Game, Set and Match

With the Olympic flame due to be in Rio next month, it’s timely to look at new UK stadia that are springing up with an eye to hospitality as well as the game. Veronica Simpson reports...


Words by Veronica Simpson

For most ordinary mortals, the experience of the modern sports stadium is a fairly utilitarian one: the excitement comes from what goes on inside them, not the way they look or what facilities are offered. Not for long. Since the Arsenal football pitch was reinvented as Emirates Stadium in 2006, this £390m world-class corporate hospitality and sporting venue appears to have prompted a Mexican wave of one-upmanship among football and other stadia owners, especially in the UK. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester (City and United): you name it, if it has a Premier League team attached to it, it's either just been reinvented or refurbished, or soon will be.

It's more than just competitive gamesmanship driving this trend, however. The Hillsborough Stadium disaster in 1989 led to a massive enquiry into crowd safety at UK football venues, resulting in a ruling that all terraces had to be replaced by seating. The huge investment these refurbishments entailed, in turn, encouraged a shift in thinking around football stadia's income and appearance. The ensuing emergence of high-profile sponsors dovetailed with the realisation that a substantial improvement in onsite sales of merchandise and food and beverage could also bring in additional revenue streams. The current wave of refurbishments has taken quality, choice and competitive advantage to a whole new level however, in a development that is all about entrepreneurial stadium owners realising their real-estate assets as year-round venues for sports, music and other events. Some are even being transformed into members clubs.

This is currently happening at Wembley, according to KSS Architects, which is designing a whole new hospitality area for the venue that will incorporate a private members' zone called the One Twenty Club KSS associate available exclusively to members on match day, and there will be non-match day events so that, rather than joining another London members' club, it is Wembley that will give them everything they need.' It's all about capitalising on the sports club brand, says Brant: 'Brands are understanding the presence and power of these live spaces.' Brands are also realising that they can't rest on their laurels. The offer needs to appeal to a wide range of fans and a diversity of occasions. Says Brant: 'We are creating more distinctive spaces -- both hospitality and corporate spaces that can be used for other events. It used to be that all you needed was the brand logo, and then the club colour everywhere. Now they are looking for much more sophisticated design.' For example, KSS's latest stadium clients are requesting silver service-style restaurants for people who want the fine-dining element, but also sports bars, lounges and other break-out spaces, conference facilities and cafés.

'Stadia realise they need to compete almost with the high street for hospitality,' says KSS associate director Debbie Drake, head of graphics. 'They need to become destinations in themselves. We work across lots of sports -- football, rugby, tennis, national stadia, club-based stadia. And already they are seeing a big return on the budgets they invest in hospitality... They are really paying attention to the whole customer journey: the arrival at the stadium, easy wayfinding; they want the whole experience to be as easy and inspirational as possible, leading up to the big event.'

With few exceptions (mostly in the Middle East and China) the new generation of sports stadia is not about spectacular shape-making, overscaling and overspending. Few countries have the budgets to maintain structures of the size and splendour of Beijing's Olympic Bird's Nest venue (Herzog & de Meuron, with Arup and Ai Weiwei), when their own national sporting infrastructure is less than fully developed. Lessons have been learned since the 2004 Olympics' €9bn Athens Stadium (costly enhancements courtesy of Santiago Calatrava) was abandoned to its current occupants: rats, rising dampness and rotting masonry.

The design ethos of most modern stadia puts ergonomics and sense of place front and centre. For example, KSS's new stadium for Liverpool's Anfield site draws inspiration from its local area in the use of red brick, colonnades and industrial details. Says KSS's Drake: 'We were looking to show what is authentically Anfield, what makes you feel -- as a fan -- like you've come home.'

Even horse racing has entered the competition -- a sporting genre which rarely gets much architectural attention or reinvention. Following on from its spectacular arena for the Beijing Olympics, Herzog & de Meuron has been busy honing its stadium skills, with a new scheme recently unveiled for Chelsea Football Club, and a new multifunctional stadium in Bordeaux, which opened this year.

This is statement-architecture with a difference, however. For the New Bordeaux Stadium, there's no crazy shape-making, but an elegant, white forest of 900 slender pillars surrounding the simple, square structure. The form and geometries are all about integrating the building into its landscape, surrounded by trees and a grid of access roads, and next to the Fair Park with its large, square lakes.

These pillars around the perimeter are not just decorative. They also provide easy sightlines for visitors, through to shops, bars, cafes and stalls. The arena itself is a 'bowl' at the centre of the space, with its sound and vistas concentrated inwards thanks to acoustic panelling. In this way it becomes both a rousing place to watch sports but also a fantastic venue for live music. As the largest sporting venue in France's south-west region -- it holds 42,000 spectators -- it had to offer a multitude of opportunities for use, in order to recoup the €183m design and construction budget. Already, it was due to host five of the Euro 2016 games in June and July this year.

As suggested earlier, crazy shape-making comes with the turf where stadia in Asia or the Middle East are concerned. In regions with little or nothing in the way of an organic, grassroots field-sports culture -- usually due to climate -- it seems you have to make a spectacle out of the building in order to attract the fans and, more importantly, the fixtures.

But Arup's recent Singapore Sports Hub is a model of restraint in many ways. Rather than create a giant, carbon-hungry monster of a building which requires air conditioning to be pumped over the pitch in order for people to play (yes, we're talking about you, Qatar), this 55,000-seat national stadium incorporates passive cooling devices, as much as possible, to keep spectators and players comfortable. It is a pivotal element in the Marina Bay Master Plan, through which the Singapore government is attempting to pitch itself as 'a great place to work, live and play'. Arup Associate Chris Dite says: 'Environmental sustainability is important, but equally so is the societal and commercial sustainability that comes from a well-used event space.'

The ingenious design incorporates a moveable domed roof whose skirts offer spectators shelter from the rain, while its mobility brings vital sunshine where it's needed to maintain grass growth. There are high hopes for the stadium's impact on the region's sports culture -- currently thriving but largely at social and recreational level. Says Dite: 'As we have seen, the new facility gives the city of Singapore a venue which is right at the top of the table of sporting venues in South East Asia. The ability for the venue to host not only a range of different sports events, but also concerts, the National Day Parade and cultural events has resulted in the stadium having more event days per year than a vast majority of similar, but less flexible venues...The real evidence of the Sports Hub's success is that well over one million people have visited it since it opened in June 2014.

More stadia of this size, combined with flexible smaller spaces and a diversity of additional facilities is definitely a trend, according to Arup associate Paul Brislin, who points to the redevelopment of Olympic parks (such as London's) as mixed residential, leisure, sports and retail hubs. This combination is already well-established in the USA, where stadia continue to be built that can accommodate between 76,000 and 82,000 spectators (twice the size of the earlier mentioned New Bordeaux Stadium), as part of vast leisure and retail destinations.

While it is unlikely that European clubs could justify building on this scale, the all-day food and entertainment offer that goes with it is definitely on its way over here, according to KSS's Debbie Brant: 'Here, if there's a match day you turn up half an hour before, typically eat and drink before you get there, and leave as soon as it finishes. Now clubs are trying to get people to stay longer.' With Twickenham Rugby Ground picking up some NFL matches, and an increasing number of UK football club proprietors also owning clubs in the USA, the drift towards the sports stadia as second home for loyal fans is only a matter of time.

But there's more sporting hospitality innovation afoot, from that most venerable of UK sports, cricket: at least two UK clubs have added a hotel to their pitches -- a Hilton hotel is being added to Manchester's Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Ground, joining Hampshire's Hilton Ageas Bowl. There may come a time when true fans don't have to leave the stadium at all.

Case Study
Liverpool Anfield Stadium

A major evolution is planned for the home of one of the UK's biggest football teams, Liverpool. Anfield Stadium is expanding outwards, to boost Main Stand seating by 8,500, and turn it into one of the UK's largest all-seater, single-stand structures.

This will bring stadium capacity up to 54,000. The £115m scheme also includes a massive improvement in fan and visitor facilities. KSS Architects has been responsible for defining the look of interior and exterior architecture of the Main Stand, including the two new hospitality concourses being built alongside the existing stadium, and whose offer brings a standard of facilities to the general public that other clubs usually charge a high premium for.

Anfield Stadium

Designed in partnership with Jacobs and Planit, KSS's scheme draws inspiration from the locality, incorporating materials that resonate with the surroundings as well as Liverpool's dockside and industrial history. Rich-red brick is used on the new Main Stand elevations, along with bold, red infrastructural additions that flag up the colour of the Liverpool strip. Red brick colonnades also march along the interior concourses. Artwork that permeates the interiors has been inspired by the scarves and flags held high when the team plays, while wall graphics will display famous moments in the club's history. Furthermore, a central seating area will incorporate some of the original 1906 stadium seats.

Set within the richly textured Victorian red-brick and steel Main Stand concourses will be a new bar, the Anfield Dugout, and table football and street food will be served to entice fans to come earlier and stay longer on match days. Continuity between old and new architecture -- including the retention of the traditional four-square stand design rather than some of the more contemporary, elliptical stadium shapes -- is intended to ensure fans will always feel like they're 'coming home'.

Phase 1 development will be ready for the start of the 2016/17 season, and is part of a wider £260m regeneration master plan for the Anfield area, which will eventually see a total of 13,000 new seats added to the stadium and both leisure and residential facilities added to the neighbourhood.

Client Liverpool FC
Interior architecture KSS
Cost £115m
Schedule completing autumn 2016

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