Where legends are made: the future of stadium design

James Hamilton

Director, Global Host Cities and Venues

Major sporting events are often remembered for the performances played out in front of huge numbers of fans, but the stadiums and arenas where they take place should also be acknowledged for the part they play in delivering successful tournaments and more sustainable communities.

Stadiums and arenas have become much more than simply venues for major sporting and cultural events; they have a central role in the social and economic sustainability of their communities. They are stages for sporting brilliance, meeting places for families, friends and fans and destinations where a range of activities and spectacles can be enjoyed, often on a regular basis. They have become part of the fabric of their local communities; places where people come together to feel connected and inspired.

Top sporting events and venues can provide catalysts for change and future development, as the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup and London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games so powerfully demonstrated.

Stadium owners and cities hosting major events are now looking to create more innovative, sustainable and multi-purpose facilities that can attract the crowds, be delivered cost effectively and also leave a broader legacy in sustainable regeneration and placemaking.

So, how do these trends impact the design and construction of the next generation of venues?

Harnessing the home advantage

Creation of a new facility does not always have to be the default decision for stadium owners and host cities. Stadium owners need to take a long-term sustainable view, as well as recognising the power of emotional factors, such as local fan loyalties and heritage.

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will include a significant redevelopment of the city’s existing Alexander Stadium, in the Perry Barr area of the city.

Prior to redevelopment, the stadium had a capacity of 12,700, but that will be boosted to 31,000 during the games with temporary seating. After the games, the stadium will be adapted to its legacy mode to provide a permanent capacity of 17,500.

The city has also come up with an innovative and sustainable alternative to the convention of building an athletes’ village, which is based around re-use of existing student and hospitality accommodation in the city.

Like the London 2012 Olympics, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is accelerating sustainable regeneration across the wider Perry Barr area with a new residential neighbourhood (the Perry Barr Residential Scheme) of more than 1,000 homes and improvements to public transport infrastructure being aligned. Birmingham City Council believes the games’ impetus and infrastructure could kickstart housing growth in the area, potentially paving the way for a further 5,000 new homes.

Build it and they will come?

Building new stadiums and arenas has the clear advantage of providing a blank canvas from which a full precinct-based approach can be developed, with accessibility, transportation, modern infrastructure, safety, security, broadcasting, field of play, spectator viewing and fan experience all being blended into an optimised design.

The eight stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup QatarTM are being created in new precincts (except for the existing Khalifa International Stadium which has been expanded to meet FIFA World Cup™ hosting requirements), equipped with such amenities as schools, sports pitches, mosques and parks. The approach, which is part of Qatar’s 2030 national vision for a legacy for Qatar and the Middle East, aims to maximise the positive impact of the event through sporting facilities, infrastructure and an outreach programme.

The eight stadiums, ranging in capacity from 45,000 seat (gross) venues to the 80,000 seat Lusail Stadium, designed by architects Foster + Partners and Populous, have all been created with legacy in mind, with demountable top tiers and removable seating.

The Ras Abu Aboud Stadium has a ‘flat pack’ design and construction made using modular steel and modified shipping containers, some of which were used to transport its materials. This sustainable and innovative design, by Fenwick Iribarren Architects, can even be completely dismantled after tournament use. The stadium and other demountable elements are destined to go to developing countries after use, further extending the tournament’s sustainable legacy.

Pitch perfect

At the centre of any stadium is the field of play, and technology is now driving advances in pitch and turf development to the point where whole pitches can be removed and re-laid in rapid time to allow for back-to-back games on perfect surfaces.

Certainty of play is also paramount to ensure commercial and broadcasting obligations are met, as well as guaranteeing revenues can be maintained without loss of income from cancellation due to bad weather.

For some tournaments, such as the FIFA World Cup™, under-pitch vacuum extraction systems are required to enable rapid removal of water following heavy downpours and flooding. Retractable roof structures are also becoming more prevalent in stadiums and arenas, as well as induced cooling systems, artificial or hybrid turf technology and ‘rapid grow’ lighting.

Enhanced experiences  

Technology is a key enabler in creating enhanced experiences more broadly. Qatar has explored the potential to incorporate new technologies into the 2022 event through an innovation programme for entrepreneurs.

The fans of the future will be expecting so much more in the new 5G era and stadium owners themselves are placing a growing emphasis on applying technology to make it quicker and easier for fans to pass through ticket barriers and buy food or drinks.

The opportunities for enhanced commercial routes to market will increase, providing more streams of revenue. The effect of technological advances on commercial partnerships and broadcasting rights will be significant as the drive for real time, live and multi-channel formatting comes into play.

Delivering next generation venues

Just as athletes put years of dedication and training into their sporting performance, so the creation of major event venues can require a strong vision and drive, long-term strategy, and investment at multiple levels. From our work with venue owners, developers, event organisers and host cities over the last decade, we have identified three key considerations:

  • Planning ahead, future-proofing and pay back are fundamental ingredients of success. A programme to convert the site and facilities of a major sporting event from games mode to legacy mode may take 20 years or more. Getting the strategy and set up right is essential to ensuring the programme stays on track, risks are controlled and value is delivered.
  • Safety and security should be factored into the design process from an early stage. Getting the right blend of seating, safe standing, crowd movement, accessibility, unrestricted viewing and dedicated fan areas inside the bowl is conducive to creating an exciting atmosphere. COVID-19 will also, inevitably, have an impact on the design of stadiums and their surroundings into the future. Designers will need to examine the flow of spectators arriving at and departing from a venue, addressing transport systems and hubs, concourses and pedestrian areas, and the turnstiles and entry and exit routes themselves, maximising opportunities to create more space and segregation.
  • Sustainable design and construction of venues must also be considered very carefully. Games and legacy uses allow the opportunity to integrate modular and demountable solutions to allow for speedy delivery, different formats of sport or entertainment and future conversion.

Back to the future

The eyes of the world focus on major sporting events like the Olympic Games and FIFA World CupTM. Delivering the stadiums and facilities for the main event cost effectively, while also preparing for legacy uses, calls for innovation, dedication and lasting commitment. With advanced technology, sustainable design and long-term commercial strategies in place, stadiums can provide a great seat for the games, a sustainable multi-purpose destination and a focus for area-wide economic and social benefit.

Key takeaways

  • Delivering stadiums for major events is a long journey, calling for vision, planning, dedication and resilience.
  • When bringing through projects it is important to bear in mind how the pace of innovation and change is accelerating. Future-proofing through design and technology integration is a paramount requisite.
  • Drivers for modernising stadiums need to run in parallel with net-zero carbon ambitions. Achieving net zero should not mean costing more.
  • Temporary and modular structures are central to the future of stadiums, as are the use of modern methods of construction (MMC).

For further information contact:

James Hamilton
Director, Global Host Cities and Venues