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The Future of Sporting and Entertainment Venue Design


John Rhodes and Micheal Day are international market leaders for HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice. In this PanStadia & Arena Management Q&A, they discuss HOK’s acquisition of 360 Architecture, their approach to expanding the firm’s international presence and the future of venue design.

HOK acquired 360 Architecture in January 2015 and launched the firm’s new Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice. What were the drivers behind the acquisition and how has that influenced the structure of the new S+R+E practice? 

john-rhodes-109x109-100JR: HOK was looking for a strategic approach to reenter the sports market and 360’s portfolio of work was unparalleled in terms of creativity and innovation. 360 was beginning to develop a portfolio of international sports projects in the Americas and the Middle East. Leaders from both firms realized that HOK could offer global market access and resources that would provide valuable synergies for clients.

The U.S. base for the Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice is shared between San Francisco, Kansas City and Columbus. Our international sports expertise is centred in our London, Dubai and Asia Pacific offices.  This expertise can be accessed through any of HOK’s 24 offices worldwide.

What is your approach to expanding HOK’s presence in the international sports market?

michael-day-hi-res100MD: Our team has worked extensively to define where we fit within the international marketplace and the unique strengths that we offer together as one HOK. We have a strategic, targeted approach to finding the right clients — clients that have a vision, that want to be highly engaged in the design process and that are committed to creating something unique for their community. We don’t pull designs off the shelf or offer cookie cutter solutions. The innovations we have pioneered for seating bowl design, premium products and amenities have all resulted from very specific qualities and needs of the client, the site and the fans in that particular region.

We have built a portfolio of highly successful projects by remaining focused on working with these types of progressive clients. The trust and partnership we share is what delivers results. As we look at international opportunities, this will be the guiding principle in the projects and clients we pursue.


As the only US stadium to house two NFL franchises, MetLife Stadium provides unparalleled flexibility in accommodating the needs of the New York Giants and Jets. The venue was designed in collaboration with Bruce Mau, the Rockwell Group and architect-of-record, Ewing Cole.

What is unique about how you approach the design process?

JR: Sporting venues have evolved into centrepieces of mixed-use developments with an increasing number of components and stakeholders. HOK’s expertise in so many different markets enables us to break down barriers between disciplines and project types to respond to the larger needs of a community. Our work on the Dubai Expo 2020 master plan is a prime example of this cross collaboration.

In addition to looking toward our own multidisciplinary staff, we are also looking outside the boundaries of traditional consultant teams to engage experts in other fields that can offer fresh perspectives, explore new ideas and challenge how we look at the overall venue experience. This has manifested itself in unexpected ways, such as partnering with kinetic designer and inventor Chuck Hoberman to develop the roof concept for the New Atlanta Stadium, engaging biologists from Biomimicry 3.8 to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings and engaging athletes in new ways throughout the design process.

This level of collaboration has resulted in new approaches at the larger development level as well as on a smaller scale, impacting how individuals interact with a space in really powerful ways. We are relentlessly pursuing these opportunities to enhance the collaborative process and challenge traditional thinking.

MD: We have historically pursued international projects through strategic partnerships with firms located in the region. This is something we plan to continue. On each project, our regional design partners are an invaluable resource, strengthening the overall team and enhancing our ability to design a venue that responds to a region’s unique cultural and geographic influences.

SMS Stadium at Shell Place in Fort McMurray, Alberta SMS Stadium at Shell Place in Fort McMurray, Alberta, is a multi-purpose venue that offers flexibility to seat 5,000-20,000 people for different events. The project was designed in collaboration with Edmonton-based architecture firm, Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert.

What is the greatest driver in the future of sports venue design?

JR: The fan experience. How do we get people off their sofas to a venue for a sporting event? How do we create a unique experience that they can’t get at home?

The variety of seating products in venues is increasing, driven largely by the desire for personalization. Our objective is to optimize the event experience for each individual. We are developing tools to tailor the fan experience in ways that have never been done before.

As new technologies surrounding fan experience continue to rapidly evolve, we are looking for ways to design for flexibility so that the venue continues to adapt throughout its life.

What is your measure for success for HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice as you move forward?

MD: It isn’t about the size or volume of projects we deliver, but creating venues that are impactful and offer value to the fans, the owner and the community. We have been fortunate to work on many projects across the world, from a new stadium in Basrah, Iraq, that was designed to celebrate unique cultural influences, to Shell Place in Ft. McMurray, Canada, which was designed to emulate the undulating movement of snow drifts and the northern lights. It is a unique privilege to design venues that create such a sense of pride within a community. For all of us, that is the ultimate metric for success.

basrah-sports stadium
Design of the new 65,000-seat stadium in Basrah, Iraq, was inspired by regional influences of the date palm tree and traditional woven goods, while providing a functional response to the local climate. The project was designed in collaboration with Cairo-based architecture firm RMC and constructed by Abdullah Al Jiburi General Contracting Company.

This article was reprinted courtesy of PanStadia & Arena Management.