Editorial Feature

Looking Back at Building Emissions During the 2022 Winter Olympic Games

The Ice Ribbon, situated in the Olympic Village from Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympic Games, was the only major indoor building constructed for what organizers claim is the most sustainable Olympic Games ever.

olympics, beijing 2022, winter Olympics, ice ribbon, Big Air Shougan

Image Credit: kovop58/Shutterstock.com

Beijing’s Olympic Record Attempt: The Cleanest and Greenest Olympic Games Ever

Beijing is the first city ever to be awarded an Olympic Games in both the summer and winter editions of the competition. The city is reusing many of the buildings constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to minimize the kind of construction and infrastructure projects which have famously saddled Olympic host cities with unreturned costs and soon-to-be-empty buildings in the past.

The famous Bird’s Nest, or National Stadium designed by renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron for the 2008 Olympic Games, was lit up once again for the opening ceremony and was used for indoor athletics. The Watercube, designed by PTW Architects for the 2008 competition and officially known as the National Aquatics Center, also made a return appearance in 2022.

This was part of efforts by Chinese organizers to deliver the “cleanest and greenest” Olympic Games ever. As well as minimizing new construction and infrastructure projects, this winter event was also powering its skiing venue entirely with renewable energy. Wind and solar were used to run the National Alpine Ski Center in Yanqing for the duration of the competition.

Big Air Shougan

While not a new building, the ski jumping venue Big Air Shougan was a new construction for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The venue was designed by TeamMinus, and is situated on the bank of the Qunming Lake in the Beijing Area. TeamMinus architects say the design is influenced by Chinese flying apsaras, spiritual figures from both Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

The venue has drawn attention for its urban setting. Cooling towers, chimney stacks, and industrial furnaces from a former steel mill that previously occupied the site could be seen in the background of jumping events. The mill closed in 2007 as part of efforts to reduce air pollution in Beijing in time for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Engineering and design firm ARUP developed the site into a tourism hub, installing art exhibitions and hosting an electronic music festival in 2013. The municipal government in Beijing designated the site a “Green and Eco Demonstration Area,” and ARUP says their project could be scaled up to other parts of China.

Several buildings on the former steelworks were renovated alongside the construction of the Big Air Shougan ramp. The Oxygen Factory complex was used as an entrance building for spectators, and the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee was headquartered in a renovated iron ore storage tower on the site. These renovation projects will sit alongside new developments including office space, a conference center, and a museum.

Ice Ribbon Arena

The National Speed Skating Oval, known as the Ice Ribbon, is the only new building constructed for the 2022 Winter Olympics Games. It was designed by architecture firm Populous, and hosted skating events at the competition. It is a 12,000 seat arena and features a 400-meter ice race track for speed skating. The Ice Ribbon’s facade is made of 22 huge ribbons which are lit up.

Populous also designed the London Olympic Stadium, currently home to English Premier League soccer team West Ham United, and fellow soccer team Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, both in London, UK.

The venue features state-of-the-art technology designed to optimize energy performance and reduce its environmental impact. It is one of the first venues to use a technique called carbon dioxide transcritical direct cooling to create an ice surface. This is more energy-efficient than conventional ice rinks.

National Alpine Ski Center, Yanqing

The ski venue for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games was another new venue for the competition. CNN has reported that the venue was built in a former core area of the Songshan National Nature Reserve, which exists to protect rich biodiversity in the forests and meadows on the mountain slopes of Xiao Haituo.

CNN reports that boundary changes in 2015 put the site of the new ski center outside of the nature reserve’s borders. Authorities say that these changes increased the total footprint of the reserve, but critics argue that the richest areas for biodiversity in the reserve have been lost.

This is not the only way in which this Olympics has been criticized for failing to live up to the green credentials that it is presenting. Beijing is not hot enough at this time of year for snow to fall regularly, so millions of tonnes of artificial snow was generated for Snowsports competitions in Yanqing.

Now, activists are focused on ensuring that no more development takes place on the mountain without serious attention and study being given to ecological ramifications.

References and Further Reading

Culver, D. (2022). China claims to be holding the greenest Olympics. So why has it built a ski resort in the middle of a nature reserve? CNN. [Online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2022/01/28/china/china-green-olympics-alpine-ski-nature-reserve-intl-hnk-dst/index.html.

Frearson, A. (2022). Populous completes Ice Ribbon arena for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Dezeen. [Online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2022/01/28/ice-ribbon-populous-beijing-2022-winter-olympics/

Kolirin, L., N. Gan, and T. Booth (2022). Is that a nuclear plant? The story behind those towers at the Winter Olympics big air. CNN. [Online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/08/asia/ski-jump-winter-olympics-beijing-climate-hnk-intl/index.html.

McDonell, S. (2021). Beijing 2022: China readies for Winter Olympics as pressure grows. BBC. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-58196467.

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Ben Pilkington

Written by

Ben Pilkington

Ben Pilkington is a freelance writer who is interested in society and technology. He enjoys learning how the latest scientific developments can affect us and imagining what will be possible in the future. Since completing graduate studies at Oxford University in 2016, Ben has reported on developments in computer software, the UK technology industry, digital rights and privacy, industrial automation, IoT, AI, additive manufacturing, sustainability, and clean technology.

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