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Beijing National Aquatics Center

National Aquatics Centre, also known as 'The Water Cube', is one of the most dramatic and exciting venues to host sporting events for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The external appearance was inspired by the natural formation of soap bubbles! It utilized state-of-the-art technology and materials to achieve the visually exciting structure, but it's more than just a pretty place.

The innovative design concept successfully addressed four key concerns for the Beijing games; namely economic, social, environmental and natural resources issues. Central to the design philosophy is the core objective of water conservation. Water in Northern China is a valuable commodity, and the outer membrane has self-cleaning and water collection properties. The roof facade can "collect" 10,000 tons of rain water, 70,000 tons of clean water and 60,000 tons of swimming pool water annually. The building uses solar energy to heat the pools and the interior area, and all backwash water is filtered and returned to the swimming pools, saving another 140,000 tons in recycled water a year. The light-weight cladding allowed for a lighter internal structure, using far less steel than a conventional, glass-clad structure, a significant saving. Ground was broken on December 24, 2003, and the Center was completed and handed over for use on January 28, 2008.

The Water Cube at night

The structure had a capacity of 17,000 during the games; reduced to 6,000 for post-Olympics use. Taking up a total land surface of 65,000 square meters, it covers a total of 32,000 square meters (7.9 acres). Although called the Water Cube, the aquatic center is really a cuboid - 178 meters (584 feet) square and 31 meters (102 feet) high, a big box of beautiful bubbles.

Swimmers at the Water Cube broke 25 world records during the 2008 Summer Olympics; perhaps the refreshing environment inspires more than just visual appreciation.