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Last night and this morning, I attended the inaugural event of the National Aquatics Center, the "Good Luck Beijing 2008 Swimming Open." Here are some observations, based on my experience as a professional architect and as an amateur spectator. It'ss a little long.

General Appearance:

Evening exterior appearance is really impressive, deep translucent blue--the photos don't do it justice. The Birds Nest had part of its upper lighting on and you could see the red painted superstructure--what a great contrast in buildings but aesthetically, it works! Daytime the Cube looks like an interesting structure but the "wow" factor isn't there without the lighting effect. However, this is partly because the entire site area is still under construction and the normal pedestrian grand approach is either blocked off by construction fencing or looks like a moonscape. I think by the time the Olympic Green landscaping is comupleted in a few months and the debris is hauled off, it will also impress during the daytime.

Security: Lots of police on hand but pretty low key. Lo-o-o-ng walk around 3/4 of building to get from nearest street access to the public entrance on the south/southeast corner of the building. Mostly due to ongoing site construction blocking access to all other entry points. When everything is done, I think the best approach to this area is either going to be by upcoming Subway Line 10/Olympic Spur. Or if BOCOG makes good on their promise to put on special venue buses and shuttles from main tourist collection points, that would also be good. Security "tent" temporary structure outside the Cube had around 6 lines/walk-through metal detectors and 3-4 bag x-rays. Lines moved quickly and had wait time of only 2-3 minutes, but under full Olympic crowd loading probably need to add 50-100% more capacity.

Lobby/Public Areas: Still a bit empty and unfinished, but clean and presentable, and relatively easy to move in without congestion. Unhappy about ladies rooms--too small inside, door access typically stupid Chinese design guaranteed to cause facility crowding. No purse/bag hooks in the stalls (both Asian and western style available), and no machines or paper towels to dry hands on. Lifts/elevators available but did not see a lot of use. Concessions/snacks and souvenir areas looked pretty makeshift--at least I hope they were, as they really need better physical and operational improvement. This was an initial tip-off the facility has been opened but is not fully ready on the public/spectator side. Off the main lobby area is a glassed-in public viewing gallery with the competition pool on one side and the warm-up/training pool on the other. That's a nice feature. On the evening of the 31st they had a lobby display of the various engineering and "green" aspects of the building, which is REALLY interesting even for a layperson. They should find a spot to put this exhibition for the Olympics. This was removed the morning of Feb 1, though.

Volunteers: Lots both inside and outside the venue. Very polite and cheery and upbeat, and using their variable English skills on any foreigners spotted (including yours truly). Need some more work on crowd control, especially at access points to the various seating sections. Chinese spectators have a habit of buying cheap tickets and then migrating down to sections they should not be in, and stealing seats. Which causes havoc and disruption when the real ticket holders for those seats show up, and is distracting when trying to watch an ongoing event. This ain't going to fly at the Olympics. All in all, volunteers were a bright spot, which was also my experience at the Rhythmic Gymnastics and Beach Volleyball "Good Luck Beijing" events I attended in 2007.

Competition Area: The deck area and both swimming and diving pools look wonderful, and no smell (ozone system of disinfection). Athlete/coaching mini-stands are directly on the deck. Starting blocks are at both ends of swimming pool, but the ones used were at the end closest to the diving pool--with athletes entering from a nearby door mid-way along the grandstands. Probably will be same for Olympics, important to know if you like to photograph water entries and finishes. The diving board support "tubes" don't look as cheesy in real life as they do in the official photos. As to the general feeling of the interior, I was surprised and a little disappointed that I didn't get much of a "being inside the bubble" effect. You could see parts of the structure and skin, but not anything like some of those artists perspectives on the official website show! Two aggravating factors: The structure and skin behind the diving platforms was almost totally covered with some sort of gridded solid screen (freehanging)--whether this will be removed at times, I don't know. It appears to be some sort of sunscreen, but it undercuts the architecture of the venue. Other factor was the brightness inside--the lighting required to properly light the space for competition works against the effect of the bubble structure. Ah well.

Seating: This posting is getting long, so I'll put comments on seating as a follow-on to this posting.

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Seating observations: I made careful notes on this, as if forced to obtain swimming or diving tickets on the battlefield at ruinous prices, I didn't want to end up with a pig in a poke. Ordinarily, I'd do a graphic ,scan it, and post it for reference for all, but I'm about to travel and pressed for time, so if anyone is interested, they need to do a little work for now, and obtain the only venue diagram I could find online and notate it themselves--check out (and no, I am NOT plugging this broker or any other broker site)

http://www.ticketsolutions.com/tickets.aspx?eventid=577503

This page should show a red-blue-yellow diagram, which is actually the one BOCOG used to have on their site when they had venue maps (which they then pulled off). I've never been able to find them again on the official site, and most other ticket outlets have no seating chart. The diagram is an accurate representation of the real setup. In addition to my assigned seats, after the event conclusion I tried out various other vantage points around the stands, and there are definitely seat preferences and not as simple as choosing A > B > C. I would go so far as to say there are some seats I probably wouldn't be willing to pay for at all, and would stay home and watch TV first. From the notes below, you should be able to number the sections & rows and see what's what. Of course, my opinions only.

The swimming competition pool is oriented east-west lengthwise, so the stands are on the north and south. The north stand seating installation is nowhere close to completed, and only competitors/coaches/families/officials/photographers are allowed on that side right now. I estimate BOCOG needs another 2 months to get this and some other parts of the building completely finished and ready for prime-time. They'll get it done, I'm sure.

A professional photo slideshow taken from the north stands on Thursday night the 31st and clearly showing most of the crowd in the south stands is on the official website at:

http://photo.beijing2008.cn/news-214244109.html (it is #22 of the 28-slide show--can you see me in Section 104, row 2 ?) :D

Section numbers are divided by vertical sets of stairs and on the south stands are from 101(west end) to 108 (east). 101 and 108 are the skinny half-sections. Section numbers on the north stands go in the opposite direction from 109 (east) to 116 (west), 109 and 116 are the skinnies. From diagram and photo you can see the stands in three general tiers (ignore the deck stands for the athletes): bottom tier is Rows 1-7...then a walkway...second tier Rows 10-24....walkway....upper tier Rows 27-50. The upper tier rows are Sectioned 201-208 and 209-216, immediately behind their lower 2 tier brethren. The seating pitch is relatively steep, and I was surprised at how good the view was from seats way up in the heavens.

For swimming and sync swimming events, the "A" category seats supposedly are Sections (south S) 101-106, and (north N) 111-116, Rows 1-24 (both sides). Due to interference from safety railing, I did not like rows 1-2 in the front tier, and rows 10-12 have same problem in second tier. Sections S-106 and N-111 are getting a bit far and paradoxically, the further to the front you are in this section (and the more you pay for the seats), the worse the view. Section S-107 and N-110 "B" category seats and Section S-108/N-109 "C" category seats are not seats I would pay to sit in for swimming competition unless it was my kid in the pool. Now, upper tier Sections S-201-205 and N-212-216 "B" category seats are good to very good all the way up, except avoid the railing rows 27-29. and Section S-206/207 and N-210/211 "C" category seats are reasonably good, falling off to a merely OK rating for the C's at the farthest upper corner in Sections S-208 and N-209. As long as you don't mind being up high and having the Big Picture, I'd say you're better off in the upper B and C category seats than in the A's that are down in front but farther from the pool.

For diving events, the A-B-C sections flip mirror-like, with A's now in front of the diving pool. However, since the diving pool is smaller, there are more "A" seats that will be low but further away. For 10M platform events, it's so high that visibility is good from most seats except maybe at the point of entry into the water, but if you are at the western 1/3-1/2 of the stands, you will get a crick in your neck. Springboard is more problematic, as if you are at the western part of the stands, you will not only get a crick in your neck, but possibly not much view at all, depending on which springboard is being used (there is more than one 3 m board). The edge of the stands and crowd itself could be obstructions if the springboard used is on the same side as your stands. Unless you KNOW you will be getting A seats in front of or close to the diving pool (south side 105-106-107-108 and north side 109-110-111-112, it may be safer to go with upper tier B seats, esp for springboard. Upper C sections S-201-202 and N-215-216 are, in my opinion, not very good for watching any diving no matter how low the row is and especially for springboard. I personally would not spend any more than face value or official agent price on a diving ticket in these sections.

I didn't get into seat numbers per row, as I think that's somewhat less critical than section assignment, but if you're interested, the standard width sections have seats #1-27, with the skinnies at the ends #1-7/8. On the south side, 1 is the west, 27 is the east end of the section, then numbering restarts for the next section. Oh, and there are definitely rows and seats ending in the number "4." Nothing skipped in the sequence. (Likewise for other venues I have been in so far.)

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Chinese people am proud of you for the Water cube. I accept the whole concept with heart.

Does anyone know the internal temperature of the Water cube?

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Thank you very much for the report. Very interesting, and thorough.

Do you know anything about synchronized swimming? If so, do you have any comments about the pool as related to synchro?

ddd

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Diana, my comments for swimming pretty much apply to synchronized swimming, but due to the nature of the event and the patterns, if I was buying a ticket I would go for upper rows in the "A" section, as in front of the center of pool as possible, or the front half of the "B" section seats, also in front of the pool. This would be sections 102-103-104, and 113-114-115, rows 13-24 (A seats) or sections 202-203-204 and 213-214-215, rows 30-40 (B seats). A Sections 101-105 and 112-116 are marginal, but higher up B secitons 201-205/212-216 might be better. Sitting closer to the pool in the premium A seats may be preferred for some, especially if you have family or friend competing, but others might want to be higher up to see the Big Picture. If possible, avoid rows 10-11 and maybe 12 and 27-29 (railing obstruction). Other sections not mentioned will be too far away for a good view--if you can't get seats anywhere else, get as high up as you can (at least row 30-35).

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Hi. Thanks for your opinion.

The OQT is in early April, so I will pass on your comments. I know that there are Canadians going to the OQT, and they will appreciate yur suggestions....for their later trip to the OG!

d

Diana, my comments for swimming pretty much apply to synchronized swimming, but due to the nature of the event and the patterns, if I was buying a ticket I would go for upper rows in the "A" section, as in front of the center of pool as possible, or the front half of the "B" section seats, also in front of the pool. This would be sections 102-103-104, and 113-114-115, rows 13-24 (A seats) or sections 202-203-204 and 213-214-215, rows 30-40 (B seats). A Sections 101-105 and 112-116 are marginal, but higher up B secitons 201-205/212-216 might be better. Sitting closer to the pool in the premium A seats may be preferred for some, especially if you have family or friend competing, but others might want to be higher up to see the Big Picture. If possible, avoid rows 10-11 and maybe 12 and 27-29 (railing obstruction). Other sections not mentioned will be too far away for a good view--if you can't get seats anywhere else, get as high up as you can (at least row 30-35).
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