National Aquatics Center (Water Cube)

  • The building's distinctive appearance inspired by soap bubbles.
  • Façade constructed from ETFE, which has 1% the weight of glass.

The National Aquatics Center, also known as the 'Water Cube', was one of the most dramatic and exciting sporting venues constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Enclosed within the bubble walls are five swimming pools (including a wave machine and rides), a restaurant and seating and facilities for 17,000 spectators.

Distinctive sustainable façade

The building’s form is inspired by the natural formation of soap bubbles. Arup’s designers and structural engineers realised that a structure based on this unique geometry would be highly repetitive and buildable, while appearing organic and random.

Ethyl tetrofluoroethylene (ETFE) was chosen for the façade. This material weighs just 1% of glass and is a better thermal insulator. Around 20% of solar energy is trapped and used for heating

The daylight allowed into the cube saves up to 55% on the lighting energy required for the leisure pool hall.

An ETFE façade was also used succesfully on Munich's Allianz Arena.


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  • Interior of Water Cube, showing swimming pools and seating. Credit Ben McMillan.Open gallery

    Enclosed within the blue bubble walls are five swimming pools and seating for 17,000 spectators during the Beijing Olympics 2008.

  • Detail of Water Cube skin. Credit Ben McMillan.Open gallery

    The bubble cladding lets in more light than glass and thoroughly cleans itself with every rain shower.