Beijing National Stadium

Bird's Nest

Beijing National Stadium, also known as the National Stadium, or colloquially as the Bird's Nest, is a stadium in Beijing, China. The stadium was designed for use throughout the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Located in the Olympic Green, the $423 million stadium is the world's largest steel structure. The design was awarded to a submission from the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron in April 2003, after a bidding process that included 13 final submissions. The design, which originated from the study of Chinese ceramics, implemented steel beams in order to hide supports for the retractable roof; giving the stadium the appearance of a "Bird's nest". Ai Weiwei, the artistic consultant, played a critical role in pushing the design to have unique Chinese characteristics. Ironically, the retractable roof was later removed from the design after inspiring the stadium's most recognizable aspect. Ground was broken in December 2003 and the stadium officially opened in June 2008. A shopping mall and a hotel are planned to be constructed to increase use of the stadium, which has had trouble attracting events, football and otherwise, after the Olympics.


In 2001, after Beijing had been awarded the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, the city held a bidding process to select the best arena design. Multiple requirements including the ability for post-Olympics use, a retractable roof, and low maintenance costs, were required of each design. The entry list was narrowed to thirteen final designs. Of the final thirteen, Li Xinggang of China Architecture Design and Research Group (CADG), said after he placed the model of the "nest" proposal at the exhibition hall and saw the rival entries he thought to himself, "We will win this." The model was approved by as the top design by a professional panel; however, it was later exhibited for the public. Once again, it was selected as the top design. The "nest scheme" design became official in April 2003. At $423 million, the stadium was built for one-tenth the cost that it would have cost to be built in the West.

Design and construction

Why does a Chinese bowl or a Chinese window have this kind of pattern? Maybe the Chinese people like things to appear in this irregular way, but underneath there are very clear rules. The Bird's Nest developed in this way.

Li Xinggang, head architect of CADG.
Under construction in September 2007

Beijing National Stadium was a joint venture among architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron, project architect Stefan Marbach, artist Ai Weiwei, and CADG which was lead by chief architect Li Xinggang. During their first meeting in 2003, at Basel, the group decided to do something unlike Herzog and de Meuron had traditionally designed. "China wanted to have something new for this very important stadium," Li stated. In an effort to design a stadium that was "porous" while also being "a collective building, a public vessel", the team studied Chinese ceramics. This line of thought brought the team to the "nest scheme". The stadium consists of two independent structures, standing 50 feet apart: a red concrete seating bowl and the outer steel frame around it.

In an attempt to hide steel supports for the retractable roof, required in the bidding process, the team developed the "seemingly random additional steel" to blend the supports into the rest of the stadium. Twenty-four trussed columns encase the inner bowl, each one weighing 1,000 tons. Despite random appearance, each half of the stadium is nearly identical. After a collapse of a roof at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Beijing reviewed all major projects. It was decided to eliminate the retractable roof, the original inspiration for the "nest" design, as well as 9,000 seats from the design. The removal of the elements helped to bring the project under the reduced construction budget of $290 million, from an original $500 million. With the removal of the retractable roof, the building was lightened, which helped it stand up to seismic activity; however, the upper section of the roof was altered to protect fans from weather. Due to the stadium's outward appearance, it was nicknamed "The Bird's Nest". The phrase was first used by Herzog & de Meuron, though the pair still believes "there should be many ways of perceiving a building." The use is a compliment Li explained, "In China, a bird's nest is very expensive, something you eat on special occasions."

Architectural detail of the stadium's exterior

Ground was broken, at the Olympic Green, for Beijing National Stadium on 24 December 2003. At its height, 17,000 construction workers worked on the stadium. In January 2008, The Times reported that 10 workers had died throughout construction; despite denial from the Chinese government. However, in a story the following week, Reuters, with the support of the Chinese government, reported that only two workers had died. All 110,000 tons of steel were made in China, making the stadium the largest steel structure in the world. On 14 May 2008, the grass field of 7,811 square meters was laid in 24 hours. Beijing National Stadium officially opened at a ceremony on 28 June 2008.

Features and events

The eastern and western stands of Beijing National Stadium are higher than northern and southern stands, in order to improve sightlines. A 24-hour per day rainwater collector is located near the stadium; after water is purified, it is used throughout and around the stadium. Pipes placed under the playing surface gather heat in the winter to warm the stadium and coldness in the summer to cool the stadium. The stadium's design originally called for a capacity of 100,000 people; however 9,000 were removed during a simplification of the design. The new total of 91,000 would be shaved further when 11,000 temporary seats were removed after the 2008 Olympics; bringing the stadium's capacity to 80,000. The farthest seat is 460 feet (140 metres) from center field. Temperature and airflow of every surface were optimized to increase ventilation.

Beijing National Stadium hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, athletic events, and football final of the 2008 Summer Olympics, from 8 August to 24 August 2008. The stadium also hosted the Opening and Closing ceremonies and athletic events of the 2008 Summer Paralympics from 6 September to 17 September 2008. Though designed for track & field events of the Olympics, the stadium will continue to host sporting events, such as football, afterwards. A shopping mall and a hotel, with rooms overlooking the field, are planned to help increase use after the Olympics. Li stated, "This will become the most important public space in Beijing."

The Beijing National Stadium at night during the Summer Olympics


The stadium has not found significant use since the Olympics. As of February 2009, only two events are scheduled, both on 8 August 2009, the one year anniversary of the stadium's opening. One is a performance of the opera Turandot. The other is the 2009 Supercoppa Italiana (Italian Super Cup) final, the traditional curtain raiser to the Italian football league season. The Beijing Guo’an soccer club was scheduled to play at the stadium, but later backed out of their agreement, citing the embarrassment of using an 80,000+ seat venue for games that routinely draw only slightly more than 10,000.

In January 2009, the venue's owners announced the stadium would be turned into a shopping and entertainment complex in three to five years. The venue costs approximately $9 million to maintain per year. Due to a lack of use, paint is already peeling in some areas; plans call for the $450 million stadium to anchor a complex of shops and entertainment outlets in three to five years is being developed by operator Citic Group. The company will also continue to develop tourism as a major draw for the stadium, while seeking sports and entertainment events.

The stadium is scheduled to host the 2009 Race of Champions.

In addition, there have been rumors of ongoing talks for a street race around the National Stadium and the Olympic Green for the A1 Grand Prix series as early as next season.