The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games kicked off last week on 4 February and the building that caught our eye is the National Speed Skating Oval (NSSO).
Designed by global sports architecture firm Populous after it beat over 60 companies in an international design competition in 2016, it is the only permanent new venue and is distinctive for evoking a sense of high velocity – much like the sport it hosts – streaking across the sky.
This effect is made possible by 22 light strands that surge up and around the oval building footprint up to a maximum height of 33.8m, resulting in it being affectionally christened “Ice Ribbon”.
Providing the inspiration for the concept is ice tops, a childhood game played by the Principal of Populous in China and co-project director of NSSO, Tiric Chang.
“The traditional ice game in old Beijing involved a high-speed spinning and leaping ice top that seemed to have infinite energy and possibilities,” shares Chang, who is a native of the city.
“That’s what I thought of when reflecting on the characteristics of Olympic speed skating – so the ice tops became part of the design inspiration, injecting a strong Chinese memory into the venue.”
But it did not stop there; Chang also introduced elements from the Dunhuang Grottoes, dating back to the Tang Dynasty, which he had been exposed to from an early age by his grandparents and father.
Chang recalls being regaled with tales around the paintings found there, including of the flying apsaras who danced through the sky in their colourful silk ribbons.
“This concept became an important inspiration for me in the design of NSSO. It guided the design team to boldly extend the concept of a high-speed rotating ice top to creating 22 rotating light bands for the facade, which not only represent the ice surface and the shape of the oval, but also perfectly demonstrate the high-speed movement of speed skaters.
“The ice top transformed into an ice ribbon and the design of NSSO created a beautiful interpretation of Chinese culture and heritage from figurative to abstract by our global design team.”
By night, each ribbon can be shot through with colour, allowing the building to have an endless array of lighting options.
Internally, the design of NSSO meets all the requirements of the International Olympic Committee and International Skating Union.
Regardless of where anyone sits within the oval, the movement and sound of the speed skating blades can be seen and heard clearly.
“Aesthetics and practicality are perfectly unified in the design of NSSO,” Chang says.
From a masterplan standpoint, Ice Ribbon stands along a central axis that intersects with the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, enhancing the urban fabric of the neighbourhood.
Post-Olympics, NSSO will strive to fulfil its long-term purpose as a hub for the community, hosting winter festivals, public ice skating, ice hockey or private ice-based shows and events.
This supports the Chinese Central Government’s Ice and Snow Sports Development Plan, which aims to involve 300 million people in ice and snow sports by 2025.
NSSO surely deserves its own gold medal.