By Dr Pick Keobandith


The 2008 Olympic Flame in Pingyao
(Photo N. Godelet)
The Shougang site birdview
The 2022 Big Air Ramp (Photo NG-Lab). Designers : Ng-Lab (Ramp and sport
technique design, structure design with Bernard Viry) , Team Minus (stadium
organisation and concept of the Apsara), Shougang International Institute
(technical institute), Zhujing Institute (structure calculation).

I first met Nicolas Godelet in Beijing more than 15 years ago thanks to the wonderful Marc Kohen, 1st Delegate of Culture and Education for the Wallonia-Brussels Delegation in China. He hasn’t changed a bit, and continues to be just as friendly and passionate about China, where he has lived for a good 20 years. Due to Covid he has come back to work at his second architecture agency in Namur, Belgium.
I remember Nicolas given the honour of lighting the Olympic Cauldron with the mayor of Pingyao in 2008. This was quite an exceptional event for the young Belgian architect who, now shouldered by the team of architects at Team Minus, has designed one of the most important and beautiful ski and snowboard ramp “The Big Air of Shougang” for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Why was Shougang’s industrial site chosen for the ski jump installation for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games Beijing?
I think there are many reasons for this. Most of the sports organised for the winter games are situated at an altitude on three different sites. One of them is literally deep within the mountains, however there was the simultaneous desire to be able to reuse the city infrastructure.
The big air is a slightly unusual sport as it’s new and practised by young people who are between about 14 and 30 years old. The pre-existing site of the Bird’s Nest stadium by the architects Herzog & de Meuron wasn’t suitable for the practice of this kind of sport on the long term. Shougang’s location, also close to Beijing, therefore suggested itself quite naturally. It is an old steel mill, which was already in the process of being fully redeveloped and regenerated.The BOCOG, the Chinese Olympic Committee, was already installed on the site in a renovated building (the silos). This has won several architectural prizes for its conversion and ecological aspect. I was the only foreigner involved in this project of regeneration right from the beginning. The only Belgian working and thinking about this industrial site for already several years. What’s more, I’m a snowboarder myself, so I did everything I could so that the Olympic Committee would decide to put the Big Air in Shougang. Yes this is an industrial site but it is very accessible: 5 RMB to get there from Beijing. That is to say nothing at all, a stone’s throw. Next, there was an interesting value and a very important symbol of the city’s regeneration, industrial regeneration, urban ecology and also the construction of a permanent stadium for this new sport. In fact until now, the Big Air slopes were always temporary structures. We therefore designed something that had never been done before – a permanent stadium for this sport.

The 2022 Big Air Ramp design team at work with the Olympic commitee and the FIS team (photo by NG-Lab)
The Shougang site birdview
The 2008 Olympic Stadium by Herzogh
& Demeuron. Steel structure welding
techniques consulting by Nicolas Godelet
& Bernard Viry
The Shougang Silos renovation (2014 by NG-Lab : 2 silos, overall landscape and mining towers and ramps renovation) – (Photo by Olivier Marceny)

How did you approach the design of this structure that is so different from other buildings? How did the team to reach this new goal?
First of all any work concerning architecture, structure or infrastructure is a collaborative effort. There is always a ‘Master of Ceremonies’ but in reality it’s teamwork.
Moreover, an architect’s mission is to serve society, to serve the smooth functioning of public spaces with their communities and institutions. That is to say he must be at the service of a natural and constructed environment. We have to take all of that into account.
Next, the way in which he works must also be in accordance with a sustainable philosophy. Something I hope to acquire gradually by aging (laughs). In any case I believe that “an egocentric style,” the desire to impose a style or have one’s “own” recognisable style… I think all that is outdated.
For me it’s a 20th century way of thinking that can no longer exist.
This is why our architecture, in my agency NG-Lab, doesn’t have a style. It’s a sort of working strategy: not to seek a “borrowed,” gratuitous >>

aesthetic. Quite the opposite, we are always looking for harmony with place and time, a specific local environment. We respect Feng-Shui philosophy. What remains of prime importance is the service and responsibility that the architect must hold with regard to society and the environment. There is a form of pertinence in the response that we strive to keep in mind and try to realise.
In this sense, for this project, the team gathered certainly architects and engineers but also lighting designers, meteorologists… We have had to study the wind and jump’s ballistic. It is a very complex work. We had to create the team for this project, and we had to work with foreign engineers, Chinese teams, teams of Belgians, French, Swiss, Italians …We made up a truly international and multidisciplinary team. This had never been done before. There were therefore a huge number of new security norms to study, implement, to introduce even.
Lastly was the ubiquitous question:
How do we build the best possible ramp so that it will last over time with a sport that has to be able to evolve?

The Big Air Ramp structure designed by NG-Lab : steel V shape “trees” and the ramp beam grid system.
The ramp wind protection made of perforated aluminum surface (Both photos by NG-Lab).
The Shougang “Factory”, a renovated desulfurization factory by NG-Lab and Arch Harmony (technical institute). Mixed function building : Exhibition, Management office, Restaurant and café, shaping the official entrance of the Shougang site along the Chang An Avenue.

Have you included any Chinese or European cultural elements?
Yes in a way. An evocation of Chinese identity is deep-seated in the project. This comes from my colleague Zhang Li, professor at the University of Tsinghua, Beijing, and Director of the Faculty of Architecture.
He imagined a band of colour like a scarf. Although functional, he wanted this element to seem light. Designed in harmony with the place. It is in fact inspired by apsaras. An apsara is a kind of goddess found in the Dunhuang grottos in China. They are the figurative embodiment of lightness, femininity and flexibility. What is interesting in the case of this floating ribbon is that it is not only aesthetic (as we said earlier, we don’t want gratuitous aesthetics): it is a ribbon with many functions. It is at the same time indispensable to the project and it provides all the colour.
This luminous ribbon brings life to the ramp at night-time but also gives protection for the athletes. When they jump, it acts as protection, a sort of safety net on the sides. It is also a windbreaker, a structure, a micro-perforated sheet that can slow down the wind. It prevents the athletes from being disturbed when they are concentrating and descending at a high speed of 70 km/h. They mustn’t be troubled by the wind and so the design is both aesthetic and functional.

The Chang An Bridge and the Big Air site at the back. The bridge becomes today the most iconic construction of Beijing West and creates the Ouest gate of the Capital City.

View the Podcast : Big Air Shougang – Nicolas Godelet – JO Pékin 2022
Pick Keobandith, Target Global / Inspiring Cultureand Audry Handson, Little Tower Podcasts

Is The Big Air Shougang a definitive, permanent structure?
Absolutely, as I mentioned earlier, it is the very first permanent structure dedicated to this sport.
Until now, all the previously built Big Air structures were constructed with scaffolding: non-permanent, temporary structures with low security level that were uncomfortable for the athletes. The Big Air in Shougang is a sort of homage rendered to the athletes of this sport. They were all delighted to be able to make use of a ramp like this one: permanent, in situ, and safe. For them this was one of the biggest tributes that could have been made.
The most important thing is that this ramp and its use are lasting.
It will be used throughout the seasons, whether summer or winter, and for many other sports or events.
It has a modular structure. It can of course be used in wintertime for the Big Air. It can be used for the same sport in summer with what are known as airbags. This is without doubt a dangerous sport: the airbags can reduce or even remove the risks and allow the youngest to train with almost no limits. It can also be used for a sport called “aerials”, acrobatic high jumps usually seen in skiing. It can also be quickly and easily transformed into a slope during the summer for downhill skiing on grass, for a 200 metre long zip line, for concerts and so on.
I believe we are going to attract more and more Chinese especially because of Gu Ailing’s victory (Eileen Gu) which has really given this sport a boost.
In the end this is a new kind of infrastructure, which will allow the site to survive and be profitable. For that matter I think that the economic dimension must not be forgotten, generally speaking in any architectural project.

Will you go back? What are you working on? Have you any other projects at the moment?
Yes. As I’m in Belgium for now, I am working in both Belgium and France on footbridges. I’m also working with Holland on the new Belgian pavilion for the 2022 Floriades International exhibition, which will be a completely regenerative building. Something quite unparalleled …
I hope to return to China after the Paralympics, in the hope that the problems of quarantine and access to the country will be easier. I try to keep the team at NG-Lab agency as flexible as possible and to work with a maximum of different countries, such as Taiwan, China or Japan.
We mustn’t forget that the next international exhibition of architecture will be held at Osaka in 2025 and I think we have some interesting things to put forward for this event…

The Belgian Pavilion for’ the World Expo Beijing 2019 by NG-lab
The 2019 UNESCO Pavilion for
the Word Expo (Horticulture and Landscape expo in China by NG-Lab
The Shougang Furnace 4 by NG-Lab (picture NG-Lab)