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16 September 2014

HOK’s John Rhodes on Trends in Stadium and Arena Design

Confidential Sports Project

PanStadia & Arena Management magazine interviewed John Rhodes, a director of Sports + Recreation + Entertainment based in HOK’s London office, about current trends in stadium and arena design.

When it comes to arena design, how do you arrive at a final concept?

John RhodesJR: Good design is a team endeavour. It’s vital from the outset for the design team to listen carefully to key stakeholders: from the local community to the investors, and from the boardroom to the fans. This collaborative approach helps design teams reach the best solution and improve a project’s chance of success.

When thinking about a new facility, the design should be informed by several factors including the potential event calendar, context, climate and culture. The team needs a deep understanding of how the building operates in relation to the site. A project’s deliverability also is based on having a realistic view of what types of events, and how many, the facility will attract, as well as the project’s budget aspirations.

Considering these different parameters, amongst others, will start to create opportunities for solutions and begin to define the character of a building on the way to arriving at the final concept. In my experience, a shared, strong concept always makes a project more deliverable and enjoyable.

What are the major challenges of arena design? And how do these differ from stadium design?

Stadiums tend to be larger than arenas and the technicalities of scale often impact the structural response to the building. In many ways, though, arenas are more complex buildings because they need to meet multiple uses for a variety of groups. With diverse event programs and quicker turnaround between events, arenas need to provide features required for flexibility, including access to the event floor, enhanced roof-loading capacity, greater environmental control and high-quality acoustics within the event space.

In contrast, traditional outdoor stadiums tend to be more focused on a house team, or specific event type, with fewer supporting supplementary events. The design is less complex.

Confidential Sports Project 2

How can a client ensure their new build or renovated arena meets their specific needs? Like taking into account the challenges of hosting differing sporting and non-sporting events, and the tight time frames that may be required in between, i.e., converting from ice hockey to basketball to a trade show and back to ice hockey?

Arenas typically have a diverse event program, which means it is vital to have an appreciation of the flexible content, diverse user groups and event frequency during design to ensure the project meets the clients’ needs and has a stronger chance of survival. It is important to know how the venue configuration will be set up and perform in relation to different events.

The projects that work the best have a clear definition of the basic and primary objectives from the start. The nature of design is that it can have multiple outcomes, and the design journey always reveals other opportunities along the way. But it is always best to begin with a clear agreement of the essential performance or functional criteria as discussed with key stakeholders, developers, local authorities and operators.

The design will invariably be underpinned by the discussion of management costs versus capital costs. We need a pragmatic approach to deliver a balance. This is where an innovative, experienced design team can add value by creating opportunities to reduce the operating and management costs of the venue as well creating prospects to create new revenue streams, such as additional branding space or collateral.

The key to a successful arena is to ensure a quality spectator experience regardless of the event configuration. At HOK, we use the latest software to test the viewing experience in many different configurations. We also work with the operator to optimise the venue design to allow efficiencies of a quick turnaround from one event to another.

Confidential Sports Project 3What changes have you witnessed in arena design over the last decade?

In recent years – across Europe, in particular – we have seen a clear shift away from single-purpose functional venues toward spaces that cater to a much more diverse event calendar, focused on live entertainment rather than purely sport. In addition to enhanced flexibility, this shift means that relationships between the audience and the performer are more important than ever and require much more design consideration than basic viewing analysis.

Consumers are demanding a higher quality and more authentic experience of the event. With the multimedia revolution, we’re seeing significantly higher experiential competition in the marketplace. This means that the experience of going to an event needs to exceed the convenience factor of watching online at home. A more considered venue is a key tool in this competition. Venue designers need a better understanding of how people want to use spaces and engage in an event.

We’ve seen the arena business model become much more dependent on commercial brand integration and naming rights partnerships. This has had an effect on venue design, as it now has to consider how to leverage this brand relationship and maximize revenue generation.

What do you think will be the next ‘big thing’ in arena design in the next decade?

Arenas are increasingly becoming more integrated within the centre of cities. As a result, there is a need for them to become more multipurpose. This puts pressure on the capital cost of a project, as the venue has to deliver an elevated architectural presence and deal with more complex technical issues such as access and acoustic leakage. Though this may add complexities to the design process, there is a real value to this as arenas can act as catalysts for regeneration and become key community anchors for urban areas.

Over the next decade, arenas will start to combine with other community components like education, science and technology, hotels, and parks. To facilitate this, clients will want a team with specialties in all of these areas. At HOK, our collaborative design approach enables us to embrace our wider network of core specialties in these fields to work on these new typologies.

We’ll begin to see more of an emphasis on customer experience and also a greater understanding of the importance of brand celebration, loyalty and place. I love the idea of allowing a building to develop a character that people can embrace: a headquarters for the tribe. This character can be developed in parallel, rather than in opposition to, confident business planning.

How has the growing trend toward sustainable arenas affected the design process?

With the shift toward a more civic-type or community arena, combined with an increased financial dependency on naming rights partnerships, the need for arena design to embrace sustainable issues will only increase. We are already seeing stadia and arenas become more integrated within cities. To create a truly sustainable community amenity, we need to increasingly view these facilities as multipurpose and consider functions not yet incorporated into these building typologies. The legacy opportunity is fantastic and these buildings have the potential to act as a catalyst for regeneration and become community anchors for urban areas.

There are many specific technical issues associated with the environmental performance of an arena, including their size and variable peak usage, that are unique to these types of building. We have been focusing on connecting these venues with other uses such as hotels and conferencing, shopping malls, and education and training facilities.

We have a structured approach to sustainability, and have a large number of LEED credentialed specialist designers to develop new approaches to environmental technical elements. We look to collaborate with our wider HOK organization to deliver vibrant urban entertainment districts.

This article was reprinted courtesy of PanStadia & Arena Management.