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Beijing Readies Plans for National Swimming Center
The biggest suspense over the design of venues for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games so far is which scheme will be chosen for the National Swimming Center.

Three designs have been shortlisted from the 10 originally proposed, according to the Beijing State-owned Assets Management Co., Ltd, which owns the rights to the center, in an announcement earlier this month.

"The winning design for the center is going to be decided by August 15, but the Beijing municipal government is expected to move that up to later this month," said Li Qizhi, a spokesman for the company.

Li hopes the decision will be made earlier to give the winning architects enough time to work on the details and ensure that construction can start before the end of this year.

Li declined to reveal any priority among the three designs currently being considered, which all garnered the "excellent" prize in the international design competition.

The three designs have come out even in ranking, he said.

The designs were submitted by: the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, in collaboration with PTW Architects Australia and Ove Arup Pty Ltd Australia; the Shanghai Xiandai Architectural Design (Group); and Rafael Vinoly Architects PC USA.

Li Qizhi said his company is holding talks with the three top candidates now, but did not give any further details.

But Li Zhili, one of the leading architects for the Sino-Australian plan, said he and his colleagues were confident of their chances.

Li Zhili is also the general manager of the China State Construction International (Shenzhen) Design Consultant Co., Ltd, the design company representing the China State Construction Engineering Corporation which is taking part in the competition.

"In our talks with the assets management company, we are focusing on the feasibility of the plan, the technology to be used in the swimming center, investment, costs and the construction schedule," Li Zhili said.

"But whether or not to make changes on the current design has not been discussed," he said.

As far as the public is concerned, the three-day exhibition of all the 10 competing designs for the swimming center drew considerable attention from local residents and architectural professionals alike.

Unlike the top design for the Olympic Green (where the swimming center will be located), which was embroiled in the middle of heated argument last July, the three shortlisted designs for the swimming venue have received widespread acceptance, with only mild criticism.

"Local residents and professionals share the same views with the evaluation committee of the competition," Li Qizhi said.

He said the three designs were tops to the 3,200 public voters, although he didn't give the final standings following the balloting.

"It may put pressure on the authorities' decision-making processes," he explained.

The architects for the Sino-Australian joint design did a good promotional job at the public viewing, and received the most responses.

Chen Chao, an engineer from the China Architecture Design & Research Group, questioned the openness of the procedure.

"The organizer of the exhibition should make a transparent explanation to convince visitors why their scheme is better than any of the other designs," Chen said.

He did not choose the Sino-Australia joint plan when filling out his ballot.

The box-like design uses a transparent teflon material as the roof, with "bubbles" inside.

"I am afraid that the design will meet some difficulties in actual construction," Chen said.

He also doubted whether the transparent teflon would hold up under rain, wind and general wear and tear.

But Jim Cook, an American living in Beijing, approves of this joint design.

"The shape is magic," he said.

"But if there could be a moat-like pool circling within the center to warm up athletes before the competition, the sports facility would feel closer to swimming," Cook said.

(China Daily July 12, 2003)

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