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Beijing's Happy Magic Waterclub

Famous for its bubble-wrap exterior, Beijing’s Water Cube – the swimming and diving venue for the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games – has been transformed into a family-friendly, indoor waterpark, complete with slides, a lazy river and a wave pool. We ask Anthony Van Dam, vice president of conceptual designer Forrec how the new design respects and enhances this landmark building.

Published in Sports Management 2012 issue 2
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue

What is the Happy Magic Watercube?
It’s the fully-themed indoor waterpark contained within Beijing’s existing iconic Olympic venue – the National Aquatics Centre – also known as the Watercube. It now offers an ambience that changes from bright and tropical during the day to moody and mysterious at night.

Who was the client, what was the design brief and how was this met?
Our clients, the Tianyou Tourism Group and its partner, the Beijing National Aquatic Center Company, asked us to create a themed waterpark experience in the uncompleted leisure hall within the Watercube, which would both respect and enhance the architectural icon. Building on the venue’s worldwide renown and its cultural importance within China, our aim was to create a waterpark that would be sympathetic to and expand on the structure’s unique qualities.

When did Forrec embark on the project and when did it open to the public?
To capitalise on the national and international interest in the structure, the plan was to re-open the venue as the Happy Magic Watercube two years after the Olympic Games, so the design and build schedule was extremely tight.

Forrec‘s team of creative designers, architects and interior designers began work on the project in April 2009, and construction began in October of that year. The project opened on 8 August 2010 – exactly two years after the close of the 2008 Olympics.

How has the park been received by the Chinese public?
People have taken to the waterpark in a big way. It was reported that opening day tickets were so coveted that they were being sold above their face value. The operator is controlling the attendance by capping it at around 4,000 guests a day.

The clients are so pleased with the result that they are working to extend the brand throughout China. The international waterpark industry awarded the project its Industry Innovation Award in 2010 and media interest in the ‘fantasy aquarium’ has made the Watercube our most publicised project to date.

What services did Forrec provide?
Forrec’s scope of work included: masterplanning, concept design, schematic and interior design, architectural services, theming and limited site direction.

What attractions are on offer within the waterpark?
The park includes a wave pool, overlooked by a giant video screen, a collection of water cannons and water sprays, a dozen speciality slides and several spa pools.

Proslide has provided a Tornado funnel slide, Bullet Bowl and PIPEline, as well as the company’s first RideHOUSE family waterplay structure. From Whitewater West comes China’s first Aqua Loop and an Aqua Tube body slide. A 450sq m children’s play area has been furnished by Empex Watertoys.

The waterpark equipment is incorporated into the volume and character of the entire space. Slide towers, for example climb high into the floating bubbles, aquatic plants and jellyfish – giving visitors a new and unexpected view of the underwater environment. The play structure allows children to explore the colourful world of a tropical reef.

How did you address the challenges of designing a water feature within an existing structure?
Forrec has built a reputation for creating projects that reflect the unique characteristics of each site. The leisure hall within the Watercube interior offered a generous space, which occupied more than 10,000sq m of floor area, with a height of about 30m, and had been designated as a recreational facility post Games. During the Olympic Games, the space was used for exhibitions and conferences, so few permanent elements had been installed.

Through clever foresight the building’s developers had provided some infrastructure to support future water attractions. However, in order to maximise the use of the volume, some alterations needed to be made. Forrec worked closely with suppliers to ensure that the new equipment could be woven into the fabric of the existing features in a way that satisfied both the client’s needs and the high aesthetic goals within the project.

Traditional indoor waterparks maximise space by extending water slides and raft rides outside the main hall, however, the Watercube’s thick and complex structural shell made this impossible as any alteration of the building structure’s geometric simplicity was unthinkable. The design challenge was to confine all of the features within the building envelope, without making them look cramped or crowded. The solution was to carefully consider all three dimensions of the space and to combine the attractions and thematic elements into one enormous, inter-woven composition.

However, the Watercube’s vast interior also offered some huge advantages. The unusual cellular structure that formed the building’s exterior – and the way that daylight filtered through it – strongly suggested an underwater environment in a tropical locale. So Forrec proposed an ‘underwater’ world, using large, colourful, abstracted aquatic elements that would float within the space, to create a dramatic atmosphere; unusual and sophisticated enough to complement the architecture, but playful enough to offer an entertaining environment.

How did the general public respond to the Watercube’s conversion from Games-time to legacy mode?
When the Olympic Games were over, popular interest in the Watercube (officially, the National Aquatics Center) did not diminish. Along with the Bird’s Nest (National Stadium), it immediately became Beijing’s hottest tourist attraction.

Has Forrec worked on other post-Olympic sports venue adaptations?
At the close of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, Forrec developed a ‘Big Idea’ for the revitalisation of the site and the development of new attractions. The goal was to build on its Olympic heritage and make it a premier international venue for winter sports training and competition. Forrec’s distinctive ‘boardwalk plan’ unified the site and now offers interactive attractions that allow the visitor to experience the Winter Olympic venue as a competition athlete.

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