When the 8th World Games opens in Taiwan today, the event will inaugurate a bold new stadium designed not only to power, cool and water itself, but also to withstand the tropical island's typhoons and earthquakes.
City officials in Kaohsiung, the second biggest city in Taiwan after the capital, Taipei, hired famed Japanese architect Toyo Ito to design the stadium, stipulating only that he make use of solar power in the design.
"Kaohsiung gets the most sunshine in Taiwan, that's why we wanted to use solar panels," said Su Chih-hsun, deputy chief engineer of the construction office at Kaohsiung's public works bureau. "Taiwan also produces a lot of solar panels, yet we didn't have any solar farms," he said, saying "until now."
The result is a 55,000 seat stadium that ranks among the most environmentally friendly buildings in the world and is so beautiful it's been called the 'sun-powered stunner.'
Computer-based design played an important role in designing and building the facility.
For starters, the solar panels used in the roof are not simply placed atop or integrated into the structure: they are the roof. The builders had to create new materials during construction and fit the panels together so they could withstand the elements while protecting spectators.
"We created new materials to build the roof, solar panels combined with roof material, and we used computer modeling to determine the possible impact earthquakes and typhoons would have on it," Su said.
Computer modeling also helped determine how the roof could be used to shade spectators from Kaohsiung's tropical sun.
The result is a stunning roof design boasting 8,844 solar panels in all. The panels give the roof a scaly, metallic look similar to snake skin. Local residents have already started giving it nicknames such as the 'crystal snake' or 'dragon's tail.' A look under the roof at the spine-like column of concrete pillars that curve around the stadium lends further credence to their descriptive names.
Su chuckles at the nicknames, saying he likes to think of the roof not as a snake but as a person opening his arms for a big hug, due to the large opening at the front of the stadium meant to promote wind flow.
It's no accident wind and water played a part in the roof design. Feng shui (literally, wind and water) is a traditional Chinese system of aesthetics that dictates design and placement of objects to improve the positive flow of universal energy.
Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau helped determine summertime wind direction for the stadium designers and computer simulation showed them how the structure could maximize the natural cooling effect of the wind.
To that end, the sides and roof of the stadium do not meet in a circle but instead splay out as Su described, creating a natural wind tunnel to cool people off during hot summers. The builders also added a crescent-shaped fountain at the entrance for the winds to pass through on their way into the stadium.
"The fountains out front condition the air naturally," Su said.