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Olympic Stadium, Beijing, China | Overview

Sturcture and Design

Complex Geometry

Though the pattern initially seems random, there are several layers of patterns – each with its own rules and order that the eye does not pick up. Arup has been able to use these rules to accurately define the geometry of individual elements, without this confidence in the geometry the stadium would be impossible to build.

The roof is saddle-shaped, and the geometry is developed from a base ellipse of which the major and minor axes are 313 meters and 266 metres respectively. The outer surface of the facade is inclined at approximately 13° to the vertical.

For earthquake reasons, a concept to separate the roof from the seating bowl is derived. The steel roof, with 3-dimensional structure, would span the 330m long by 220m wide space, weighing 45 000 tonnes. It will first clad with a series of ETFE panels on the upper surface, and once this stage is complete, with an acoustic membrane on the lower surface of the steel structure. This layer reflects and absorbs sound to maintain the atmosphere in the stadium. The architectural work on the inside of the stadium, such as the stairs, was carried out at the same time as the cladding.


Clever application of geometry and materials are the fundamental tricks behind creating an illusion of instability. Whether it's a small sculpture or a large-scale stadium, the same principles of space, light and materials is needed to create a false impression of weightlessness. This weightlessness is not pure illusion. The irregular nature of the structure meant looking for new methods of designing structural steel sections in order to minimise weight and make it feasible for the stadium to support its roof.

Minimum Surface

To reduce costs, the outside of the stadium needed to have minimum surface but contain all the structure, therefore, Arup designed the bowl first and the outside facade wraps around it.

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