Sports stadiums across North America may differ in seating capacity, video board size or the retractability of their roofs, but they are typically large complexes surrounded by a sea of parking and detached from their surrounding communities and cities. While this model has created legendary facilities, it is a dated view on the impact and value these venues can offer. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see visionary planning that positions leading international stadiums as engines for economic growth, cultural renaissance and urban development.
At the center of this positive trend in stadium development is Canada, a nation that has recently become a hotbed for global sport. In 2010, Canada showcased the Richmond Olympic Oval, the signature venue of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games and the first Olympic speed skating oval ever designed for legacy use. Now five years after the games, the ROO lives on as a valuable community center and recreation outlet for the City of Richmond and surrounding region. The facility has spurred the creation of a new urban waterfront neighborhood and continues to nourish and support it as an engine for economic growth. This summer, Lansdowne Park’s TD Placed hosted Women’s World Cup matches and earned distinction as a Stadium In the Park that departs from the traditional notion of a stadium as an inert building and instead integrates itself into a historic urban park. Furthermore, the new Hamilton Soccer Stadium hosted events during the 2015 Pan American Games and is designed as a flexible “neighborhood stadium” capable of hosting professional and amateur sports, cultural events and prestigious competitions.
These successful venues in Canada point toward a purposeful new direction for stadium design across North America. Still, taking on such an effort can seem daunting. Here are five key ideas/themes to consider for your next stadium effort.
Be an Advocate for the Bigger Picture.
One of the first key steps in creating a valuable modern sports venue is recognizing the stadium is part of a much larger civic plan. When working on the Hamilton Soccer Stadium, our teams spent extensive time reviewing the City’s Strategic Plan and Vision 2020. This research helped us identify key criteria that guided our design efforts from the outset. For example, the city of Hamilton’s plan is rooted in a focus on creating compact and healthy urban communities, strong environmental systems (land, air and water), balanced transportation networks and financial stability across a growing and diverse economy. Understanding these core civic goals and values informed our work and we created a stadium that offers key community gathering spaces, strong connectivity to public transit and is in pursuit of at minimum, a Canadian Green Building Council LEED silver rating.
Create Space for the Community.
Forwarding thinking stadium design means more than simply finding a way to embed stadiums in settings devoid of extensive parking lots. Stadiums need to create inviting space for the community to enjoy. For the Richmond Olympic Oval, this meant strategic programming and the creation of a remarkably flexible interior space capable of hosting community meetings, ice sport and multipurpose activity courts all at once. With Lansdowne, this translated to a creative public space/stadium concourse that encircles the stadium and provides the public with opportunities to flow through the stadium structure while still in the park. In Hamilton, tree-lined sidewalks surround the venue and all four corners are designed as public gathering areas. The South Plaza is specifically designed to be a community gathering space that can be used as a pre-event space or in general as wider community resource, hosting events, farmers markets, community organizations, etc.
Thing Big but Temporarily
One of the historical challenges of creating major international sports venues is they need to accommodate massive crowds during the competition, but much smaller audiences during less globally significant events. It’s key for design teams to find creative ways to allow stadiums to expand and retract in size to ensure the venues don’t become large and burdensome for the community.
Lansdowne Park’s TD Place stadium is strategically designed to provide 24,000 seats for its regular events but can temporarily expand to 45,000 seats for major national and international events. Likewise, the Hamilton Stadium has a temporary seating capacity of 40,000 seats allowing it to host events like the Grey Cup. These flexible capacity venues need to be created with careful strategy, it’s about much more than simply creating space for additional seats. The venues also must be equipped with the necessary support spaces, signage and concourse paths to comfort that many people.
It’s Okay to Fit In
The creation of a new stadium is an exciting time and teams often become focused on finding ways to stand out from historic venues. It’s fine to look forward, but design teams should also look around at the surrounding communities. It’s important to incorporate common materials, colors and massing in order to deliver something that fits into the existing environment. Across all three key venues mentioned in this article, our team looked for ways to visually blend the stadium into the community and/or natural setting surrounding it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Design Differently.
Major stadium design needs big thinking and bold ideas on how we can further make these venues assets to their home communities. Choosing to create the Richmond Olympic Oval as a speed skating venue that could also have legacy value was a big shift at the time, but the value the building continues to drive is evidence it was the proper direction. In Hamilton, the new soccer stadium replaced a local landmark that had been part of the community for over 60 years. It took courage to create a stadium that pays tribute to this heritage but also moves in a new direction. One specific example of this was choosing to orient the stadium North/South in the city (A change from its previous orientation).This strategic design change made competition easier for athletes, reduced shadows cast on the surrounding neighborhood and allows the venue to fit more comfortably in the site – reducing visual and physical impacts to the surrounding area.
Creating stadium venues that can’t adapt for future uses or flex for international events is a dated approach. It’s time to build on the momentum set by recent Canadian venues and continue to find creative ways to make our arenas and stadiums both visually impressive and culturally impactful.