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Creating more for less

Walter P Moore’s Lee W. Slade discusses the company’s expertise in retractable roofs, why BIM is worth its weight in gold, and how he still feels a rush when one of his projects opens its doors


What services does your company offer to the industry?
Walter P Moore is a specialised engineering firm with more than 80 years’ experience in the design, improvement, and maintenance of stadiums. We collaborate with leading sports architects to design elegant and cost-effective structural systems for stadiums of all types, including retractable roof stadiums. We also serve stadium managers as structural stewards, developing and implementing life-cycle maintenance programmes to affordably preserve and increase value. We provide assessments and improvements to reduce vulnerabilities to terrorism. We also offer a full range of stadium parking and traffic solutions.

Could you tell us an interesting fact about your company?
Walter P Moore has been the structural engineer for the most recent six retractable roofs built in the USA. Each has opened on time and within budget.

What trends do you see emerging in your particular sector of the stadium industry?
Three key trends predominate, in my opinion. First, construction costs for major sports venues have soared in the past decade. As concrete and steel generally comprises the largest single category of first cost, we as structural engineers must continually find ways to create cost-effective stadium superstructures and roofs. We have been developing increasingly efficient and lighter solutions for roofs, canopies, and framing systems. The days of fitting the structural system around an architectural concept are over; structures must be fully integrated with the functional spaces and aesthetics from the very start of design.

Secondly, owners want their venues to do more. Coupled with increasing operational reliability and controls, this has driven the desire for moving roofs. I expect that most major future stadiums will give strong consideration to a moving roof for the benefits of increased operational flexibility.

Finally, changes in stadium economics and patron expectations are driving the need for renovation and restoration. Underfunding of maintenance has led many stadiums to being marginally or poorly maintained, which often accelerates their deterioration. With funding and land for new stadiums so scarce, we are seeing many opportunities to restore, preserve, and upgrade stadiums to extend their lifespan and profitability.

Could you tell us about a recent success story for your company?
We are very proud of two very different buildings that will open this spring. The first, BBVA Compass Bank Stadium, is a new 20,000-seat stadium that will open in May as home for the MLS Houston Dynamo. Although designed at every step to be austere, the stadium will be highly flexible to host professional soccer, collegiate football, and concerts. We optimised the structural systems by working with the steel fabricator through the earliest stages of design, focusing on reducing tonnage but also on those practical structural aspects such as speed of erection and simplification of connections that often get design attention too late in the process to realise real savings.

A new 37,000-seat ballpark for the MLB team Miami Marlins in Miami will open April 2. This park will feature an elegant moving roof for which we developed an advanced storm strategy to resist extreme hurricane winds. Our design approach – which keeps the roof slightly gapped during even the strongest storms – eliminated costly seals between the panels that are prone to failure. Just as important, it saved 1,000 tons of steel by reducing the wind forces on the roof. Partly as a result, the ballpark will open under budget – a rarity for new professional stadiums.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in your particular sector of the industry – and how are you overcoming them?
Making stadium structures less costly, more sustainable, more flexible, and easier to build are our biggest challenges on virtually every stadium project. At the same time, ensuring reliable long-term operations of moving roofs are just as important. We are doing this by using technology to work more closely than ever with our traditional design team and increasingly with industry systems suppliers. Managed design/build and other integrated delivery systems are here to stay, and as structural designers we’ve embraced the opportunities to work directly with suppliers of traditional and specialty systems to enhance overall value.

What new technologies or strategies have you used in any recent projects?
To actively manage costs and co-ordination, we’ve been using BIM (Building Information Modelling) on every major project since 2005. We are now working with industry to create quantity and cost models that allow us to manage costs real-time through every phase of project development. Operations technology for moving roofs continues to evolve, becoming more reliable, safer, and more economical.

What’s your favourite stadium/sports venue and why?
To me, sports venues are the most exciting and interesting structural challenges in the world. These projects are the cathedrals of our time – projects that are conceived with intense press and political scrutiny, designed with eager anticipation from a rabid corps of fans, and borne under incredible media spotlight. They are also very personal buildings that speak to each patron in a different and special way. When they open, the rush is incredibly exciting.

As a result, I love all of our stadium projects, although I especially love the facilities I’ve had a part in helping create. Target Field probably tops that list, mainly because of the joy with which the people of Minnesota embraced it and love it. It is nestled beautifully in downtown Minneapolis, with great rail and pedestrian connections. Throughout the ballpark, distinct neighborhoods create different, localized experiences that I really enjoy.

I also love the current challenges that we are tackling at Rogers Centre and Farmers Field and I’m sure that one of those will become my new favourite when those projects are completed in a few years.

Where do you see the stadium market in 10 years’ time?
I have to think that the games themselves will continue to evolve but remain essentially the same, with one team trying to score against the other, while a crowd roars in approval or condemnation.

Technology will obviously continue to advance, likely in the direction of making the fan experience more immersive, more intimate with the players and the game itself, and continuing to emphasize revenue generation.

I also foresee the globalisation of delivery systems. The best of North America will infiltrate Europe, the Middle East and South America – and vice versa.

Walter P Moore will be exhibiting at Stadia Design & Technology Expo 2012, 8-10 May 2012. Visit the company at Booth 4020


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