Beijing Unveils 'Watercube' Swimming Venue for 2008 Olympics

Organizers of the Beijing Olympics unveiled the "Watercube" swimming venue Monday, one of the more stunning structures built for the 2008 Games.

Known officially as the National Aquatics Center, the Watercube has been dubbed the "cool" building of the Games and, along with the National Stadium, has been called a work of art.

The building's translucent, blue-toned outside skin — made of a Teflon-like material called ETFE — gives the impression of a cube draped in bubble wrap. In between the cube's two outside layers is a passage that allows the building to breathe like a greenhouse.

The original cost estimate for the building was about $100 million. But the actual cost has been shrouded in secrecy, with figures ranging from $150 million to more than $200 million. Much of the building was financed by $110 million in private contributions from people in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

"I believe this could be one of the most significant sports venues," said Zheng Fang, an architect and chief of the design team for China Construction Design International, which collaborated with Australian company PTW Architects on the building.

Some have argued the gargantuan National Stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest," could become a white elephant, but the Watercube has been built to be converted to a shopping area and leisure center with tennis courts, retail outlets, nightclubs and restaurants.

"This building was designed for use after the games," said John Pauline, a lead architect with PTW. "We were looking at 30 or 40 years from now."

But maintenance of the venue could prove complicated. At the unveiling it was clear the bubbles, soiled by Beijing's dirty air, already needed cleaning. Officials said this would take about a week and would be done periodically.

After a little more than three years of construction, the facility was officially handed over to the Beijing organizing committee. During a brief ceremony Monday, organizing committee president, Liu Qi, and Beijing Mayor Guo Jin Long both dipped their hands into the competition pool.

The venue has 6,000 permanent and 11,000 temporary seats and will be the site of 42 events during the Olympics, which start Aug. 8.

The Watercube is one of 37 venues for the Olympics, 31 of which will be in Beijing. Most are located in four clusters in the north of the city. Five more venues for soccer and sailing are located outside Beijing, and equestrian events will be held in Hong Kong.