When the 8th World Games opens in Taiwan on Thursday, 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.'
Information technology 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.
The planners kept athletes in mind when they created the wind system. Since wind can impact performance in many events, including track and field sports such as sprinting, computer modeling helped designers ensure a maximum wind speed on the competition field of 2 meters per second, to conform with international sports standards.
Without computers, modeling for many aspects of the stadium would still have been possible but it would have been far more time-consuming and far less accurate, Su said. Accuracy is important for a host of reasons, mainly safety. Typhoons lash Taiwan with heavy wind and rain each year, and thousands of earthquakes shake the island. Most of the temblors are so small they're only picked up by scientific instruments, but some have toppled buildings and killed people.
In all, the roof cost around NT$800 million (US$24.3 million) to build, Su said, with NT$500 million of the tab for solar panels alone. But over time, the roof will help pay for itself.
During events, the roof supplies 70 percent of the stadium's electricity needs, the other 30 percent coming from the state power company. When not in use, most of the power generated by the solar roof goes to surrounding neighborhoods in the city.
Officials estimate the stadium will generate an average 1.1 million kilowatt-hours per year, and at the current cost of electricity in Taiwan, NT$3 per kilowatt-hour, the structure will save NT$3.3 million per year for the city.
Here's where IT again plays a key role in the new stadium. Sensor chips on the roof keep track of all electricity intake and distribution, sending the information to servers in the control station, which is similar to a small power station inside the facility.
Another kind of sensor chip keeps track of the rooftop solar farm by troubleshooting for broken or damaged panels. There are 20 to 30 sensor chips per row of solar panels, and around 200 rows on the roof.
The building's planners had one more task for the stadium, as if power generation, shade and wind tunneling weren't enough.
The roof also collects rainwater for use inside the stadium. It rains frequently in Kaohsiung, if only for a portion of the day.
A system of pipes conveys the water to holding tanks underground where it's sterilized and then reused in rest rooms, for the grass and half-moon fountain, and elsewhere.
The final touch on the stadium was an eye toward using recyclable materials. Much of the stadium can be reused or recycled, Su said, including the steel throughout the frame, plastic seats and more.
The World Games, held July 16-26 this year, is an international event for sports not played in the Olympic Games, including Rugby, Sumo wrestling, squash, rock climbing, Dragon boat racing, parachuting, and tug-of-war.