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21 July 2017
Morning Sedition

Building Buildings Like Blowing Bubbles

Outside View of Watercube

Outside View of Watercube

I was talking with a friend about how most modern architecture is basically self-indulgent crap designed to win awards but not be attractive or functional. (Bold statement, but never lead with a dead-fish punch.) You don't, after all, need to read a book by Tom Wolfe to know this is true, either. (Sturgeon's Law says that 90% of everything is crap, but Gehry, Johnson and the other frauds run at the 100% level. Unworkable, unliveable, unbuildable, and unattractive. Who needs that in a building?)

Anyway, I was asked to come up with some examples that weren't awful. One that came to mind was PTW's design for the 2008 Olympic swimming pool, called the "Watercube". True, this is only an artist's conception so it might be hopelessly flawed in practice, but it looks really interesting at the design stage.

Theoretical physicists know they are being taken seriously when someone builds an experiment to check their predictions. These experiments can be small, so-called table-top affairs, or they can be enormous enterprises involving miles of underground tunnels. However, construction engineers in Beijing are currently building a very different monument to theoretical physics - the National Swimming Centre for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The architects who designed the futuristic aquatic venue drew their inspiration from theoretical research into the structure of foams carried out by two physicists at Trinity College in Dublin.

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Outside View of Watercube

Inside View of Watercube

PTW's inspiration came from a refinement of Lord Kelvin's analysis of the best way to partition a space using equal-sized subdivisions. His solution was basically soap-bubbles since they have minimal surface area, and remained the optimal solution one until two mathematicans recently found a slightly better one.

This article provides a decent backgrounder for the layman on foams and honeycombs, for those of you who wonder about the peculiar lattice structures formed in your lattes or when you make salad dressing from oil and vinegar. (I can picture a movie where an older man calls a recent graduate aside and says, "Foams. That's the future: foams.")

So what attracted a group of architects hoping to design an Olympic sports venue to something that people might think is arcane physics research? "It is an ever-increasing issue for all architects to find inspiration and the basis for design solutions," says Kurt Wagner of PTW, "and often our imagination is just not enough."

Guardian Unlimited, UK


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