'Frugal Games' is guiding principle for planners who decide that 'less is more' Three years ago, Beijing Olympic organisers pledged to stage the best Games ever. That commitment has since been put aside and, following urging from the central government, adopted a new guiding principle - less is more. The committee has embarked on a plan to host a frugal Olympics in the belief that the image-conscious nation cannot host a successful event if too much money is squandered. The need for a frugal Games was first raised in August 2003 by Premier Wen Jiabao at a general meeting of the State Council. Wen called on the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Bocog) to make the most of existing facilities and avoid duplication of venues. He highlighted the need for organisers to consider the economic, social and environmental benefits of staging the event. 'The Olympic venues should not only satisfy the needs of the Olympics in 2008. Post-Games utilisation should also be taken into consideration. The scale of Olympic investment must be strictly controlled to keep it within budget,' he said. Wen's call for a more cost-effective event was echoed by Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan. In an apparent response to the shift in priorities, construction of the Olympic Stadium - the centrepiece of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Games - was stopped for a redesign at the end of July. Sources said building work had stopped for a two-month break to allow for changes to the facility's blueprint. The Olympic Stadium, popularly known as the 'Bird's Nest', will be the main venue for the Games and was budgeted to cost 3.5 billion yuan. It is jointly designed by Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland and the China Design and Architecture Institute and will cover more than 20 hectares of the Olympic Green at the northern end of the city's central axis. The stadium will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field events, as well as the men's soccer finals. It was to feature a removable roof and boast a total seating capacity of 100,000. The Beijing News quoted Chinese Academy of Engineering's Shen Shizhao as saying the previous design exceeded the budget approved by the Beijing Development and Reform Commission. He said the changes would cut project costs from 3.5 billion yuan to 3.1 billion yuan. It is widely believed that the removable roof may be scrapped to save costs and ensure safety. Some mainland media had estimated the retractable roof could cost 300 million yuan and doing away with it could cut back on the amount of steel used from 50,000 tonnes to a minimum of 35,000 tonnes. A representative of the design team said the overall appearance of the stadium would not be affected if the roof were to go. But cost has not been the only thing on designers' minds. Alarmed by the collapse in May of Paris' futuristic airport terminal, 10 top architects from the Chinese Academy of Engineering suggested to Wen that too much emphasis had been put on the stadium's visual impact while safety, environmental and utility issues had been neglected. 'Even the stability and safety of the stadium can't be ensured. The whole stadium is a kind of white elephant,' said the architects. Six of the 13 assessors on the tender panel were reportedly non-Chinese citizens and all the non-Chinese specialists voted for the Herzog & de Meuron proposal. Some mainland architects have attacked the decision to go with the Swiss design as displaying blind faith in things 'foreign'. They say the mainland has become a testing ground for international avant-garde designers. Some architects also aired objections to the design of the National Swimming Centre, which is financed by donations from overseas Chinese, saying some features were unnecessary. As part of the cutbacks, the number of seats in the swimming centre will be slashed from 20,000 to 16,000, of which only 6,000 will be permanent. The Wukesong Cultural and Sports Centre will also be scaled back from 6,000 to 1,000 square metres. The move is designed to cut down on light reflection and save money. In its original design, the cultural and sports centre, where the Olympic basketball will be staged, has four big screens fixed outside to enable people outside the stadium to see the competition. The four big screens were initially destined to have a total surface area 24,000 square metres and expected to cost US$200 million. The centre's total budget was set at 4.5 billion yuan. But before construction of the project was started, experts found the light and noise pollution from the big screens would present problems for nearby residents and students. The heat emitted by the screens would raise the ambient temperature by around five degrees Celsius. The screens would also consume twice as much energy as the centre itself and not look particularly attractive when not in use. It is widely believed that plans for the big screens will be either partially or completely scrapped. Bocog executive officer Wei Jizhong said direct operating costs were originally expected to total US$1.6 billion to US$2 billion but that figure had blown out because non-Chinese architects had given little consideration to cost. 'The actual expenditure will be 50-70 per cent higher than the original budget,' Wei predicted.