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Zaha Hadid's 'Stingray' roof makes waves

With its dazzling, undulating design and prominent positioning at the entrance to the Olympic Park, ministers hope that the London Aquatics Centre will be the architectural jewel in the capital's crown in 2012. Yesterday they breathed a collective sigh of relief as the building's 2,800-ton "stingray" roof was lowered into position after eight months of painstaking preparations.

Designed by the Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid – who for much of her career had a reputation for creating astonishing building designs that frequently won competitions but often never made it off the drawing board – the centre will be the first building that visitors to the Olympic Park in east London will encounter. It may also end up being the architectural centrepiece of the event, according to critics.

But building the centre is no mean feat and yesterday's completion of the roof was hailed by Olympics chiefs as the most structurally complicated part of the Games. Construction work on the centre began two months ahead of schedule in March this year and has almost entirely revolved around getting the roof into place.

Despite its weight, the wave-like roof is supported at only three points: by two concrete pillars at the north end and a 5m-thick concrete wall at the southern end. Before placing the roof, structural engineers had to lift a 70-ton steel truss on to the wall and connect that to a series of 10 further trusses that stretch to the two pillars.

The trusses were assembled on site at a height of 20m using steel scaffolding to make it easier to lift the roof on to its joints on the concrete supports. After removing the scaffolding, engineers let the roof slide a final 20cm on to its joints on the southern wall, which will allow the building to stretch, twist and contract with the weather.

Building a reputation

Zaha Hadid designs that have been built...

Maxxi Museum, Rome, Italy – completed 2009

J S Bach Pavilion, Manchester, UK – completed 2009

Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsberg, Germany – completed 2005

BMW Central Building, Leipzig, Germany – completed 2005

Bergisel Ski Jump, Bergisel, Austria – completed 2002

Rosthenhall Centre for Comtemporary Art, Cincinatti, USA – completed 1998

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany – completed 1994