Glass Takes Beijing’s National Speed Skating Arena to the Edge

Beijing will host the Winter Olympic Games in February 2022, becoming the first city to host both the winter and summer competitions. Just as the summer games in 2008 brought impressive architecture to the city, including the Bird’s Nest (the National Stadium) and the Water Cube (the National Aquatics Center), so too will the winter event. This time, it’s the new speed skating arena, sheathed in glass, which brings a lot to admire.

The National Speed Skating Oval, the “Ice Ribbon,” holds 12,000 spectators, according to the architectural firm Populous, which has been involved in 14 other summer and winter Olympic Games, including Sochi’s Fisht Stadium. The structure is nicknamed the Ice Ribbon because it appears to be entirely enveloped in ribbons made of glass. The façade features 3,484 lites of glass and 22 “glass ribbons,” designed to portray a sense of speed and resemble ice, wrapping the arena from its ground level up to the roof 111 feet above. These ribbons were manufactured from transparent low-iron, laminated glass using SentryGlas ionoplast interlayer from Trosifol by Kuraray. According to Kuraray, the flat insulating glass units (IGUs) comprise an outside lite made from 8-millimeter glass, 1.52-millimeter SentryGlas and 8-millimeter glass with a low-E coating on the fourth surface. A 12-millimeter Argon-filled air gap separates this lite from the inside lite with the same dimensions. The curved IGUs have the same layered format but use 2.28-millimeter SentryGlas. The longest panel is about 161 inches, the maximum arc length is 94.5 inches and the minimum bend radius is 59 inches.

The arc façade curtainwall includes low-E glass with both positive and negative bends, insulating tempered glass and coated tempered insulating glass, according to NorthGlass, which was one of the glass fabricators on the project, as well as Xinbao Glass. There were also two façade contractors, Jangho and Shenzhen Rising Facade Engineering Co. Ltd. (formerly Shenzhen King Facade Decoration Engineering Co. Ltd.). Holly An, director at Beijing NorthGlass, said the general contractor, Beijing Urban Construction Investment & Development, divided the work among the companies since the project schedule was tight.

The small bend radii of the glass was one of the project challenges, according to An.

“We are the first company to do such a small radius,” says An. The smaller the bend radius, the greater the chance the glass may become distorted. NorthGlass developed curved tempering equipment to produce a small radius.

“The surrounded ice ribbon is made with [laminated] heat-strengthened glass with very short bend radius, 175 millimeters. It is a huge challenge to the fabricator,” says George Zhou, commercial leader and senior technical service manager at Kuraray. Zhou also says matching two lites is difficult, though an interlayer with high adhesion can provide good bonding to the curved laminated glass to help avoid potential delamination.

Safety was another important detail designers, fabricators and suppliers had to keep in mind.

“Everybody’s worried about the safety,” says An. “Winters in Beijing are very cold, and annealed glass is easy to [break].” The solution was the laminated insulating lites.

Energy efficiency and sustainability were important to the designers working on the Olympic architecture, says Zhen Fang, deputy chief architect at Beijing Institute of Architectural Design. Material selection for the façade helped them reach these goals. “The starting point is to have a very light facade for natural sunlight to go inside in the winter … but in summer, we’ll have to deal with the extra air conditioning load. So, for this purpose, we attached some glass tubes to work as a sunshade for this façade,” Fang says.

The glazing had to meet all requirements of the JGJ 102 code, which is the technical code for glass curtainwall engineering in China.

For its performance in constructing the National Speed Skating Hall, the Beijing National Speed Skating Pavilion Management Co. honored Tianjin NorthGlass with an excellent sub-supplier award.

The Olympics challenges athletes from around the world to show everyone what makes them great, and the construction industry seemingly takes on the same challenge. To meet safety goals, achieve certain visual aesthetics and ensure energy efficiency, glass and glazing companies use their tools and resources to create a structure that hosts, and showcases, the best.

Luly Hernandez is the assistant editor for USGlass. Email her at and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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