Broadcast on ABC radio in Australia in 2006 was an interview with several leading sports stadia designers Rod Sheard,
Senior Principal Architect at HOK Sport and Paul Henry, Senior Prinicpal Architect at HOK Sport.
Considering these guys are with HOK sport and HOK are heavily involved with the design of our new stadium, I thought it would be interesting to see what they have to say. This is really interesting and provides many points of reference for our discussions here in Dunedin.
The following is a transcript of the interview/discussion first broadcast on ABC national radio (permission pending).
ABC Radio National Australia
The best seat in the house
Contemporary stadium design means watching sport is all about comfort and access, not only for those at the ground but also for the millions watching at home.
(This program was originally broadcast on 03/02/06)
This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.
Mick O’Regan: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Sports Factor here on ABC Radio National Summer.
I’m Mick O’Regan.
This week on the program we’re pushing through the turnstiles of contemporary sporting culture, and looking at the buildings that have come to dominate and identify a location: sports stadia.
A great stadium puts you on the map. From Manchester to Mumbai, sports fans know of the MCG. Or Wembley. Or Madison Square Garden. Simply, they’re buildings that have that Wow! factor.
And they can impress everyone from anonymous football fans, to the most prominent of cricket tragics.
John Howard: It’s a beautiful stadium. The atmospherics are terrific, and you know, ‘simply the best’, as somebody once said.
Mick O’Regan: John Howard getting enthusiastic about sporting venues.
Rod Sheard and Paul Henry are two of Australia’s most prominent architects working in the area of stadium design.
They’re both senior principals in the international architectural firm, H.O.K. Sport, which is responsible for an extraordinary roll call of prominent stadia, including Wembley, Ascot Racecourse, Arsenal Football Club’s new home ground in London, the Sydney Olympic Stadium, Melbourne’s Telstra Dome, and on it goes.
When I spoke to them in their Brisbane office, I began by asking Rod Sheard how he saw sports stadia as part of the built environment.
Rod Sheard: Stadia are symbols. Sport is played there and people go to watch sport, and in some ways, sport hasn’t changed, but the way people relate to sport and how important sport is to people has changed. Sport is now a release, an excitement, a commitment; there’s all sorts of things that we build sport into our lives, it becomes part of our lives, and the buildings that we build, like Wembley, become symbolic of that commitment, of that community focus. Sometimes it’s the only image that people overseas know of a country, so people recognise a city or a country through its stadiums.
Paul Henry: You’ve got to distil down to what matters in a sports facility, and those things are actually very basic needs, and one of those key ones is atmosphere. People want to go to a facility that has the maximum amount of atmosphere. So we spend a lot of effort trying to define what atmosphere is, and how can we make that better. So that’s a really key part of it. The other one is, how does it impact with the community? So from a stakeholder’s point of view, like a government, they all want to know, rightly, how does this impact with the surrounding areas? What benefit will it actually bring people? So we spend a lot of time trying to define how this building should relate to its area, how it should relate to its climate, how it should relate to the lives of people that actually use it.
Mick O’Regan: Architect Paul Henry, and before him, his colleague Rod Sheard.
For both men the evolution of stadium design has mirrored the growing significance of sport as an element of global culture.
In a recent paper, Sheard identified successive generations of stadium design, driven by developments in transport and communications, and the progressive spread of urbanisation.
A key moment came at the end of the 19th century, with the birth of the modern Olympics. Suddenly international sport was organised and invigorated. New stadia were demanded, and have been ever since.
Rod Sheard: The Olympics had that impact just simply because of the sheer scale of the event, and the number of people who watch it. I think when they had the Olympics in Sydney, I think that the stadium down there was watched by 4.8-billion people, which is just a huge audience around the world. So Olympics controlled the airwaves in terms of sheer numbers, but in those early days, they had some ways to go to sort out the financial side of it, and it wasn’t really until Atlanta, that they really demonstrated that you could make these things profitable and things have moved on from there.
I think that other sports have grown more quietly in the background; professional football for example, or soccer as you know it here, has just gradually gone from strength to strength, the quality of the sport is improved, the commitment that people make to watch their team has grown, and therefore now you’ve got, certainly in Europe, just an amazing club event. To some extent it’s become a victim of its own success. There’s almost too many events, there’s too much being played, and it’s challenging for any team to be able to afford the sort of size of squad they need to play in all of these championships. So the Olympics was a kind of shooting star, whereas overlaid on that there were all of these other more quietly growing events, and some that are still growing. Cricket, for example, is just starting on its growth cycle, it’s starting to get its act together and its finances together, and I think in the next 20 years we’ll see cricket really come good with its World Cup and with its venues around the world.
Mick O’Regan: But that’s interesting; how does a game like cricket, which obviously has the basic requirement of a large oval-shaped field, or circular field, and a cricket wicket in the middle of it, they’re two completely necessary elements, how does that then help determine the type of built environment that surrounds them?
Rod Sheard: Well firstly, technology comes into play, because when you look at a cricket wicket, we’re all used to being millions of miles away from the cricket wicket, but in actual fact the distance under the regulations that you’ve got to be is no greater than you are from the centre spot of a rugby field. The trouble is that the way we used to make our wickets was that we had to lie them out next to each other, and you could get grounds like The Oval, for the Surrey County Cricket Club in London, that had 22 wickets, which meant that when they were using one, everybody else was so far away from it that you couldn’t see it. But technology’s come along and it’s said that we can just drop in a wicket now. So instead of having 22 wickets, all 3 metres wide, you can just put one in, and it means that we can bring the boundaries in.
We’re looking at several well-known cricket grounds right now, to look at how we can bring the boundaries in to do exactly what you do, answer that question of how close you can get people to cricket, because what we found in every sport, the closer you can get people to the actual event, the more exciting it is, the more committed they become. And the new Arsenal stadium, we just pushed it so that people are almost on the white line. And at Ascot we’ve pushed it so that those horses virtually run past your face. And it’s that immediacy of the event. Because almost any sport is just magical when you see it close up.
Mick O’Regan: Being close to the action. The difference between being there or being stuck at home, watching it on TV.
But there’s the rub: television is crucial to contemporary sport, opening up local, national and global audiences, it’s the vehicle for advertising and the lucrative broadcast rights which provide the revenue that funds sport.
So the remote audience watching from the living room, or the public bar, can never be forgotten by the stadium designer.
Rod Sheard: You’ve got to have both. The remote audience actually pays for it in many ways, through television rights and things like that, but the live audience makes it the event, it makes it exciting. A really classic case was Serie A football in Italy a few years ago. It had the best equivalent of a premier league football, best players, they were paying most money, so they got the real talent around the world, and everybody agreed that it was the best sport. But they put these huge fences, because it was going through a period of social issues at football grounds, and so to solve the problem of people invading the pitch, they put huge fences, and so people who came to the stadium, and they had huge stadiums in Italy, they didn’t sit in the first 10 to 15 rows. So when the televisions came on, you watched the event, but all you ever saw was empty rows behind these metal fences, and they couldn’t sell the signal; nobody wanted to watch it because it wasn’t good enough just to sell great sport.
You’ve got to sell great sport and great atmosphere, that’s where the design of the building becomes critical. A really interesting example at Cardiff. Cardiff was the first rugby stadium that had a moving roof, and everybody said, ‘Well when are we going to use it? Maybe it’ll never get used. And, well, it does rain in Cardiff a bit, but we’ll only close it when we really need to.’ When people started to experience rugby matches inside a bowl with a roof over it, they used to chant. It was a perfectly sunny day and they’d start chanting ‘Close the roof, close the roof’, because the atmosphere just became electric when that roof closed.
Mick O’Regan: But just on that, would there not have been purists? Because as people who follow rugby know, sometimes it’s an 80-minute slog through ankle deep mud, and there are some aficionados that say that brings out a particular aspect of the game that might not be attractive, but is elemental to it. Does the technology allow the nature of the game to change?
Rod Sheard: Yes, it does. Those people who worship the kind of randomness of muddy fields, there’s always going to be that around. The important thing is, where we were perhaps 20 years ago, that’s all you ever got. In England during the wet winter, all you ever got were Rugby matches, playing in muddy fields. Now we’ve got a variation, and it throws up an interesting aspect of it, because teams that performed well under those conditions, would always be the teams that won, whereas now once you start getting different surfaces, and there’s no doubt that the biggest stadia, and the closing roofs, change the surface, you start getting different conditions.
And tennis is a really good example. Wimbledon will always be a grass tennis court, and there is more of a random play of the ball, the ball moves differently, from say for example the Australian Open down in Melbourne. And the fact that different players have got to achieve their best on these different surfaces, makes for a more interesting sport. And you could say that it’s the design of these stadiums, and the changing conditions of the pitch that they play on, that will make rugby, cricket, all of these other sports, more interesting in the long run.
Mick O’Regan: Paul, does design have to wait for technology to catch up?
In order to achieve those ideal design outcomes, do architects have to wait for the people who manufacture the components to get up to speed?
Paul Henry: It’s a very interesting one. It’s a two-way street. They both go hand-in-hand in a way. Nowadays really technology is at such a point where as designers you’re very free in terms of what you can achieve. It’s really fabulous what you’re actually able to achieve, particularly in the moving roofs. And that’s just been a process of evolution in terms of design. It’s also interesting in terms of that remote audience that we’ve talked, that technology that we’ve seen in the whole electronics area is really key and really important for us. So as designers we pay great attention to that because that remote audience is one of the key factors we’re actually worried about and concerned about.
Rod Sheard: There’s so much technology out there. The world is awash with technology, it’s just extraordinary. And really, what we do in our buildings doesn’t necessarily push the edges of that technology. What it does is bring technology together in perhaps a different way, a slightly more original way. And the reason that happens is that we’ve got to solve problems. Any designer, architects or anybody else, they solve problems. And so you get a different sort of problem, you have to solve it in a different way, and the roof over the Centre Court at Wimbledon that we’re working on right now, is a classic case.
We couldn’t move the roof anywhere, because it would overshadow the outside courts, so we had a roof that could open and close, but when it was open, it just collapsed in itself, and technology was around to find the solution to that. But it was really the problem that was posed to us by the All England Lawn Tennis Club that made that solution come about, so we’re kind of the middle-men in a way. The client is there with a problem and we try and find the sources and come up with perhaps slightly more creative, slightly more original ways of solving it.
Paul Henry: Technology doesn’t necessarily rule the design for us. There are basics in the design that you have to get right, no matter what. And those qualities and issues of atmosphere are not necessarily affected by technology. And so we actually try and make it that technology is not necessarily the most obvious thing.
Mick O’Regan: So in that sense, what you want to have is people remembering an experience of a great game and a great visit to a stadium. What you don’t necessarily want them to remember is, ‘Oh, look at the way those three wheels contract to bring that fabric back together.’
Paul Henry: That is so true. Because you want people to remember what matters to them; they’re not going to go away and say, ‘Gosh, wasn’t the cladding on that building just fabulous?’ they’re going to go there and say ‘I had a great time, I can’t necessarily tell you exactly why, but it felt like a really fabulous place.’
Mick O’Regan: Architects Paul Henry and Rod Sheard.
This week The Sports Factor is all about the design of sporting stadia, buildings which help shape the character and identity of cities around the world. But sport is obviously about people, people playing games.
In times past it wasn’t necessarily all that comfortable for the audience that went along to watch. Old photos often show crowds, almost all men, shoulder to shoulder on the open terraces, either sweltering in the sun, or shivering in the cold. It was more like endurance than enjoyment.
The very conditions reinforced the maleness of competitive sport, a fixed pattern of blokes, beer and balls.
As Rod Sheard explains, changing that gender balance was a challenge that had to be confronted by people designing modern venues.
Rod Sheard: Yes, look, it’s fundamental. It’s fundamental to every sport building we build these days, and it’s fundamental to the success of sport, to be honest, long-term. Those horrible days when 95% were male Caucasians between the ages of 18 and 25 have gone, hopefully. And the reason they were there, was who else wanted to go? I mean these sports buildings of that era were damn uncomfortable places, certainly in the UK you went to a football match and stood on a hill, traditionally at the end of one of the grounds, Chelsea, Arsenal, any of the big sides. And there were no toilets, you didn’t move when you wanted to go, so you ended up with some terrible consequences. I mean urine corrosion of football stadiums in that era was pretty common.
And so who would want to go to it, other than a bunch of blokes? You know, it’s changed dramatically there, and it’s changing dramatically everywhere else in the world, because firstly there’s the economics of it, it’s more profitable to get a wider group of people, they spend more, they’re more relaxed, they enjoy themselves more, they come more regularly, they don’t have to make excuses to go to sport because they’re bringing their wives and their family with them. And so from a design point of view, it’s really important that we design buildings that are not just for an hour-and-a-half or so, we design buildings for 7 hours, we design things that you can go there, and you can just have a great day, it’s just a really enjoyable place to go; you can enjoy it in different ways.
Your wife may enjoy it in a different way, they might spend a bit more time at the retail or the museum, or you might spend a bit more time in the bars or the cafes; your kids may be on the video games, and so the complexity of these venues, these become little cities in themselves, and you’ve got to give them all of those constituent parts that make up an interesting and a vibrant city in the stadium itself.
Mick O’Regan: Because one of the figures I saw in that paper you wrote concerned Wembley. And you talk of the carpeted areas, which is obviously not sitting in the seats looking out to the field, but the carpeted areas come to around 2-million square feet. Is it possible to have another way of describing that area that we could relate to?
Rod Sheard: Well it’s pretty tricky to get scale, because to be honest, we walk around Wembley now and we can take someone for a tour of Wembley and we could spend two hours wandering around, and they leave the site exhausted, and they say, ‘That’s huge’, and you realise they’ve covered 20% of it. It is just a vast site. The way I relate it, is when we opened Stadium Australia, Telstra Stadium down in Sydney, we opened that to huge acclaim and everybody said ‘What a huge stadium, isn’t that fantastic, look at all these facilities, huge restaurants for 500 people’ and Wembley’s twice that size. When Wembley opens it will have the four biggest restaurants in London, the biggest will be a 2,000-seater, and the smallest of that group will be about 800-seats, and they’re still bigger than the biggest restaurants that presently exist in London.
Mick O’Regan: Rod Sheard.
That transformative element, even when measured in restaurant size, is a hallmark of the influence of sporting stadia, and why major new venues represent such an important way of invigorating areas of a city.
Not only changing the movement of people and resources, but also empowering local government by providing new options for urban design.
Rod Sheard: We’re starting to use these buildings as a kind of instrument in planning our cities. And the most important thing I think that’s happening around the world is that local councils and governments are starting to recognise their power, whereas 20, 30 years ago, if you were going to build a new stadium, the natural, knee-jerk reaction was ‘Let’s try and push it to the outside of the city’, and kind of almost push it out of mind. Well now, we recognise that the best place for any stadium is as close to the centre of the city as possible, because it stands to reason, even a modest stadium can bring in a million people a year, and it’s a huge crowd, and a big stadium can bring in a lot more than that. So you need to use the infrastructure of the city to be able to move those people about, to make it convenient, in the ideal world to be actually able to walk from the city centre to a stadium.
And certainly Melbourne was a good case of that when we built Colonial Stadium, or Telstra Dome now. The proximity of that stadium to the centre of the city just opened up that whole Dockland area, and I think that’s a really good example. In Arsenal, in London it didn’t move the stadium very far from where the old one was, but it’s just totally opened up Ashburton Grove, which was a rather down-at-heel kind of light industrial area that was tucked into the Borough of Islington. When Islington heard that Arsenal were planning to move, they really pulled out all the stops to make sure they didn’t move very far, because they wanted them in their borough, and we managed to find this site, and it’s really changed that part of North London.
Paul Henry: I think one of the things in there is that councils and governments have realised that stadiums are a key piece of social infrastructure, and that they can add great value to people’s lives and the community that they actually live in. Also from a tourism point of view, they are the windows to the rest of the world for so many people. People in India know the MCG very well, and so they’re a powerful tool from a planning point of view, but also from a social interaction point of view.
Mick O’Regan: Paul Henry from the architectural firm, H.O.K. Sport, and before him, Rod Sheard, the author of ‘The Stadium: Architecture for the New Global Culture’, published by Pesaro.
The social dimension of sporting infrastructure is a key concern of one of Victoria’s most senior sporting administrators.
Simon Weatherill is the Chief Executive of the State Sport Centres Trust, which manages a number of venues, including the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. In his opinion, multi-purpose venues like MSAC satisfy the key criterion of being able to meet community needs into the future.
Simon Weatherill: I believe legacy planning is the most critical issue. In other words, what is going to be the day-to-day operation of that particular venue long after any event has gone? However, the venue should be built that it can be adaptable to host a world or an Olympic Games, or a Commonwealth Games or whatever the event may be, but can easily be brought back down to its normal day-to-day operation after that event goes.
Mick O’Regan: So you don’t have a White Elephant, a sort of magnificent stadium that was fantastic for the huge event that it was designed for, but subsequently is hard to fill or utilise?
Simon Weatherill: Yes, it’s not purpose-built for a sporting event that’s only going to be there for two weeks.
Mick O’Regan: Is it a sense of sort of multi-purpose use?
Simon Weatherill: I believe multi-purpose use is the way to go in terms of any facility that you develop. In my own experience say with the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, that’s a multi-purpose facility that meets the day-to-day needs of the community. You’ve got 1.5-million people a year coming through the facility, but can be quite readily adapted if you like, to many major events, and in the last ten years since I’ve been CEO there, we’ve run over 1200 events. It’s the flexibility of design. For example, having a large 3,000-square metre open concourse space that can handle if you like, people queueing in sort of air-conditioned comfort for various events.
It’s the split, if you like, of wet and dry, where you’ve got sort of a show court down at one end of the building, and access and entry design points there where a crowd can come in and watch, if you like, an NBL match, we can have a World Badminton Championships on at the same time as the day-to-day community can be using the leisure facilities at the other end of the area. So it’s keeping a clean and simple design and thinking about all the different combinations of programs that you’re running there, and how they can run in harmony. So it’s understanding what you want to achieve at the end point, but not just be driven by an event itself .
Mick O’Regan: Weatherill also argues that the Victorian model of separate facilities located in a range of easily accessed locations compares favourably with other models, such as Sydney’s Olympic precinct where the venues are clustered together
Simon Weatherill: I think they stack up very well. And I think we’ve got some of the best stadia in the world when you talk about an MCG or a Melbourne Olympic Park, or a Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, or the Exhibition Centre which is in the old Exhibition Hall, but then it can be overlaid, if you like, for various major events. But I think our greatest advantage is the strategic location of the facilities throughout the city that’s been developed over a number of years, to my mind, nowhere in the world have I seen the way that those facilities have been developed and operated.
And the critical aspect there is that all those facilities can stand alone, if you like, on their day-to-day business operations and participation and their programming of activities and events there, as well as, if you like, host a major championship like a Commonwealth Games or even an Olympic Games for that matter. I think that the model if you like of the way that Melbourne in particular has done that, I don’t think there’s a comparison anywhere else in the world to be honest with you.
Mick O’Regan: Is that right? You would see Melbourne as a world leader in terms of stadium design and management?
Simon Weatherill: Without doubt. And certainly in the last five or six years, the number of people that I’ve taken around some of the sporting venues there, from China, from India, from Hong Kong, from Singapore, all look at if you like at Melbourne’s model and they compare it to Sydney’s model, which is very much developed the same as they did at the Seoul Olympics where everything is logistically put in one compound, and they’ve got the opportunity to compare and contrast the two infrastructure models.
Mick O’Regan: Is it a first world model Simon? Is it applicable to countries like India to emulate what’s been done in Australia?
Simon Weatherill: Yes, look, I think so, having been across to India and looked at the various stadiums which are spread out throughout the Delhi area there. I think in terms of redeveloping where some of those facilities are, that they might be relocating some of the facilities, like the Talkatora Pool, for example, but the model of having the facilities to serve if you like the different markets in close proximity to the city, is an excellent one if you can achieve it.
Mick O’Regan: Simon Weatherill, Chief Executive of the State Sport Centres Trust in Victoria.
Back in March Australia hosted a major conference on the very issue of International Sport Facility Management.
It was organised by the consultancy Sport Knowledge Australia, S.K.A., which was established a year and a half ago through an $8-1/2-million grant from the Commonwealth government.
Through its focus on sports education, S.K.A. seeks to combine best practice from both the academic and industry sectors.
The man overseeing the conference is Leighton Wood, the Chief Executive of S.K.A.
Leighton Wood: For the very first time, it brings together the experts who have been responsible for most of the major facilities in Melbourne, going from the feasibility stage, the business planning, upfront design factors that Simon was just talking about, through financing the facility, through architectural aspects, through construction, through to the day-to-day running, and indeed the event overlays in the instance of hosting one-off events like the Commonwealth Games. So this is a facility, a model if you like, that’s been admired from people all over the world. I myself have toured close to 100 very senior figures from the sport industry throughout the world, through the facility, and to a person they’ve said they’ve seen nothing like it. The financial viability of the facility is quite unique, and the multi-purpose nature of the facility is extraordinary.
Mick O’Regan: Leighton, as far as the cost to communities of major sporting infrastructure goes, what are the dangers? Because we hear that towns or cities take decades to pay off the debt that they’ve incurred because they’ve hosted a major sporting event. What’s the reality?
Leighton Wood: Look I think that was the tendency in days gone by, but in recent decades in particular, there’s been some outstanding success stories. The transformation of Barcelona was one that opened up that city to the ocean and created a modern, vibrant atmosphere about the place. You’ll see now a lot of temporary facilities being built for major events if there’s no long-term business case for their existence. And so the White Elephant’s becoming a thing of the past, and stadia and facilities are more and more being asked to become self-sustaining.
Mick O’Regan: Finally, if the drama, tension and exhilaration of great sport does anything, it creates memories. So to finish, what are the treasured memories of my guests on this week’s program?
Leighton Wood: My most treasured memory was the atmosphere in 1997 when Iran drew with Australia in the World Cup qualifier. It was something to behold, and I’d been at the MCG many, many times, but I hadn’t had the feeling of utter emotion on that evening; I saw people leaving the ground crying who’d never seen a game of soccer before in their life, and it was quite special.
Simon Weatherill: The Borg-McEnroe final at Wimbledon, the five-set final, when Borg won his fifth Wimbledon.
Paul Henry: Cathy Freeman’s run during the Sydney Olympics; that was an extraordinary event and a coming together of crowd, athlete, city, nation, the whole kind of mix, if you like together. And so that was a really treasured memory and a wonderful part to be at that time.
Rod Sheard: He pinches all my good ones all the time, doesn’t he? But I don’t know, all of those sort of events live in your memory for so long, but I kind of get so, I mean Federer winning that final in Melbourne, somehow there’s just something magic about the thing that’s just happened. It lives with you, you dine out on it for a week or two afterwards, and there’s always something new coming along. And I think the wonderful thing about sport is that you can have memories that are several years old, but you can also have memories that are a week old, and there’s always new ones coming along. It’s just such a great business to be part of.
Mick O’Regan: Indeed it is. And that’s The Sports Factor for this week.
My thanks to the production team of Producer Andrew Davies, to our Technical Producer Peter McMurray and to Sabrina Lipovic from ABC radio Archives.
Senior Principal Architect at HOK Sport.
Senior Prinicpal Architect at HOK Sport.
Chief Executive of State Sport Centres Trust.
Chief Executive of Sport Knowledge Australia.
Title: The Stadium: Architecture for the New Global Culture
Author: Rod Sheard
Publisher: Pesaro Publishing
Presenter: Mick O’Regan
Producer: Andrew Davies