The Outdoor Room project for the 5th China International Architecture Biennial created an urban public space that reactivated Beijing’s iconic Olympic Park while focusing on air quality issues in Beijing. The competition-winning project opened in Beijing and will travel to six cities in China. Outdoor Room served as both an engaging urban public space and a barometer of Beijing’s well-documented air quality levels. Along with the weather report, daily readings of air particulate contaminant have become part of everyday urban life in Beijing. On most days, pollution creates a dense fog that transforms the city with an unsettling palette of colors—from dull grey to off-white and yellow-beige.
On the occasional day of better air quality, urban forms suddenly materialize “out of the fog.” The concept of a city that disappears and reappears was central to the public experience of Outdoor Room. Inside the pavilion, a large elliptical roof opening provided a visual measure of the air quality. On days of good visibility, the roof void framed clear views of the Olympic Observation Tower and beyond to the National Stadium. On days of poor air quality, the landmarks virtually disappeared from sight. The uncanny experience of a city disappearing and reappearing came into focus from within Outdoor Room while drawing attention to the crisis of air pollution in Beijing.
The design of Outdoor Room precipitated a concept of the “room in the city” and its converse, the “city in the room.” Viewed from the Olympic Park, the “room in the city” did not attempt to recreate the urban boundaries that separate polluted outdoor air from the privilege of conditioned indoor air throughout Beijing. From within the pavilion, the openings between the fabric panels framed a “city in the room.” This “city in the room” offered changing views of the Olympic Park and the air that surrounds it.
The glossy translucent fabric panels both reflected and transmitted the color hue of the polluted air enveloping the city—from blue to grey to yellow. The torque geometry of the fabric panels reflected the colors differently, especially when viewed from different vantage points within Outdoor Room. These changing colors of air were given an urban form and resulted in a public space that became a barometer of weather and air quality in Beijing.