Winter Olympics Beijing, National Speed Skating Oval
  1. Home
  2. What's On
  3. Winter Olympics: inside the ice ribbon ‒ the oval track for speed skating

Winter Olympics: inside the ice ribbon ‒ the oval track for speed skating

Here’s the national speed skating oval, Beijing’s spectacular ice rink seating 12,000


Winter Olympics Beijing, National Speed Skating Oval
By Redazione The Plan -

Gliding along on a fine blade at 40-45 km/h. A straight line, a bend, another straight then a bend, and the finishing line. This is speed skating on ice, which this time round too will be one of the great stars at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. It is believed that ice skates were first used centuries ago as practical devices for getting about quickly, for crossing frozen lakes and rivers ‒ especially in northern countries. The first pioneers in this activity were the Dutch, who began using their canals as communication routes, skating from one village to the next, as far back as the 13th century. Ice skating then gradually spread beyond the sea, to England, and the first artificial tracks and clubs were soon set up. Keen skaters included various British monarchs, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon III and the German author Goethe.

However, many things have changed since Goethe’s era. Speed skating became an Olympic discipline in 1924, and what were known as ice rinks or ice arenas have since undergone significant transformation. Skating is no longer (only) in the open air: the latest-generation indoor facilities are authentic architectural masterpieces, appealing not only to those who compete there but also to the spectators.

For the Beijing Winter Olympics, the National Speed Skating Oval ‒ known also as the Ice Ribbon ‒ is the only new build (the other venues have been converted or reworked, mainly from the 2008 Summer Olympic facilities), designed by the international studio Populous. Let's explore this arena that has a seating capacity of 12,000 and which lights up by night thanks to ‘ribbon’ beams wrapping around its exterior, tracing out the lines of the racing inside.



Winter Olympics: inside the Ice Ribbon ‒ the oval track for speed skating

As already said, the NSSO (standing for National Speed Skating Oval) was designed by the team at Populous, the architecture studio that won the contract to design it through an international competition in 2016. Construction of the oval arena, which made its debut as the largest speed skating venue in Asia, began the following year, on a site previously used for field hockey or archery. 

The project client was Beijing National Speed ​​Skating Oval Operation Co, which announced at project completion that the rink is not “only a world-class sports facility designed to be among the best in the world” but is also “an international landmark for Beijing and enhances the landscape and urban fabric of the area”.


>>> Where are the curling events taking place? And the acrobatic snowboard ones? Have a look at the other Olympic facilities in Beijing, from the ski jumping ramp echoing a traditional ruyi sceptre (Chinese good-luck talisman) through to the National Indoor Stadium mimicking a traditional paper fan


Creating the Ice Ribbon

One of the most sophisticated and distinctive elements of the Oval are its 22 lines of light, ‘ribbons’ attached to the structure and embracing it, gliding around it. The building comes to life at night when the ribbons are lit up: Populous opted for this solution for the exterior to conjure up the elegance, precision, rhythm and dynamics of speed skating.

As Mr Tiric Chang ‒ Chairman of Populous in China and NSSO Co-Project Director ‒ explained in a press release, the design concepts underpinning the edifice stem from childhood memories of when he would spend much time with his friends at the Shichahai Park ice rink in Beijing: inspiration came while thinking back to a traditional ice-based game played there. 



How can an ice stadium be sustainable?

The National Speed Skating Oval holds a record also as far as sustainability is concerned ‒ not an easy challenge to meet since a constant temperature is required to keep the ice in perfect condition. The building is in fact one of the first venues in the world to be fitted with advanced and highly efficient ice technology, which uses CO2-based direct cooling. According to the designers, the benefits obtained in terms of reducing carbon emissions ‒ or rather, environmental impact ‒ are equivalent to planting a forest of 1.2 million trees: the complete opposite of a traditional ice rink, which demands significant energy outgoings.

When these Olympics come to an end, the NSSO will be converted into a hub pivoting on ice sports, and will host winter festivals, ice hockey matches, private shows and more besides. All this is nevertheless part of a structured strategy by the Chinese government that aims to attract a large number of its population (at least 300 million people) to the snow and ice, whether this be for recreational or sports activities. All by December 2025. 


|||   SUBSCRIBE TO THE PLAN   |||   Get the greatest stories worldwide in architecture and design, the latest projects, builds, rankings and reviews, advice on videos, gallery images and interviews



Location: Beijing, China
Client: Beijing State Asset Management Co. Ltd (BSAM)
Project by: Populous - APAC HQ Brisbane, Australia
Completion: 2021
Site area: 17 hectares
Design elements: 12,000 square metres of ice surface area; 400m racing track comprising an artificial ice surface to world’s best standard; 2 additional underground levels accommodate venue servicing and parking

Photography: courtesy of Populous

Keep up with the latest trends in the architecture and design world

© Maggioli SpA • THE PLAN • Via del Pratello 8 • 40122 Bologna, Italy • T +39 051 227634 • P. IVA 02066400405 • ISSN 2499-6602 • E-ISSN 2385-2054