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Vancouver goes for the green

Vancouver is building spectacular venues for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The structures use futuristic designs and high-tech materials, promising to be useful long after the Games are over.
Check out The Whistler Sliding Centre, a combined bobsled, luge, and skeleton sliding track, already generating buzz for its crazy speed and challenging course.
Check out The Whistler Sliding Centre, a combined bobsled, luge, and skeleton sliding track, already generating buzz for its crazy speed and challenging course. Courtesy VANOC

In this case, it's what's on the inside that counts
Unlike most pieces of modern architecture, the Richmond Oval is built to be admired from the inside out. A glass façade on the structure's north side gives clear, expansive views of the North Shore Mountains. The venue's three other sides are wrapped in a polycarbonate glaze in varying shades of blue. The design aims to maximize natural light for the 8,000-seat speed-skating track. The structure—located across the Fraser River from Vancouver's main airport—is also notable for its innovative wooden roof. Made from trees killed by the recent pine-beetle infestation in British Columbia, the roof showcases a practical use for the once-discarded material.

Get a look at some Eco Chill action
And no, "eco chill" is not what environmentalists do to relax. An ice rink needs to transfer heat energy out of water to make it freeze. Normally that energy is wasted. But the UBC Thunderbird Arena—an addition to the University of British Columbia's ocean-side campus—has installed Eco Chill, an energy-recycling system that collects and reuses the energy needed to maintain the ice. The largest of the complex's three ice arenas will hold more than 7,000 people and be a battleground for men's and women's ice hockey during the Games. The exterior is modern but won't win any style accolades.

Even stadiums can be "recycled"
Vancouver's push for sustainability in its new Olympic venues would be pointless if it built them for 16 days' worth of events and then never used them again. The city is making sure that each structure can serve the community long after the Olympic torch has been extinguished. For instance, the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, near Queen Elizabeth Park, includes a 100,000-square-foot curling venue that will be converted into a multipurpose community recreation center after 2010. Next door, there's a 60,000-square-foot aquatic center. Not only will the two venues be connected by an indoor concourse, but they'll also share energy. Waste heat from the curling rink's refrigeration plant will be captured and reused to heat parts of the venue next door.

Think of them as the most energy-efficient residences since, um, ancient Greece. It's only in recent decades that Olympic housing has become truly wasteful. Vancouver's Olympic Village aspires to regain old-fashioned energy efficiency without sacrificing modern comforts. The Village will house 2,800 athletes and officials in mid- and low-rise residences that will line False Creek, the short waterway that divides downtown from the rest of the city. Space heating in the residences will be provided in a clever way: Rather than force air through vents, the Village will pump water through thin tubes in the ceiling, radiating heat in the winter and cooling the rooms in the summer. The community will heat its water by capturing excess heat from the municipal wastewater treatment system. In another ecofriendly move, rainwater will be collected and circulated through the properties, nurturing roof gardens and other agricultural plots.

And you thought roller coasters were thrilling!
Check out The Whistler Sliding Centre, a combined bobsled, luge, and skeleton sliding track, already generating buzz for its crazy speed and challenging course. On Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain, the track boasts the highest vertical drop of any international sliding track: 152 meters, or roughly 500 feet. Good views from the spectators' areas are promised. (There's even a waterfall at the start area.) Developers carved the 1,458-meter-long course out of the existing landscape to preserve as many of the original trees as possible. The resulting shade means less energy is needed to chill the track. And speaking of keeping cool, the track's refrigeration plant uses energy-efficient ammonia rather than ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons.

Imagine 400,000 different plants indigenous to British Columbia
Now picture those plants on a six-acre plot on top of the refurbished Vancouver Convention Centre—also home to the international broadcast and media center for the 2010 Olympics. And if the media seem especially long-winded in covering the Games, it may be because they're overdosing on that extra oxygen being produced on the "green roof"—the largest in Canada. The next innovation on tap for this waterfront venue is a new water filtration system, which will treat wastewater and reuse it to irrigate the roof. The system will also desalt ocean water for use in toilets.