The Beijing National Stadium, also known as "the bird's nest," will be the venue for the opening ceremonies and track and field events.

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Beijing Olympic Venues

Olympic greenness might begin with wet scrubbers and traffic schemes, but such measures lack the glamour of rainwater-capture systems and solar-heated swimming pools. Beijing has pulled out all of the stops for its new Olympic buildings -- choosing cutting-edge architects, striking designs and new-fangled technology to increase energy efficiency. Beijing will launch its green games from a new city center: the aptly named Olympic Green. Its three central parts -- the Forest Park, the Cultural Axis and the Olympic Axis -- connect different venues, public areas and subway stops.

The Beijing National Stadium, the city's newest jewel and the future site of the opening ceremonies, anchors the Olympic Green. China imported the famous Swiss design firm Herzog & de Meuron Architekten AG to design the 91,000 capacity stadium, popularly known as "the bird's nest."

An artist's rendition of the National Aquatics Center shows the building's soap-bubble skin.

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Until recently, most Chinese designs came from local institutes once owned by the state. The institutes put out a huge number of buildings, but they lacked creativity and flair. Since then, Beijing's growth has stirred up an interest in design. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are known for their imaginations and use of material skins as sheathing. For the tangled National Stadium, they made the skin double as the building's structure. The bird's nest description originated as a way to describe the stadium's use of structural steel in its exterior. Bird's nests are also Chinese delicacies.

China also brought in the Australian PTW Architects to design the Olympic Green's National Aquatics Center, or "water cube." The walls of the low building imitate the structure of soap bubbles. Gas pumped between two layers of plastic film is cordoned off into smaller chambers to create bubbles. The center will host swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo competitions.

But there's more to Beijing than the Olympic Games. In the next section, we'll learn about some of the city's other attractions.