Just like the grace inherent in Greek statues, bodies intermingle with solitude, human intertwines with the divine, life with legend. This is supreme-level sport, it’s what we admire during the Olympics and what helps us reflect on the captivating impact it has on the world and our lives. A recent book, Rivincite. Lo sport che scrive la storia (‘Rematches: sport writing history’) suggests that “Sport is one of the great forces driving the world, economies, identities, emotions and politics. It stands alongside power, uses power and is used by power, keeps it at a distance or coyly embraces it”. It’s precisely for this reason that sport is important and appeals to us, because it’s connected with power but keeps it at a distance. And this is why it is also so intertwined with architecture.
Now the 2022 Winter Olympics are on, and Beijing has become the first city ever to have hosted both the summer and winter editions ‒ a record reached in just 14 years. Nevertheless, the present chapter will be very different to the city’s previous one. Dozens of heads of state attended the 2008 opening ceremony, and the Olympic Games were an opportunity to push China’s ‘international ranking’ forward. In addition, it was the moment when China made its debut in the world élite of sport: China overtook the United States for the first time in the number of gold medals won (51 against 36). What does the 2022 edition bring with it? The absence of Canada’s, Australia’s and Great Britain’s diplomatic representatives ‒ in the wake of America’s example ‒ has muted political expectations. But we’ll leave others to focus on that aspect.
Instead, let’s take a look at the facilities where are the competitions will take place. Most of these have been converted (in far-sightedness) to host the Winter Games after the summer ones of 2008: from the ski jumping ramp echoing a traditional Chinese ruyi sceptre (a talisman for good fortune), through to the National Indoor Stadium, conceived by its designers to pick up on the lines of a traditional paper fan.
The Beijing 2022 games are being staged at three different sites: Beijing; Yanqing, a ski area comprising 25 km of skiing and snowboarding slopes; and Zhangjiakou, a city in northern China located along the Great Wall and nicknamed ‘the Gateway to Mongolia’ due to its position.
BIG AIR SHOUGANG
This is perhaps the most unusual of the competition facilities for these Winter Games. It is the world’s first permanent venue for big air: a sports discipline where competitors ‒ with a snowboard or skis in this case ‒ make good use of a ramp to complete jumps and perform specific tricks. The platform design brings to mind flying asparas (from Hindu and Buddhist mythology, the female spirit of clouds and water). After the Olympics, the structure will be used for various sports competitions as well as cultural and city events.
Events held here: Big Air Snowboarding, Freestyle Skiing.
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CAPITAL INDOOR STADIUM
Constructed in 1968, it has hosted various sports events, including ping-pong games between China and the United States as part of the diplomatic exchange programme, and one of the first NBA games in China (dating from 2004). The Capital Indoor Stadium is China’s first ice rink.
Events held here: Figure Skating, Short-Track Speed Skating.
NATIONAL AQUATICS CENTRE
More commonly known as ‘the Water Cube’, the National Aquatics Centre was an important venue for water sports at the Beijing 2008 Summer Games. Now it has been converted into the Ice Cube and houses four curling sheets, thanks to the water-ice conversion. After the Olympics, it will go on being used for both winter and summer sports, depending on the season.
Events held here: Curling.
NATIONAL INDOOR STADIUM
Nicknamed ‘the Fan’ due to its similarities to the traditional Chinese hand-held fan, the National Indoor Stadium was built for the Beijing 2008 Games to house the artistic gymnastics, trampolining and handball events. By 2015, it had already been converted into an ice stadium for the women's ice hockey world championships. For Beijing 2022, it is playing host to the ice hockey tournaments, together with the Wukesong Sports Centre.
Events held here: Ice Hockey.
WUKESONG SPORTS CENTRE
The Wukesong Sports Centre is the first Chinese venue capable of accommodating two professional sports during the same period, given that the ice hockey pitch can also be converted into a basketball court. In fact, it was venue to the basketball tournaments during the Beijing 2008 Games, and with its seating for 18,000 spectators, it is a top venue for ice hockey matches, alongside the National Indoor Stadium.
Events held here: Ice Hockey.
NATIONAL SPEED SKATING OVAL
Known also as ‘the Ice Ribbon’, the National Speed Skating Oval is the only new edifice erected for ice events in the Olympic Green ‒ the Olympic park built for the Beijing 2008 Summer Games.
Events held here: Speed Skating.
NATIONAL ALPINE SKI CENTRE
Located in the mountainous Xiaohaituo area, north-west of Yanqing, the National Alpine Ski Centre has been dubbed ‘the great pearl’ of these Winter Olympics. The facilities are made up of seven courses, with a maximum vertical descent of 900 metres. The centre has a seating capacity of 5,000, with space for 3,500 standing spectators.
Events held here: Downhill Skiing.
NATIONAL SLIDING CENTRE
Featuring 16 bends with different angles and gradients, this is the first sliding track created in China, and the third in Asia. The venue has a seating capacity of 2,000, plus standing room for 8,000. After the Olympics, it will host international events and will be the training centre for the Chinese national team.
Events held here: Bobsleigh, Skeleton, Luge.
GENTING SNOW PARK
Genting Snow Park is an existing ski resort and is now acting as home to freestyle ski and snowboard aerial, halfpipe, mogul, slopestyle, cross and parallel giant slalom events. The park will have two separate venues ‒ Park A for freestyle skiing, and Park B for snowboarding ‒ each with a capacity of 7,500 spectators.
Events held here: Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding.
NATIONAL BIATHLON CENTRE
The National Biathlon Centre is awarding the biathlon medals during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Located in the city of Zhangjiakou, in Hebei Province, in north-western China, it will be used by the Chinese national team for training and as a tourist resort once the games have finished. As an example on the topic of urban conversion, we recommend the free ebook Lo Sport per la rigenerazione urbana ‒ ‘Sport for Urban Regeneration’‒ by Paolo Debiaggi and Andrea Tartaglia (publisher: Maggioli Editore). This illustrates the Milan study case very well, describing the city’s need to equip itself with an adequate swimming[HD1] centre for national and international events, while also responding to the lack of suitable facilities for people who practise aquatic sports. This case history offers innovative and stimulating design ideas ready for a city already facing issues connected with its expanding urban territory.
Events held here: Biathlon.
NATIONAL CROSS-COUNTRY CENTRE
The new National Cross-Country Centre is hosting the cross-country and Nordic combined skiing events. After the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the area will be converted into an open-air ice track standing as the focal point for camping grounds, sports and events.
Events held here: Nordic Combined, Cross-Country Skiing.
NATIONAL SKI JUMPING CENTRE
The National Ski Jumping Centre is venue to the ski jumping at Beijing 2022. The architectural design of the ski ramp conjures up a traditional ruyi sceptre (a Chinese good-luck talisman), which the facilities take their ‘Snow Ruyi’ nickname from. After the Winter Olympics, it will be used by the Chinese national team for training, and for tourism purposes.
Events held here: Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping.
THE NATIONAL STADIUM
Also known as ‘the Bird’s Nest’, this iconic stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, as well as the athletics events and men's football final of those games. For Beijing 2022, the National Stadium is back to hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, becoming the only venue in the history of the Olympic Games to achieve this record.
Events held here: Opening & Closing Ceremonies.