This is a continuation of my considerable more negative post from yesterday.
Olympic host cities always struggle to find creative and profitable ways to re-use the many stadiums, arenas and complexes built for the games. The real test for a host city starts once the events have ended and the number of people willing to pay money to visit the buildings dries up. Some cities like Athens, handle this challenge poorly, while some, like London for 2012, have placed it at the center of the planning efforts. I suspect Beijing falls somewhere in the middle. Clearly, they were not going to value engineer out the grandeur of their big coming out party, like I would argue London has done with the design of its main stadium, but, as I found out, they are not just shuttering these places like the Greeks either.
First, the National Stadium. The only images I had of the space were the bombast of the opening ceremonies from TV and the busy monotony of the qualifying track and field event I actually attended, so I was surprised to stumble upon a Disneyland themed snow park with small children running around sledding and throwing snowballs at each other. I suspect I will always regret not buying a ticket and joining in, at least until I go back, but I had enough fun from the sidelines watching this palatial monument to Global Ascendancy turned into a playground for small Chinese children in snow pants.
The Water Cube was a lot weirder. I have never seen a costumed stage show, wave park, dance party and a big group group of people thrilled to see themselves on a big TV all in one place, but this is why we come to China. The videos do the best job of capturing the scene, but it is tough to recreate the experience of happening upon 200 Chinese people of all ages watching themselves on a Jumbotron dance awkwardly in thigh-high water. I knew a little bit about the design and construction of this building, but looking back over my photos, it seems I was way more interested in the pool party than the building's breathable dual-layered ETFE skin. Imagine that.
I liked how casual and comfortable these building had become. I loved that I could sit in the seat Hu Jintao sat in as he opened the Olympic Games and watch kids tackling each other in the snow and making snowmen. Architecture sometimes kills itself with all its seriousness, and while I hate big feel-good summaries, I think it is important to understand that people today are watching a guy dressed up in a dolphin costume while banging around with their friends in a wave pool 1000 feet from where Michael Phelps made history two years ago, and that I am way more interested in what is going on today than what happened in 2008.
Just about everyone who visited these buildings during the games came away rightly impressed by the sophistication and grandeur of both of these projects, but I found myself just as excited as I was when I was first here in 2008 at my discovery that Beijing now boasts a world-class winter park and wave pool. The Olympic Green suffers from a freezing of the past, the soundtrack to the games still on an endless loop, so it was nice to see all that had been abandoned once I got inside.