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Beijing Stadium Wins RIBA Lubetkin Prize


14 July 2009

Press office contact:

Beatrice Cooke
T: +44 (0)207 307 3813
E: beatrice.cooke@riba.org

The National Stadium in Beijing - nicknamed 'the bird's nest' - by Herzog & de Meuron, with the China Architectural Design and research Group, Arup Sport and Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong, and artist Ai Wei Wei, has scooped the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) prestigious Lubetkin Prize for the most outstanding work of architecture outside the European Union by an RIBA member.


The presentation of the RIBA's Lubetkin Prize will take place at a ceremony tonight (14th July) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Whitehall, sponsored by Cosentino and in partnership with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). Winners of 2009 RIBA International Awards will also receive their awards at the ceremony.


Speaking about the building, the Lubetkin Prize judge and RIBA President, Sunand Prasad said:

"This year's shortlist for the Lubetkin Prize was easily the best we have seen, and although the discussion was intense, the result was clear. The National Stadium in Beijing will for a long time to come, and around the world, remain amongst the most memorable emblems of 2008 and of the resurgence of China as a global power. For a single work of architecture to hold such a charge is extremely rare, and at the same time to flawlessly accommodate a very complex set of functions makes the feat still more extraordinary. We would like to thank our partner, UKTI and sponsor, Cosentino, for supporting this awards reception."


The National Stadium, Beijing beat off stiff competition from five other shortlisted buildings: Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3 by Foster and Partners with NACO, the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and Arup; Watercube, National Swimming Centre, Beijing by PTW Architects with the China State Construction & Engineering Corporation, China State Construction Design International and Arup; Museum Brandhorst, Munich by sauerbruch hutton; Sean O'Casey Community Centre, Dublin by O'Donnell and Tuomey; and The British High Commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka, by Richard Murphy Architects.


The six shortlisted buildings were seen by a visiting jury comprising Sunand Prasad, RIBA President and chair, Paul Monaghan, architect and Chair of the RIBA Awards Group and Tony Chapman, RIBA Head of Awards, who reported to the full jury which also comprised Alison Brooks, architect and Tom Dyckhoff, journalist.


Lord Mervyn Davies, Minister for Trade, Investment and Business whose organisation UKTI helps UK companies win business overseas, handed out the awards. Talking of UK architectural talent, he said:

"Our architects and architecture schools are world-renowned for their flair and excellence. From state of the art airports to iconic cultural and sporting institutions, stunning examples of British architecture and engineering can be found the world over. Architecture is now truly international in influence and scope. Tonight we celebrate many international partnerships which add great strength to the architecture profession especially during the current climate."


The prize is named after the world-renowned architect Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990). Lubetkin's daughter Sasha presented the winning architects with a unique cast bronze plaque, based loosely on her father's design for the Penguin Pool at London Zoo, commissioned by the RIBA and designed and made by the artist Petr Weigl.


The RIBA welcomes Cosentino as sponsor of the RIBA Lubetkin Prize reception at which they will launch their new product, ECO. The RIBA also thanks UKTI, partner for the RIBA Lubetkin Prize reception.




Notes to editors


Notes to editors:


  1. For further information and images contact Beatrice Cooke in the RIBA Press Office, 020 7307 3813 or beatrice.cooke@inst.riba.org. Citations and images for the shortlisted buildings can be downloaded at:


Username: presspictures

Password: press#i2009


  2. The prize is named in honour of Berthold Lubetkin, the Georgia-born architect who worked in Paris before coming to London in the 1930s to establish the influential Tecton Group.  He is best known for the two Highpoint apartment blocks in Highgate and the Penguin Pool at London Zoo.


  3. The RIBA welcomes Cosentino as the sponsor of the RIBA Lubetkin Prize. ECO® by Cosentino is a revolutionary new decorative recycled surface material composed of 75% recycled materials, including: mirrors salvaged from houses, building and factories; glass from windows and bottles; granulated glass from consumer recycling practices; porcelain from china, tiles, sinks, toilets and decorative elements; and industrial furnace residuals from factories in the form of crystallised ashes.  It is bonded together with an eco-resin, which contains 22% corn oil. The production of ECO® by Cosentino is expected to re-use the equivalent of 65 million glass bottles, over 2 million square metres of bathroom mirrors and over 50,000 discarded ceramic tiles of every year. The launch of ECO® by Cosentino sets an unprecedented standard for the green building and sustainable design industries, and completes a portfolio of products that offers a unique surface for every consumer need. www.ecobycosentino.com


  4. UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is the Government's international business development organisation.  It helps UK companies succeed in the global economy. We also help overseas companies bring their high quality investment to the UK's economy – acknowledged as Europe's best place from which to succeed in global business. UKTI offers expertise and contacts through its extensive network of specialists in the UK, and in British embassies and other diplomatic offices around the world. We provide companies with the tools they require to be competitive on the world stage. www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk


  5. The RIBA Trust manages the cultural assets of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), including the internationally recognised collections of the British Architectural Library. It is the UK's national architecture centre, delivering the RIBA Awards and RIBA Stirling Prize (broadcast on Channel 4); the Royal Gold Medal; International and Honorary Fellowships; RIBA partnership in architecture festivals such as the forthcoming London Festival of Architecture; and a full programme of lectures, exhibitions, tours and other events; and an education programme.


  6. 2009 marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of the RIBA. To celebrate this milestone the Institute is looking forward to a programme of special events to be held throughout the year that aims to show the breadth of our activities throughout the world of architecture, engage an even wider public and celebrate the benefits to society of good design. For further information visit www.architecture.com


  7. The cast concrete Lubetkin Trophy is designed and made by artist Petr Weigl.  For more information on his work go to www.petrweigl.com


 Full citation follows:


National Stadium Beijing

Beicheng East Road , Chaoyang District, People' Republic of China


Architect:  Herzog & de Meuron

Executive Architects:  China Architectural Design & Research Group

Arup Sport

Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong

Artistic Advisor:  Ai Weiwei

Client:  Zhejiang  Joyon Real Estate Co Ltd

Contractor:  CSCEC (China State Construction & Engineering Corporation)

Structural Engineer:  China Architectural Design & Research Group

Services Engineer:  China Architectural Design & Research Group

Landscape Architect:  Herzog & de Meuron

Contract Value:    £217m

Date of completion:  May 2008

Gross internal area:  258,000 sq m


Few buildings that have received the worldwide attention that this one has can live up to the hype – this one assuredly can.  What can appear to be over-complicated in two dimensions becomes a thing of great subtlety in three dimensions.  It is the result of a complex but hugely successful collaboration between Herzog & de Meuron, the China Architectural Design & Research Group, Arup Sport, Ove Arup & Partners' Hong Kong office and the artist Ai Weiwei who played a key role in the initial concept.


The sports stadium is one of the oldest building types known to mankind, and on the surface at least, one of the simplest. And yet to match the power of the spectacle is as hard as it is apparently simple.  This building, the main stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has already earned its place as one of the most iconic of its type anywhere. If the trend in seminal modern stadia design was to break down the apparent separation of the perimeter exterior with the playing field inside, as seen memorably in Renzo Piano's Bari stadium of the late-1980s, via the act of cutting gaps into the encircling form; here the trick is subtler, the skin still more porous. Internally, the continuity of the bowl is maintained, whereas the entire perimeter skin is dissolved into an irregular and seemingly random lattice of steel beams. By day the building appears as a birds' nest - famed for making exotic Chinese soup - while at night its inner bowl glows out in hot red colours.  Form does not always follow function: the concrete inner lattice which supports the bowl is clad in steel, to match the outer steel frame which supports the roof, but there are aesthetic justifications aplenty for this.  And the structure also sets up constantly changing views both into and out of the stadium.  And for all the environmental cost of the steel, elsewhere its sustainable credentials are good.  There are arrays of solar panels above the entrance and the natural ventilation, which draws air through the building via the stack effect, works well, with the stands and the corridors connecting them pleasantly cool on the very hot day the judges visited.  And most of the seats are effectively shaded by the ETFE/PTFE roof.


Already much anticipated ever since the initial design images were published, the stadium as finished is breathtaking. As watched on millions, perhaps even billions, of television screens around the world during last year's Olympic ceremonies, the building deploys the representational power of architecture to show how sporting activities can be framed memorably in a given place. Interestingly the owners are now making more money from the 30,000 visitors who come to wander through the stadium every day than they did from spectators during the Olympics.  As with the Watercube, that is the legacy for the time being – there has been only one event there in the first 10 post-Olympic months, though they were setting up for a concert when the judges visited.  At one level the National Stadium in Beijing is like every other stadium, and yet it remains defiantly unique.  


Unsurprisingly perhaps the stadium produced a lively debate among the final judges.  Olympic projects are very much one-offs: for some they are a chance to push out the architectural boat, to show, literally, to the world what architects can do – in much the same way Frei Otto and Günter Behnisch did with their Munich Stadium in 1972.  For others they are a platform to demonstrate the social and environmental responsibility of architects. In the end the judges decided to award the National Stadium Beijing the prize for what it is, not to deny it the prize for what it is not.  But whichever line you take this is still one of the most captivating and moving buildings of its generation, one which will inspire future generations of architects.  And it is a triumphant and compelling work of the imagination and its delivery a feat of determination on the part of both architects and engineers. This is a Coliseum for the 21st century that could be around for along as that has been: as such and in terms of lifetime costing it may well prove to be good value indeed.   



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