About This Project

It is not commonly known that the Watercube – Beijing’s National Aquatics Center was conceived in Sydney.


In 2003, an international design competition team was assembled in Australia for this project. Sydney had already successfully hosted the 2000 Olympic Games, and our Chinese partners were interested in utilising some of the key experience that was gained. I had worked for seven years on the Sydney Games, and was invited to be a key team member of the design competition for the Beijing opportunity.


Three Chinese architects travelled from Beijing to work with our design team in Sydney. We worked intensely together for about three months to generate our final ideas. The lead Chinese designer did not speak any English, and we didn’t speak any Chinese, so much of our design collaboration was done through sketches and illustrations. It was a wonderful meeting of cultures and design aesthetics, and was one of those rare experiences where multiple opinions and contributions resulted in a submission that exceeded any of our individual expectations.


As none of the Australia-based team had previously travelled to China, we relied on guidance from our Chinese partners to make sure that our scheme was culturally sympathetic. Our intention was not only to create an iconic building, but also a poetic response to the location. This would never have been possible without the dynamic collaboration between the truly international design team. The building literally represents the coming together of Australian and Chinese cultures.


We were awarded the project in mid-2003, and I was then asked to relocate to Beijing with my family to continue my role on the project. I have lived and worked in China with my family ever since. There are now multiple significant buildings and projects in both China and Australia, that represent the ongoing successful collaboration between designers from both regions.


John Pauline is a Hong Kong-based architect.

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