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Engineering the World’s Most Impressive Sports Facilities

March 24, 2014 | 4 min read

From Olympic villages, to World Cup venues, professional team stadiums, and high school fields, sports facilities demand impressive building design to support attendance and build excitement. Innovative structural techniques have helped to reinvent the form and functionality of sports venues around the world.

The Sports Construction Market

During the recent market downturn, sports construction has suffered over the past decade. According to McGraw- Hill Construction Research & Analytics, the value of construction starts of sports facilities in the U.S. declined from $4.8 billion in 2006 to $2 billion in 2011.

However, many construction firms are seeing business in the sports sector begin to pick up. Populous, a large design firm that focuses on sports architecture and facility design, has worked for 130 colleges, 30 National Football League (NFL) teams, the London Summer Olympic Games, and the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. “The financial crisis in Europe is putting a damper on Europe and the UK, but things in Russia, Asia and Australia are very active,” commented Populous’ Senior Principal, Scott Radecic.

Technological Innovations in Sports Stadiums

The Seattle Seahawks NFL stadium is known (and proud) to be the loudest stadium in the league. The stadium’s architect used a partial roof that covers 70% of the seating area and reflects sound back to the field. The stadium noise can reach 135 decibels – nearly as noisy as a jet plane and resulting in the most false start penalties in the NFL.

Houston’s Reliant Stadium was the first NFL facility to have a retractable sunroof. Although fans wanted to watch football outdoors, the NFL team shares the stadium with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which takes place in winter and needed to be indoors. The roof is made of two 92,000-square-foot panels that are covered by translucent fiberglass.

The New York Giants, the New York Jets, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered up to create an eco-friendly stadium with construction that minimized the The New Meadowlands Stadium’s environmental impact. New Meadowlands was built with 40,000 tons of recycled steel, utilizing 20,000 tons from the old demolished stadium. Energy-efficient lighting and appliances, low-flow water fixtures, and high-efficiency irrigation systems were installed to reduce air pollution, conserve water, and save energy.

Impressive World Sports Facilities

Rungrado May First Stadium – Pyongyang, North Korea

• Greatest capacity stadium, with 150,000 capacity for seating and standing room
• Largest crowd was 190,000 for a professional wrestling event in 1995
• Used for soccer games, Arirang Festivals, gymnastics events, artistic performances

National Aquatics Center (Water Cube) – Beijing, China

• Constructed for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games
• Seats 17,000 spectators around five swimming pools, restaurant, and other facilities
• Facade is constructed from ethyl tetrofluoroethylene, which is 1% the weight of glass
• Daylight that enters the cube saves 55% on lighting energy required

AAMI Park – Melbourne, Australia

• 31,000 seat stadium built with a bio-frame roof and 20 interdependent shells
• Lightweight structure uses 50% less steel than traditional solutions
• Pedestrian modeling improves human safety and prevents excessive traffic congestion

Jaca Ice Pavilion – Jaca, Spain

• Ice hockey stadium built to hold a capacity of 6,700 people
• Built to host the 2007 Junior Euro Olympics, now accommodates 12 modes of operation
• Open structure exposed without the use of suspended ceilings
• Energy-efficient system recycles waste heat from ice chillers to heat water for other purposes

Not only do sporting events provide entertainment and camaraderie, but they also stimulate investments in jobs, housing, and transportation. Because of the capacity and versatility required of modern sports facilities, engineers must develop financially and environmentally sustainable models that accommodate mixed-use needs. Sports have been a huge part of society since ancient times, however, sports construction must continuously innovate and evolve. To learn more about the sustainable construction of world-class stadiums, follow the developments of the sixth annual World Stadium Congress hosted in Qatar.

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