Some of the biggest stars of the 2008 Olympics at Beijing were not the worldclass athletes but the actual buildings in which they competed. The National Stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest", the National Aquatic Centre or "Water Cube" and other sites were immediately recognized around the world for their unique and complex beauty.
Less recognized is the fact that these airy, light-filled spaces were made possible by materials developed by the chemicals industry. In particular, both structures were covered by translucent sheets of film made from a polymer called Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). Strong, durable and lighter than glass, ETFE has been used for decades by architects and builders for skylights and atriums, pavilions, tropical greenhouses and other innovative projects.
The ETFE is just one example of the central role that chemicals play in the construction industry. The strength of concrete, for instance, has risen dramatically due to the development of construction chemicals. Between 1920 and 2004, the diameter of a pillar needed to carry 100 tons was reduced from 100 cm to only 10 cm.
Indeed, chemical products usually make up only 1 percent of total construction costs,4 but today's building projects would be impossible without any number of concrete admixtures, asphalt additives, adhesives, sealants, protective coatings, paints, plastic pipes, insulation and other products, as well as powders, pastes and solutions used at the construction site. Not surprisingly, the state of construction in 2011 is being closely watched as a long-term growth indicator by major chemical companies that directly or indirectly supply this market.
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