From Beijing's blank post-2008 Olympic landscape, a fantastically colorful, fun waterpark is born. And why not? Since those games' closing ceremony, the city has been struggling to market the Olympic-less campus, a sparse stretch of land in the northern part of the capital dotted with flashy, "cerebral" architectural pieces and strewn with meaningless axes leading nowhere. The exorbitantly expensive Bird's Nest stadium sits idly by, vainly waiting for the promised hordes of tourists and failed development plans while costing the city an annual $10 million in maintenance fees. The Water Cube, the national swimming center which witnessed a host of record-setting matches just three years ago, would have suffered a similar fate had it not been recently converted into an incredibly popular (and profitable) waterpark.
Since its opening last year, Happy Magic Water Cube waterpark (the best name for anything, ever?) has become Beijing's second most popular destination, enticing visitors with a lazy river, wave pool, and speed slides, among other attractions. Blatant representations of underwater life in the form of inflatable jellyfish and seaweed irreverently brush up against the more austere (read: "serious") architecture. It turns out that the much celebrated ETFE membrane is the ideal backdrop for the playful proceedings, providing plenty of daylight by day, and turning the perfect shade of ocean blue at night.
There may be some naysayers who protest at the "debasement" of an architectural landmark. But there are many more who question the motives and decisions behind the making of Olympic-scale projects. No one pays more for these projects than citizens of the host city, who not only fork over tax dollars, but also powerlessly forfeit tracts of their metropolis in the name of "urban renewal". Olympic stadiums never make good on their investments, so why do city planning boards continue to eagerly sign off on the whims of a starchitect? It's time to say "no" to the Pritzker laureates and "yes" to more waterparks.