Credited with the design of some of the world’s most iconic stadiums, specialist sports architectural firm Populous continues to build upon its impressive record this year.
Populous has worked on nine Olympic Games to date and most recently played a significant role in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, including the design of the 40,000 capacity Fisht Olympic Stadium and the Arena das Dunas stadium in Natal for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Later this year, the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games and the Incheon Asian Games will be hosted in spaces designed by Populous.
So it comes as little surprise that Populous were awarded the prestigious AJ100 International Practice of the Year award this year, beating seven other global architecture practices in the process. The expert panel mentioned the firm’s work in Sochi and Brazil as particular highlights.
Senior Principal Ben Vickery says “We are delighted to be recognised in this way for designing stadiums and temporary installations for major events around the world. Each country and event is different and Populous has a great deal of experience designing venues and events that relate to the culture of the club, location and host country."
Populous divide their activities between the design of individual sports facilities and the masterplanning of mega events. Their expertise ranges from supporting the bid for an event, to site masterplans, overlays using temporary installations and world class stadiums. In Sochi, they took on the challenge of designing a masterplan for the Winter Olympic Games in a city that had never previously hosted any major sporting events.
Tom Jones, Principal of the architectural practice, says “In Sochi there was no existing sporting infrastructure. This meant the Winter Park master plan required a much more extensive arrangement of new builds, as well as having all the usual functional requirements in terms of ease of access for spectators, athletes and visiting dignitaries.”
These masterplan projects have become more frequent for Populous in recent years with the trend of sporting mega events being awarded to areas of the world not previously used to hosting them. With international governing bodies becoming more inclined to take their sporting properties to cities in South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Far East Asia, Populous has had to face a whole new set of challenges and opportunities.
“In some of the territories which lack any sort of significant sporting infrastructure, you need to look at creating the entire infrastructure from the beginning, which is often not needed in cities that are more traditional hosts,” says Jones.
“On the other hand, this does give you the ability to produce a very comprehensive design that includes the transport, venue and residential requirements and assist in a regeneration of a precinct for the long term."
Populous was involved in the design of the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium, which is set to host the opening and closing ceremonies and athletics competitions of the 2014 Asian Games. For the purpose of the Games, the stadium will have a capacity of 61,074, yet this will reduced down to 30,000 post-Games.
“When we look ahead to the legacy we want to ensure that the venues have a long term use and that is where the balance of permanent and temporary design comes into play," says Jones.
“There needs to be consideration of how much is built initially and the flexibility in the master plan to allow for further phases of development after the event.”
With the Incheon stadium, Populous further developed its innovative modular construction methodology, showcased at London 2012, designing just the west stand as permanent and leaving the other three sides as temporary seating built into the landscaping of park.
“Those temporary seating elements can be very easily and quickly removed, but you’re left with a sculpted landscape bowl that people can still go and sit on and watch events. Therefore, it would be quite easy to scale back up again if you had another major event.”
New or existing; temporary or permanent?
As every city is different, Populous studies each host individually to understand its requirements and formulate the best balance between building new facilities and refurbishing existing venues, as well as the balance between permanent and temporary structures.
“Some states want to construct entirely new venues for major events whilst others might want the balance of permanent and temporary installations. Either way the long term viability and ability for ongoing revenue generation is critical and needs to be judged for each event and location,” says Vickery.
“With the right mix of temporary and permanent venues, an event will be more sustainable: economically, by only constructing venues that will have a long-term life, and environmentally by using less resources for construction. It is the development of new ideas, like these, in venue design that will be the motors of improvements in the design for sports.”
With more major events on the horizon, Populous will be working on them in a variety of capacities. In the case of the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games, much of the sporting facilities are already built, so Populous’ role has been to design a master plan for the residential and transport requirements.
In the case of next year’s inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, the firm is working on the overlay (temporary installation) design for two of the venues.
“The European Games is a new event and we have not worked in Baku before, so it is exciting to develop ideas for a new location, building on the experience of designing for the London 2012 Olympics,” says Vickery.