How can the Beijing National Aquatics Centre be understood in relation to ‘form’?

 

Essay Word Count: 3016 words

Abstract

The Beijing National Aquatic Centre is located to the west of the Olympic Green as well as to the west of the national stadium popularly known as the Bird’s Nest.  The design of the centre encompasses modern technology oriented in Chinese traditional values.  The design is a blend of both Chinese and Australian conceptions in a square earth as well as in a round heaven to form the central theme.  At the same time, the cube epitomizes ancient urban themes and the design is based on traditional style which meets functional requirements.

The centre is made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) membrane insulations and is the first large scale public project to employ this technology.  Seen from outside, it looks like a huge box, thus getting its nickname “ice cube” from its looks.  In addition, it is blue in order to reflect the sun, however, from inside, it has pneumatic cushions of all sizes just like sea bubbles.  In making the centre, different high technologies were utilised.

Thus this paper will discuss the various morphology and morphogenesis theories related to the different forms of technology that went in to the creation of the Water Cube structure. It will also discuss the semiotics as used to enhance communication in this Water Cube in order to try and establish the core theme, which is the Water Cube as a means of communication in regard to the Chinese culture.

In addition, this paper will also examine the form of the water cube as it may be manifested in the Chinese culture through Yin and Yang as well as the potential relationship with the Bird’s Nest.  The colour of the building will also be examined in the light of water cubes, blue bubbles as well as its lighting element as related to harmony.

 

 

Introduction

Background information

The National Aquatics Centre, Water Cube is a renowned building within the architectural world in terms of design and physical presence.  The building is located on the western side of the Landscape Avenue in the vicinity of the famed Olympic Green and near the Bird’s Nest stadium, the Beijing National Stadium.  The centre encompasses the 2008 Olympics’ state of the art swimming facility.  The building’s construction commenced on 24th December 2003, and came to a completion on 1st January 2008[1].  The building has the following measurements: 177 meters in length, 177 meters broad, and 30 meters tall and covers a total area of 62,950 square meters or 75,287 square yards.  The building further encompasses four floors within it – that is to say, one street level on the ground floor, two on top of the other and one below.  The floor covers a total of 79,532 square meter or 95,119 square yards, whilst the underneath street area is not more than 15,000 square meters or 17,939 square yards in coverage.  The street level below is designed to serve as a state-of-the-art service area during the Olympics.  Basically, the first floor is planned for tourists[2].  The conspicuously designed auditorium is located on the second floor that has a total exactly of 6,000 seats, while the movable seats in the auditorium are 2,000 in total, and 11,000 are provisional seats.  The third floor is designed and reserved strictly for business purposes.  The National Aquatics Centre is visibly seen from a distance as an enormous blue container, hence its renowned name: the Water Cube.  The Water Cube is distinctly blue in colour in order for it to reflect sunlight similar to pearls in water.  When inside the Water Cube, one can see that the pneumatic designed cushions resemble sea bubbles.  In addition, the Water Cube is designed to meet the sustainable technology in the world hence seemingly environmentally acquiescent to the natural surroundings[3] (figure 1).

 

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Figure 1: Master Plan

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Figure 2: Elevation and Functional Section

Morphogenesis and Morphology

Morphogenesis is derived from the Greek terms ‘morphe’(shape/form) and ‘genesis’ (creation)[4] (figure 3).  

 Image

Figure 3-The distinctive tectonic articulation of the library’s cantilevering volumes is developed through generative computational processes driven by spatial and structural criteria.

 

Morphology is described as the study of forms[5].  This definition by the famous Geothe presented a platform for contemporary morphology.  In other words it is a scientific technique that gives a phylogenetic, ontogenetic as well as a systematic knowledge of nature.  Morphogenesis is a concept used in a varied number of disciplines, such as biology, engineering, crystallography, art, architecture among others.  In the field of architecture, morphogenesis is referred to as a group of techniques that makes use of digital media and is not used as a representational tool for visualisation[6].

However, it is used as a generative tool to develop and transform an aspiration which conveys the contextual process in built form.  Morphology basically entails adopting a new form and undergoing a metamorphic change and forms a new one.  Nonetheless, this causes one to inquire how a continual differentiation takes place, transformation takes place and the new formed object performs in regard to the specified environment[7]. Therefore, what does developmental biology and architecture have in common? Developmental biology could be used to give an insight toward how the morphology and morphogenesis theory are related to have created the Water Cube structure. Developmental biology is characterised by three main spheres: morphogenesis, cell growth, as well as cell differentiation[8].  Cell growth involved the growth of new sizes and number of cells, while cell differentiation describes the procedure which a cell obtains a new form(figure 4).

 

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Figure 4- The parasite project – Structure and interior space from the form of cells.

These two aspects are used by architectures in developing new designs such as the semiotic structures of the Water Cube.

Water Cube Form Represents Chinese Culture

The Water Cube design consists of the combination of modern technologies and Chinese custom values in design.  The Chinese Culture in the Water Cube design was conceptualised from a round sky and a square ground[9]

 Therefore, the designers’ main theme in coming up with the building’s structure and final product.  Moreover, the design is a common facet in urban Chinese buildings.  The designers ensured that the National Aquatics Centre’s structure is planned in regard to the Chinese traditional technique in order to find all of its intended functional requirements.  The National Aquatics Centre has a peculiar design that makes it distinct from other buildings.  In fact, the building is renowned to be the first of its kind to be designed under the ‘soap bubble’ theory as well as polyhedral steel framed[10].

 

Morphology and Morphogenesis Theory and Water Cube Structure

Morphology and Morphogenesis Theory

Morphology is defined as the study of forms and space[11].  The concept of morphology involves morphogenesis which encompasses of procedures that lead to the development of the spatial distribution of cells which result from an embryonic growth of an organism, hence creating varied features of tissues, organ, and generally the whole body structure. The Morpho-Ecologies concept takes up the theory of morphogenesis and relaying to the method of growing material systems by making inquiries for scale as well as the size of specific conduct and the related performance capacities[12].  This aptly entails the exposure of the material systems at every stage of development in regard to a series of extrinsic influence and stimuli which are given by a certain environment.

Another example that relates and supports the concept morphology is the use of natural morphogenesis.  This is a process that involves the evolutionary growth and development which creates polymorphic systems.  Natural morphogenesis can be referred to as a hierarchical display of materials which show mutuality in scale dependent articulation as well as a high level of integration transversely on all scales[13].  This type of morphogenesis has two features that make them indivisible, and they include its formation as well as materialisation.  In contrast, structural design is described by prioritising the creation over an intrinsic material logic.  All the materials in this phenomenon are CNC mechanised into sophisticated hysterical forms; this is attributed to the ability of the contemporary manufacturing being able to form these shapes with slight consideration of the performative capacities and the morphological capacities[14].  The resulting effect of the use of natural morphogenesis is the design of the shape of a building.  This is done by making reference to the means of materialisation, the process of production as well as the construction in architecture[15].

Morphology Theory Applies To Water Cube

The Water Cube morphology encompasses the use of ancient shapes of Chinese house structures which is also related to expressing art, the floor of the Water Cube is related to the Chinese culture of a square ground on earth[16].  The architecture of this structural building used digital morphology concept to create pillows or pneumatic cushions which were transparent materials from ETFE.  These structures were filled with air, hence fulfilling their desire of forming bubbles on a water cube like structure[17].  In fact the morphology theory in biology was used as a source of their brainwave in their architectural efforts to design the Water Cube.  Through biomimetics one is able to mimic nature’s structures and apply it in contemporary architecture [18].

The morphology theory also applies to the Water Cube formation as it encompassed the use of digital computation.  Its structural design was also widely based on the development of the most proficient use of 3-dimensional space[19].  These aspects allowed the architectural team which developed the Water Cube to apply the varied principles of morphology which include biology, engineering, crystallography, art, architecture among others. Moreover, it is evident from the use of digital computation that architecture morphogenesis used techniques that involve the  use of digital media, thereby creating or generating a tool to develop and transform an aspiration which conveys the contextual process of construction/building.

This is evident from the use of a repetitive structural design in forming the bubbles on the Water Cube [20](figure 5).

ImageImageImage 

 

 
   

 

 

                       

Figure 5- Form, foam and the molecular structure of water create the form of Water Cube.

In fact, when observed from a distance one is able to notice this repetition of patterns, hence one can conclude that there is the use of architectural morphology with a somewhat similar morphology in semiotics. 

 

Representation of Nature

The water bubble façade of the Water Cube is attributed to the designers’ source of inspiration which is a biological morphology which in turn motivated the use of an architectural morphology to emulate the actual nature of this new found phenomenon [21](figure 6). 

 Image

Figure 6-The facade of Water Cube and the Interior Space.

 

According to Arup, an in-depth analysis reveals that the architectures used the ETFE to form surfaces of pneumatic cushions of the facade, and this was approximated to have a single percent of the mass of glass. 

The natural structure of the buildings patterns were also inspired from soap bubbles, which forced them to develop and use an inimitable part of geometry to ensure that building includes a highly recurring pattern that could be easily replicated and have a form similar to its original source of inspiration[22].

Architecture Semiotics and Chinese Culture

Architecture semiotics

Architecture semiotics has been brought about by the concern by semioticians by creating a relationship between people and the environment and vice versa.  However, it contradicts the traditional cognitive approach of the human understanding of the environment, advanced by Venturi, Robert [23](figure 7).  

ImageImage

 

Figure 7-The Long Island Ducking and Building as a Sign.

Therefore, semiotic encapsulation acts as an intermediary agent of transformation and communication.  This is done through sign systems conventions.  It promotes an indicative language that passes a message either subjectively or objectively to the viewer and continually reflecting some sense of cultural importance, space, and time capture[24].  However, architectural semiotic goes beyond this and is far more complex than graphic symbolism and language because it also acts on intercessory perception.  They are two critical aspects of a semiotic structure, the surface, and the other innate meaning (deep structure).  This means that surface structure expresses the extrinsic form that reflects information to the audience, whereas the deep structure expresses a kind of form and need[25].  Therefore, this would be influenced by the local culture, history social environment and underline circumstances that are required to be expressed by the architectural structure[26].

Charles Sanders Pierce argues that image is equivalent to a symbol even when the subject does not exist[27].  He explains that every symbol is, in its origin, an image of the specific idea being signified, or a reminiscence of a given original occurrence, human or thing, linked with its meaning, if not a metaphor.  Semiotics or the study of semiosis affects humans in significant ways, as it entails an approach of understanding the human condition along with the universe in general[28].  Architecture is said to be the most complicated system of semiotics considering that a building enhances the all-wave human senses of visual, aural, and tactile.

The process of creating architecture semiotics entails great degree of thinking involving human being’s psychological activity helped by imagination, retreatment, and recreating. This is especially because human thoughts are the determinants of the communication level between the architecture semiotics and themselves to a larger extent.  Architecture semiotics and the structuralism provided a lot of guiding thoughts during the design process of Water Cube where architects integrated much life passion and inspiration.  The creations of the concept, form, and space were grounded on the architecture itself taking into consideration that each kind of elements and conditions, the slashing requirements by the owner, thus creating the self-logic or order form for the building.  In addition, the design of the Water Cube was based on basic structuralism method of self-duplicate diagram, function, sequence, and space as opposed to some symbolist semiotics or intellectuality transition.

The Water Cube in all its aspects brings out every aspect of the Chinese culture.  Viewing from a long distance, the Water Cube does not appear as huge as it is ought to be and it gives no invasive feeling at the ground.  As a composite thing that exists in a spatial simultaneity, architecture is a very real sense.  By definition, individual sense refers to the unfolding in real time of a particular set of possibilities given in space common in the Chinese culture.  This set of possibilities shared in the population.  The systematic architecture refers to a system of signs of space form and order[29].  The Water Cube design was conceptualised from round heaven and a square earth, hence the designers’ central theme in coming up with the building’s structure and final product.  Moreover, the design is a common facet in urban Chinese buildings.  Architecture enters this sense of arbitrary and differential and becomes a constituent unit in the semiotic system.  Helped by the common signifier that dictates our comprehension of these buildings, it is a sign which can only be intelligibly understood in the context of a certain cultural understanding.

The Water Cube was designed to work specifically in harmony with its circular main (called the Bird’s Nest) with the aim of creating a visual of a “yin and yang” balance[30](figure 8).

Image

 

Figure 8-Water Cube and The Bird’s Nest Creating balance in form, colour and structure related to nature.

 

  A popular hypothesis explaining the origin of the universe known as the hemispherical dome came to be associated.  The National Stadium represented the vault sky and the Water Cube was the square ground, thereby reflecting the tradition context and social historical aspect (figure 9).

 ImageImage

Figure 9-Round Sky and a Square Ground from traditional Chinese culture.

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The Water Cube creates geometry of water bubbles into rectangular structures.  The lighting fixture uses LED lighting which illuminates the bubbles designs from the translucent walls.  This allows the building to glow with the possibility of colour-changing LED light (figure 10).

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Figure 10-72 Colours LED Lighting System.

 

Conclusion

 The National Aquatic Centre in Beijing is one among the leading hallmarks of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games hosted in the country owing to its dramatic and exciting as well as captivating structural design.  It represents one of the country’s most famous pieces of modern architecture.  For instance, its external structural design and engineering achieved an appearance and shape inspired by the national formation of soap bubbles which is very rare in any part of the world.  It was also built using the state-of-the-art technology and materials in order to achieve a visually appealing structure which was more than just a pretty look.  This further served to showcase the level of development in regard to technology by the country.

Moreover, in order to exemplify the role and level of technological advancement of the country, the design concept of the centre addresses three core aspects of the Beijing Olympic games, namely, technology, environment, as well as culture.  In addition to this, the centre themes of the design is the core objective of water conservation which is a very valuable commodity in the northern part of the country as it is in many other places in the world.  For instance, the outer membranes are self cleaning with water collection characteristics by which the roof façade alone can collect over 10,000 tons of rain water, 70,000 tons of clean water as well as 60,000 tons of swimming pool water in a year. Furthermore, the building technology of the centre enables the centre to make use of solar energy for heating both the swimming pool water and the interior area while all the backwash water is filtered before being returned to the pool which saves over 140,000 tons of water in a year.  Additionally, the centre has light weight cladding which further allows for a lighter internal structure which is built using less steel in comparison to a conventional glass clad structure which represents another significant aspect further saving. So as it stands today, the national aquatics centre represent a great propensity for tourist attraction.  Thus truly, the national aquatic centre in Beijing is a good example that applying the combination of morphology theory and semiotic theory which is a real heritage to be proud of in the country.

 


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[1] Lisa Nadile, NFPA Journal The Water Cube, (Mar, 2008) pp. 51-53.

[2] China Construction Design International. CCDI Architecture: Design for China’s Future. (Melbourne, Australia: Images Publishing, 2008) pp.3-15

[3] Lisa Nadile, NFPA Journal The Water Cube, (Mar, 2008) pp. 51-53.

[4] Monika Bilska, Marta Nagaska, “Digital Morpgpgensis” (Dessau Institute of Architecture 2006) pp. 34-37.

[5] Michael Hensel and Achim Menges, “Designing Morphogenesis – versatility and vicissitude of Heterogeneous space” pp.102-111.

[6] Micheal Hensel and Achim Menges, “Towards all inclusive discourse on heterogeneous architecture “ pp. 17-28.

[7] Stanislav, Rpudavski, “International Journal of Architecture Computing – Towards Morphogenesis in Architecture“. pp: 345-351.

[8] Michael Hensel and Achim Menges, “Designing Morphogenesis – versatility and vicissitude of Heterogeneous space” pp.102-111.

[9] Kirsten Orr, “Thinking Beyond the Square: Innovation Theory and Technology Transfer As They Apply To the Beijing Water Cube” (2009) pp. 1-9.

[10] Chan, B 2005, New architecture in China, Merrell, London.

[11] Michael Hensel and Achim Menges. Morpho-Ecologies. 2010, accessed November 6, 2013, http://digitalecology.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/hensel-menges_morphoecologies.pdf.

[12] Michael Hensel and Achim Menges. Morpho-Ecologies. 2010, accessed November 6, 2013, http://digitalecology.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/hensel-menges_morphoecologies.pdf.

[13] Monika Bilska, Marta Nagaska, “Digital Morpgpgensis” (Dessau Institute of Architecture 2006) pp. 34-37.

[14] China Construction Design International. CCDI Architecture: Design for China’s Future. Melbourne, Australia: Images Publishing, 2008.

[15] Patrick X. W. Zou and Rob Leslie-Carter. “Lessons Learned from Managing the Design of the ‘Water Cube’ National Swimming Centre for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.” Architectural Engineering and Design Management 6, no. 3 (2010): 175-188, accessed November 6, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/756346872?accountid=11243.

[16] [16] Kirsten Orr, “Thinking Beyond the Square: Innovation Theory and Technology Transfer As They Apply To the Beijing Water Cube” (2009) pp. 1-9.

[17] Julie Rehmeyer, .A Building Of Bubbles. 2008, accessed November 6, 2013, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/building-bubbles.

[18] China Construction Design International. CCDI Architecture: Design for China’s Future. Melbourne, Australia: Images Publishing, 2008.

[19] Stanislav, Rpudavski, “International Journal of Architecture Computing – Towards Morphogenesis in Architecture“. pp: 345-351..

[20] China Construction Design International. CCDI Architecture: Design for China’s Future. Melbourne, Australia: Images Publishing, 2008.

[21] Arup. National Aquatics Center (Water Cube), accessed November 6, 2013, http://www.arup.com/Projects/Chinese_National_Aquatics_Center/Details.aspx.

[22] Stanislav, Rpudavski, “International Journal of Architecture Computing – Towards Morphogenesis in Architecture“. pp: 345-351.

[23] Venturi, Robert, and Denise Scott Brown. “part 1: A significance for A & P parking lots, or learning from Las Vegas.” In learning from Las Vegas, edited by Robert Ventrui, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, 3-73. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1972.

[24] Venturi, Robert, and Denise Scott Brown. “part 1: A significance for A & P parking lots, or learning from Las Vegas.” In learning from Las Vegas, edited by Robert Ventrui, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, 3-73. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1972.

[25] Martin Krampen, “Semiotics in Architecture and Industrial Design” pp.124-139.

[26] Candice Reese, “Architecture and Urban Design as Influences on the Communication of Place and Experience in Graphic Design.” Order No. 1464527, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2009, accessed November 6, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/305065746?accountid=11243.

[27] Penelope Jane Dean, “Delivery without Discipline: Architecture in the Age of Design.” Order No. 3357361, University of California, Los Angeles, 2008, accessed November 6, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/304656745?accountid=11243.

[28] Penelope Jane Dean, “Delivery without Discipline: Architecture in the Age of Design.” Order No. 3357361, University of California, Los Angeles, 2008, accessed November 6, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/304656745?accountid=11243.

[29] Petra Gruber “The signs of life in Architecture “(Vienna, Austria) pp. 2-9.

[30] Qi Wang, Tim Heath, “Social Semiotics – towards a universal language of the built environment” (Nottingham, 2010).

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