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Olympics 2012

A Roof That Looks Like Water

A Roof That Looks Like Water
Courtesy: Zaha Hadid Architects
London gets ready for the Summer Games See full coverage

Inside, is a pool. The pool, really, the London Aquatic Center, where, beginning next Saturday, the best swimmers in the world will compete for those life-defining demarcations: gold, silver, and bronze.

Outside, it's an undulating wave of aluminum, supported by a structure of Red Lauro timber and more than 3,000 tons of steel. The shape - "inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion," according to Zaha Hadid Architects - arches over three pools (one for diving, one for racing, and one for training) and some 2,500 seats. Two structural appendages will provide an additional 15,000 seats for the summer's games, and will then be dismantled, leaving behind the "legacy building" - the permanent structure whose un-Olympic size should prove easier for London to maintain. It is the highest-capacity of the venues during the Olympics; it will reduce to the lowest.

The Olympic set-up:

Legacy mode:

The building's construction required the demolition of 11 industrial building and the removal of 160,000 metric tons of soil. (Also, strange but awesome factlet: According to ZHA, four skeletons from a pre-historical settlement were discovered during the excavation for the building's foundation.)

But what makes the building iconic is the roof, whose graceful, swooping curves belies the rugged interior, the massive frame of steel, held together with some 70,000 bolts. The whole thing is supported on only three points - a wall at the south end and two concrete pillars at the north, and shaped by 10 north-south steel trusses. "The steelwork itself describes the architectural geometry - loosely," Glenn Moorley, Zaha Hadid's project leader for the center explained to me. 


Zaha Hadid Architects

But the steel isn't sophisticated enough to define the precise curvature. That comes from the timber and the aluminum that encases it. To keep costs down, the architects tried to "reduce, as much as possible, the bespoke sheets" of aluminum, meaning that the vast majority of the aluminum work was done with standard sheets. Only about two percent required customized cuts. Additionally, the timber was all cut from flat sheets and required no pre-curving.

Swiss photographer Helene Binet captured the roof mid-construction:

Will Moorley be going to watch the races at the pool he's worked on for so long? "No! I've got no tickets! I've only worked on it for seven years, but that means nothing when it comes to obtaining tickets. So I'm heading out of London instead."

His work here is done. And now, the water waits, ready for next week.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

Rebecca J. Rosen is an associate editor at The Atlantic. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly, where she spearheaded the magazine's In Essence section. All posts »

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