The Water Cube. It’s a fitting name for a natatorium that will ultimately look like a giant box of air bubbles. And that’s exactly what designers had in mind when they conceived the $125 million, 80,000-square-meter National Aquatics Center in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Based on the geometry of bubbles, the seemingly fragile structure is an organic network of transparent ethyltetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) pillows. This recyclable, Teflonlike material weighs just 1 percent of an equivalent-sized glass panel, yet is robust enough to withstand the seismic conditions in Beijing.

What’s more, ETFE lets in more UV light than glass. As a result, the towering, translucent structure — the biggest in Olympic history — will capture and transfer 90 percent of the solar energy needed to heat the pools and interior air within its blue walls.

In addition to the competition pool, the National Aquatics Center will house warm-up, diving and recreational pools, and seating for 17,000. The exterior will feature a small river and several fountains to enhance the image and look of the building.

After the games, the building will expand into a multipurpose leisure center with pools, a gym, ice-skating facilities and more. Roughly 6,000 permanent spectator seats will remain. One expert says it will be the largest recreational and fitness center in China.

The National Aquatics Center broke ground in late 2003 and will be completed next year. Trial runs begin in 2007.