Prepared for any event

Sports stadiums are increasingly being built as multi-purpose destinations, with cafés, bars and hotels boosting venues’ incomes.

Sweeping structures and stunning technological feats, like architect Hiroshi Hara’s air-cushioned mobile pitch at the Sapporo Dome in Japan, tend to take the plaudits when it comes to stadium design. However, stadium owners increasingly recognise that their showpiece venues need to pay their way when the season ends and the fans file away.

Football is well known for catering for its prawn sandwich tendency – during games as well as at other times, as Manchester United’s Roy Keane famously pointed out. But a variety of sports now treat their stadiums as multi-purpose destinations, with cafés, restaurants, shops and hotels supplementing tried-and-tested off-season activities like antiques fairs and business conferences.

Sandown Park Racecourse unveiled a £20m refurbishment, including new restaurant and hospitality facilities, by architectural practice Chapman Taylor last week (DW 27 June), while the Ascot Authority has recently proposed a £180m redevelopment of its own. The designs – drawn up by architect Hok Sport, previously responsible for the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and Sydney’s Stadium Australia – include a revamped grandstand, a new hotel and health club and a retail gallery.

‘Most stadiums aim to survive by hosting events, exhibitions and seminars independent of any association with the sports clubs,’ says RFA Designers director Richard Fowler, who has worked with both Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs in the past.

‘The people who built our local stadium, the Alfred McAlpine in Huddersfield, boasted [it] would make a profit without a football being kicked or a rugby ball being passed,’ he adds.

Creative Action managing director Ian Silverstein, who has worked with kart-racing brand Daytona among others, sees benefits for users in this approach.

‘In the past, [stadiums have] always been very raw and unfinished. But you can now see that all areas open to the public are being considered. The result is a more presentable, rewarding environment throughout,’ he says.

With venues under pressure to maximise revenues from facilities, interior designers must be on the ball when balancing the demands of corporate and spectator audiences. ‘This in itself can lead to a conflict,’ says Chapman Taylor director of interiors and graphics Hilary Clayton-Mitchell.

She highlights the differences between a race- or match-day bar and an ideal location for a wedding and says that improved access, circulation and wayfinding are key considerations. At Sandown Park new entrances, pavements and lighting were introduced to save corporate customers having to use the turnstiles. A generous foyer space and staffed reception desks also help guide people to their destinations.

Clayton-Mitchell adds, ‘Considering promotional material and venue signage as part of the foyer language allows for temporary signage to fit into the environment comfortably.’

She has also worked on the Chelsea Village complex at the club’s Stamford Bridge ground, where the football team and the conference and banqueting business have separate identities.

‘Individual interiors are not usually branded. All these areas have their own personality that doesn’t relate to football to [make] non-match events appealing to a very different clientele,’ says Clayton-Mitchell.

Another issue designers need to consider is the resentment that regular stadium-goers often feel towards more occasional guests. Clayton-Mitchell says that corporate elements should be designed carefully so they have little or no effect on the match- or race-day experience.

Fowler adds, ‘The appropriate balance is probably to restrict branding to fans’ areas such as the museum, the match-day refreshment areas and the boardroom. In our proposals for Manchester City’s museum at the Commonwealth Games Stadium in Beswick, the museum and café are housed alongside each other, with the club shop immediately below, [so that] a flow of potential visitors [is] delivered to the museum’s door.’

Silverstein agrees that less branding can make for better use of space, but he thinks even usually restrained racecourses are now deploying their brands more overtly. ‘If some people want to be close to the action and others to see it through patio doors, it’s a case of each to their own,’ he adds. ‘You can’t blame [venues] for trying to accommodate both, as long as everyone’s needs are considered and catered for.’

Redd managing director Daniel Lister, who created interiors for Liverpool Football Club while at the now-defunct consultancy Eigg believes that consumer tastes have been influenced by high-street café-bars and stadium venues need to understand their expectations.

Lister thinks many clubs have been slow off the mark in improving their image and advocates a ‘minimalist approach’ to design and branding. He suggests venues could learn to ‘keep the buzz going’ by adopting the mentality of visitor attractions, ‘where there is a themed experience and, at the end of it, the shop’.

Uppermost in Lister’s mind is ‘the ease of the end user’ and this depends to a great extent on the staff as well as the physical environment.

‘A hint of an atmosphere can create a mood, with colours, shapes and lights. But the other half of the equation is down to the operations team. The catering and the branding have to click. These things are self-supportive if you get it right. But if either’s at fault you go away with a bad experience,’ he says.

Looking ahead, Clayton-Mitchell says stadiums of the future will be ‘campuses’ where ‘the underlying sporting event can be seen as a novelty attraction to draw commercial activities’.

Music to the ears, perhaps, of the board at Chelsea Village. But Silverstein offers some comfort for those who raise an eyebrow at such suggestions. He believes the new Arsenal ground is likely to be the first in the UK to introduce seat-back TV monitors.

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