Arup Explains the Bird’s Nest

Event: What Does This Button Do? Technology and the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.20.09
Speaker: Steve Burrows — Director, Arup Sport
Organizer: AIANY Technology Committee


Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium.

©Ben McMillan, Courtesy of Arup

Steve Burrows, director of Arup Sport, can attest to the crucial role changing technologies have played in design and construction. When he started his career at Arup in 1982, he programmed the firm’s sole computer. Most recently responsible for the engineering of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Burrows has come a long way — and so has the technology that makes his work possible.

Terming the stadium “a heroic building,” Burrows attributed the ability to rationalize Herzog & de Meuron’s design to advancements in visualization and modeling technology. Through analysis and prototype testing, the latticework structure was designed for seismic efficiency and aesthetic appeal. While the structure measures 1,000 feet in diameter and is constructed of seemingly random strips of the translucent polymer ETFE supported by leaning columns, the Bird’s Nest embodies a very simple structural model. Due to the identical sizing of the primary, secondary, and tertiary structure of the stadium, the illusion of complexity is coupled with an arbitrary pattern. Construction of the stadium was no easy task, with 7,000 welders on site to erect what is now the world’s largest steel structure. Burrows recognized the impressive achievements of the Chinese construction industry and the “can do” attitude of the design team, as well as the ambition of all to make the project a success.

Burrows is excited by the challenge of finding the necessary means to harness today’s potential to improve the function and capabilities of the built environment. Interdisciplinary collaboration, carbon consciousness, behavioral analysis, and physical infrastructure are all on Burrows’ radar. If the Bird’s Nest is any sign of things to come, it looks like the future will be anything but boring.