Good venues are crucial to hosting a successful Olympic games. In
recent years, host cities have provided a seemingly unlimited palate
for architects and planners to create unusual and inspiring
structures. Several of Beijing's venues are now instantly
recognizable. As VOA's Jim Stevenson reports from the Chinese capital,
the National Aquatics Center - or Water Cube - is the focus of
attention during the first week of the Olympics.
Just a few days into the Beijing Games, elite swimmers like Australian Lisbeth Trickett, who won the women's 100-meter butterfly gold medal on Monday, are quick to praise the Water Cube.
"I think it is a great pool," said Trickett.
The swimming venue is centrally located on the Olympic Green with other iconic structures like the National Stadium, known as the Birds Nest.
From the outside, visitors are struck by both the size of the massive square building, and it's unique exterior surface. The concept was developed in Australia and was based on the natural formation of soap bubbles to give the venue a random, organic appearance.
The individual bubbles are formed by constantly inflating sections of plastic film, which appear blue by day. At night, the Water Cube is illuminated from within using a variety of colors which can be changed across the entire building, or within individual bubbles.
But the interior is equally, if not more impressive. The centerpiece is the Olympic pool, with a dramatic cluster of diving platforms at one end that tower above an adjacent pool.
The depth and width of the main pool creates an ideal environment for speed. The early competition has already yielded numerous national, Olympic and world records.
Shortly after climbing out of the water Monday, American veteran Brendan Hansen was very pleased.
"It is just a true testament to how well Beijing has done allowing the athletes to perform at their peak. And that is awesome. That is what you want at an Olympics. And they have done an amazing job as a host," said Hansen.
Lisbeth Trickett says the aquatics center reminds her of the facility used in her Australian homeland during the 2000 Olympics.
"Obviously we are seeing some very fast times. And we have seen a number of world records. So obviously it is a fantastic setup. As an Australian, it feels a lot like our Sydney Olympic Park. I really enjoy racing there. I have raced quite well there. So obviously having the same feeling about the pool [in Beijing] makes it easier. I think we are going to see a lot more fast racing to come," said Trickett.
The Water Cube uses advanced technologies, including state-of-the-art solar energy to heat the pools and the interior area. All backwash water is conserved by being filtered and returned to the swimming pools, helping to make the building environmentally friendly.