The Chinese National Aquatic Center, better known as the Watercube, recently won the most prestigious architecture award from the Australian Institute of Architecture! Although not officially a cube, the incredible aquatics facility is the 2008 winner of the Jorn Utzon Award for International Architecture. The design and construction of the memorable facility was a collaboration between Australian firm PTW Architects, Chinese practices CSCEC and CCDI, and international firm Arup.
The 2008 Summer Olympics were exciting in many ways, including the 25 world records broken by swimmers in the Watercube, and especially the many wins of Michael Phelps. The swimming pool was predicted to be the fastest Olympic pool in the world because it was 3 meters deep, one meter deeper than most pools.
From an architectural standpoint, we were excited to watch the construction of amazing new stadiums like the Bird’s Nest and the Watercube. Energy efficient and eco-friendly buildings like these stadiums are surely becoming the norm. Additionally, these structures haven taken cues from nature and biomimicry. The Watercube’s design is based on water bubbles in foam, and while it may seem random, this structure is derived from principles of geometry and crystaline systems.
The building’s structure is framed in steel, while the bubbles themselves are made from ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) pillows measuring 0.2 mm thick. The membrane lets in more light and heat than traditional glass does, which keeps all 5 pools warmer, thus reducing energy costs by 30%. Rainwater from the roof is collected and recycled with efficient filtration and backwash systems, and an incredible LED lighting system turns the Watercube into a beautiful kaleidoscope at night.
The jurors who selected the Watercube said, “The Watercube uses state-of-the-art materials to create a visually striking building that is also energy-efficient and ecologically friendly. The most impressive aspect of the project is the outer shell or molecular skin that envelops the building. The building has a chameleon-like quality that captures light in an extraordinary and memorable way. In every respect, the Watercube is an engaging and ethereal building that comfortably straddles the traditions of both Chinese and Western architecture.”