During a visit to Beijing earlier this month, swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff caught an early glimpse of the National Aquatics Center. Also referred to as the Water Cube, the futuristic square building -- which will host swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming -- looks like it's covered in bubble wrap.
"It's definitely pretty cool," Phelps told reporters. The structure is located in the Olympic Green, adjacent to the National Stadium, and is one of the centerpieces of Beijing's Olympic venues for the 2008 Games.
"I think it's going to paint a picture for Katie and me in our minds, to really help us prepare for next year and get us more and more excited," Phelps said.
Scheduled for completion in October of this year, the Water Cube's exterior is made up of membrane structures which comprise over 3,000 pneumatic cushions. Low-pressure air is inflated into the cushions to resist wind and provide insulation.
For the Olympics, temporary seating will allow a capacity of 11,000. Permanent seats number 6,000. In comparison, the largest indoor pool in the U.S., the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis, Ind., can hold 4,700 spectators. It will host this year's U.S.A. Swimming National Championships.