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The future of stadium design

Professor Kourosh Kayvani, global building structures leader, Aurecon, explores the technical and commercial considerations that ensure game-changing sporting facilities


“The concept behind a sports stadium has come full circle,” claims Professor Kourosh Kayvani, global building structures leader, Aurecon. “From a place to see your favourite athletes pitting their skills against competitors, to a modern Roman Colosseum where the public gather, clutching smartphones, for a multimedia and multi-sensorial experience!”

Designing with legacy in mind
While a world-class stadium project is often driven by a short-term need to stage an important event, such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, far more attention is now being paid to maximising the sustainable legacy of these structures, bearing in mind the huge investment and upkeep they require.
Successful world-leading stadium design means thinking beyond the obvious and certainly beyond the main prestige event. While first and foremost, we have to meet the client’s brief to accommodate the global event, the outlay is often in the hundreds of millions of dollars and a true legacy design involves maximising the stadium’s usage.

In fact it is generally better to start the concept stage of design from a legacy point of view – what will happen after the main event? – while also ensuring the stadium will meet immediate objectives. For instance, there is the urban development potential that must be evaluated: urban stadia are anchor projects with the power to transform a precinct or renew it!

An impressive current example of this is Perth Arena: an entertainment and sporting arena in the city centre of Perth, and the centrepiece for the redevelopment of the Northern part of the central business district. This award-winning project features Aurecon’s high-performing, fully retractable roof and innovative structural façade. This 15,500-person capacity, multipurpose, indoor entertainment and sports stadium has transformed the precinct by offering a multiuse venue for sports, entertainment, etc.

Creating iconic architecture
While it’s generally accepted that stadia are often status symbols for a city, region or nation, the drivers vary on a case-by-case basis. For example, while the Beijing Olympics projects were strongly influenced by iconography and the big event itself, the Sydney and London Olympics sports facilities were more driven by legacy planning.

In terms of status, a building that accommodates tens of thousands of people is inevitably a large structure and a dominant feature on the landscape. This presents an opportunity for iconic architecture expressing how a region and the nation want to project themselves.

Aurecon collaborates closely with the owners, architects, contractors, and the rest of the project team to achieve iconic structures in an economically and environmentally responsible manner.

Furthermore, Aurecon believes stadia should become impressive status symbols – not just in their architecture, but also in their engagement with the fans and the public – and remain one for decades to come.

The 45,000-seat Peter Mokaba Stadium in South Africa was one of the ten host venues for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and saw Aurecon provide a complete range of engineering services. Supported by giant ‘trunk' structures, its structure embodies the spirit of Africa with an unmistakably iconic baobab design

Aurecon has played a key part in the evolution of the iconic MCG for over 20 years and implemented innovative engineering and design solutions such as ventilated atrium spaces and large cantilevered seating areas developed using advanced analysis methodology and criteria


The rooftop challenge
A stadium’s roof is often a demanding structure to design and build, requiring a significant architectural and structural engineering effort.

Collaboration is key: architectural expression and beauty must meet engineering requirements of strength, serviceability, and durability.

The structural engineer in particular needs to take a very proactive yet collaborative approach to achieve the overall architectural vision within budget and in a buildable form. There is no absolute right or wrong roof form. What is architecturally stunning with the right functional geometry is one thing and what works efficiently is another. However, great holistic design outcomes are often achieved when key aspects of structural efficiency, architectural expression, and functionality are carefully considered in an integrated fashion.

For example, the decision on the variations in height, depth and profile of the roof is as much about achieving structural efficiency as is about architectural expression and aesthetic proportions, and also maintaining the view of the field and scoreboard from the upper tiers.

These days we design stadium roofs in an excitingly diverse array of structural forms: ranging from the rather conventional cantilevered and long-span systems to the more exotic shells, cable nets, and ‘tensegrity’ roofs.

The choice of appropriate construction materials and its correct application is particularly important. Long-span structures are generally fabricated from steel because of the high strength-to-weight ratio, ease of use and cost effectiveness of this material. The search for lightweight, durable cladding materials has resulted in the increasing use of high-tech tensile membrane systems.

The decision on whether to incorporate a fixed or a retractable roof requires the holistic evaluation of the value in weather protection versus turf health, and the impact of shadow effects on spectator viewing and TV broadcast quality – all factors that have implications on cost, risk, functionality and potential return on investment for the project.

Elaborate roof designs need careful assessment of wind loads on the structure, while the overall design has to ensure that spectators are comfortably shielded from wind.

Aurecon’s capabilities in building and analysing simulated models enable us to overcome the unknowns in an unconventional design and ensure that project objectives are fully met. In essence, we can test the building and de-risk it before it is built, without compromising its technical integrity.

Tianjin Technological Development Area (TEDA) Soccer Stadium is the centrepiece of the 100 million m2 commercial expansion of Tianjin’s bustling Economic-Technological Development Area. Aurecon provided structural, civil and building services for the stadium, including taking a leading role in the design of the innovative cable stayed roof with its dramatically curved truss columns


The natural turf trend
To sustain healthy, natural grass means designing for lengthy periods of exposure to sunlight, which creates a roof opening optimisation conflict. Too small an opening, while shadier for the spectators, leads to a significant expenditure for annual turf repairs. Too small a roof, results in disgruntled wet spectators during rainy spells.

One form of a solution is the roof of the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. Membranes of Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a fluorine-based plastic, were used to create air-inflated pillows as the roof cladding material in what has become the world’s first fully enclosed grassed stadium.

Aurecon used advanced modelling and simulation techniques to verify that the adequate air ventilation and sunlight exposure can be maintained for grass health within the fully covered stadium. The solution was subsequently recognised with a Merit Award in the 2013 Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand Innovate NZ Awards of Excellence.

Melbourne’s 55 000-seat Etihad Stadium is one of Australia’s leading multipurpose venues catering for major sport and entertainment events. Its natural turf is maintained in a healthy condition through the stadium’s fully retractable roof that takes only eight minutes to close.

As part of the turf management process localised grow lights are utilised particularly on the higher wear areas over the pitch. This combined strategy has delivered high quality grass despite the busy event schedule of this world class stadium over many years.

Melbourne's Etihad Stadium features a fully retractable roof with ample ventilation, which helps to maintain its natural turf in peak condition. Aurecon was responsible for the stadium’s full structural and MEP design including performance-based fire engineering as well as the sophisticated, multimode sports lighting design, public address systems and scoreboards

Ensuring multiuse functionality
Increasingly, stadia must be adaptable, high performing buildings that achieve multiuse functionality. The trend is for physical flexibility, which means designing to be able to shrink capacity using modular and demountable construction.

Upper tiers and even upper structures can be removable. While this appears straightforward structurally, one of the challenges is that building services also need to be modular and demountable.

An elegantly simple solution in some arena type venues, such as the Perth Arena in Australia, is to have curtains that can close off the back tiers seating to create a cosier ambience during smaller events.

The vibrations induced by crowds’ synchronised motions need to be carefully studied in the design of the seating tiers. These days we use sophisticated analytical tools to predict the expected level of accelerations at every seat on the tier to ensure the acceptable thresholds are not breached in lively sports and concert events.

High-tech thinking
Technology and fan engagement will be the key in the future. Whether it is through additional in-game augmented reality content delivered direct to spectators’ smart phone applications, enhanced pre- and post-match family orientated entertainment produced by in-house production teams, or unique rewards for attending matches such as special food and beverage incentives, the final end game is to draw fans away from their living rooms and into the stadium.

A key trend in leading stadiums is high-tech with WiFi that will allow fans to use their own smartphones. Technology is racing ahead and soon the use of multiple cameras and more sophisticated broadcasting technology will enable fans to select and track the activities of their sports idols on their smart phones!

In addition, advances in computer technology are quite literally breathtaking and will mean modelling techniques such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) are becoming ‘business-as-usual’, extending the boundaries of structural form and architectural expression ever more rapidly. These techniques are, at the same time, ensuring safety and promote time and cost savings.

Increasing attention is being given to sustainability aided by the strength of our modelling capabilities. This will be reflected in stadiums consuming less area and tonnage of material, onsite power generation with photovoltaic arrays on the roof, grey water reuse, thermal storage, and a stronger focus on carbon neutrality.

Meeting time and budget constraints
We are always very aware of the need to deliver on time, on budget and manage the risks to the client in doing so. The fact that a stadium is an unusual building and an increasingly complex form with many components means the risk of exceeding time and budget is often very significant.

Effective management of the planning of design and construction is vital. A project team is required to have an in-depth understanding of how the decisions they make impact on cost and programme and how factors such as supply chain and the need for any specialist skills impact on project delivery.


Creating fan comfort
The current stadium design buzzword is ‘Fan First’! We have a role to play in delivering stadium projects that encourage fans to leave their comfortable couch and big screen TV, and look forward to having a great time in the stadium. This means considering what makes the experience at the stadium as good as it can be for the fans.

The key word here is ‘comfort’: today not only is shading a given, but increasingly air conditioning and cooling has to be provided. We have been developing concepts such as the installation of cooling pipes in the concourse slabs and displacement air-conditioning delivered via plenums under seating platforms throughout the stadium as a sustainable way of achieving a comfortable environment.

Even the layout of the premium seats is influenced by the need to facilitate delivery of food and refreshments, so that well-heeled fans do not to miss any action by having to leave their seats for refreshments.

We’re also seeing a big push in parts of the world for localised produce and gourmet food to be sold in and around the venues, rather than your standard pie and chips. These creature comforts, integrated with an in-seat food and beverage service smart phone application, provide a unique stadium only experience that cannot be replicated at home.


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