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Water and Ice Inspire Beautiful Olympic Buildings in Sochi- Can They Inspire Your Design Aquarium?

Posted by on Friday, February 7th, 2014

This weekend, the Sochi Winter Olympics will kick off, and people are anticipating them with a topsy-turvy mix of emotions. There is the usual excitement that comes with the Games: the thrill of competition, the drama and pagentry of figure-skating, the usual jokes about curling (which isn’t fair, because: wouldn’t you want to be a curler?). There is also dread of what will go wrong, because it is assumed that despite spending $51 billion on the Games the Russians won’t deliver (but people think that about every Olympics). Then there is the controversy about the price tag, about Russia’s human rights violations, their policies toward gay rights, and the way people were kicked out of their homes for the Olympic venues to be built.

But we’re not going to get into that. I want to talk about the stadiums, but not about their cost, the quality of construction, or what was lost for them to be built. Those are all important, and architecture and design can’t (and shouldn’t) be divorced from their social context, but it is also important not to lose sight of their impressive design. The designers of Sochi, for all the flaws, delivered a cohesive and aesthetically-significant setting for the Olympic games.

Not many people think of Russia as being particularly water-based, and for the most part, it isn’t. Russia is known for the crushing vastness of its endless steppes and the ceaseless frozen expanse of Siberia. But Sochi is in the Caucasus mountains, a non-ethnic Russian region subjugated over hundreds of years and integrated into the federation. The Caucasus are shaped by their mountains and by the way they form an isthmus between the Black and Caspian Seas. Sochi is a gorgeous resort town hard on the Black Sea. The designers of the games took the region’s connection to the water and tied it to the spirit of winter. Here are some of the more remarkable buildings you’ll see at the games.

Iceberg Skating Palace

Readers know just how much we like water-inspired architecture, and the Iceberg Palace is Sochi’s best example of this. Although there aren’t many icebergs in the Black Sea, if you go to Russia’s Barent Sea ports in Murmansk, you’ll see plenty. This is a gorgeous building, which radiates an austere chill but somehow manages to not be cold. It has an undulating power, looking less like an iceberg than an impertinent wave, a playful splash flash-frozen, capturing a moment where the sea transformed into something more solid, more permanent. You’ll be seeing the Skating Palace a lot, as it is the home of the pre-determined star of the games, the impeccably-named Disney princess Gracie Gold. (I personally am rooting for Ashley Wagner- I like her somewhat ironic distance from the strangeness of her sport).

(Incidentally, if you are looking to learn more about the region, I would recommend Neal Acherson’s Black SeaIt’s one of my favorite books, overall. A great history, and a poetic and learned exploration of how man affects nature, and how nature affects man.)

Ice Cube Curling Center

Curling stadium

This is a stadium dedicated to curling.
Image from worldcurling.org

Curling is great and everyone knows it. It’s upright team shuffleboard with brooms. It’s amazing. But there is clearly something goofy about it, so it seems right that a building dedicated to it should be based on an ice cube, rarely thought of as one of nature’s more beautiful forms. But there is something intriguing and Mies-ian about the complex, with a smirking depth to its fundamentalist and even partially-Brutalist facade. This kind of square exactitude would not have been out of place in the world of Soviet Realism, but it is used to house the goofiest sport in the Olympics.

OK – let’s get this out of the way. Fisht is named after a mountain in the Caucuses; it isn’t a misspelling of Russified version of “fish.” The dome looks like a bulge of water rising from a placid sea, being pushed out and parted by a rising fish, whose back is arching into the daylight (maybe a Black Sea sturgeon?).  This will serve a function for the Opening Ceremony, but its form makes it seem like a still-shot from the warm waters it abuts.

What can you do with these designs? If these Olympics inspire you, you can steer away from a basic cube in which to house your fish. What not model your design aquarium after Fisht? Or bring a blue chill to your house with an Iceberg Palace?  And, if you want to be avante-garde and get some abnormal sea creatures, use the Curling Palace as a design. With any aquarium, it is crucial to be yourself. So take inspiration from anywhere- even a once-obscure fishing village in an ancient and battered land hard on a beautiful sea.

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