

The bubble-like material weighs only one per cent of the equivalent of a glass panel. It hardly rains in Beijing, but when it does, the bubblewrap can clean itself in the shower.