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Immersive design is reshaping stadium construction in the Middle East

by CW Staff on Feb 17, 2018

ISG is responsible for refurbishing the Zayed Sports City Stadium in the UAE.
ISG is responsible for refurbishing the Zayed Sports City Stadium in the UAE.

Spectators at sporting events want to be more than simply passive onlookers; they want to be immersed in the excitement of the occasion.

As a result, designing and constructing an arena for football, cycling, cricket, baseball, or athletics is one of the most complex, competitive, and lucrative challenges within the design-and-build industry. And the stakes are high: successful developments are showcased when major events are broadcast on screens around the world.

In order to deliver a world-class audience experience, the facilities delivered as part of a sporting arena are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Sustainability, environmental-friendliness, state-of-the-art technology, and cutting-edge sound and lighting equipment, are all among the prerequisites for this type of project today.

“Apart from general structural considerations, today’s reliance on technology is a key consideration in providing the in-game experience,” says Avinash Kumar, a partner at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ), which has designed sports projects including the International Cricket Conference Academy in Dubai’s Sports City.

“Sports stadiums are no longer spaces where you simply sit and watch the game; they now need to provide a completely immersive experience, with mobile integrations and online streaming as standard, so the IT backbone has to be modern and robust.”

Modern stadiums have to be able to compete with television in terms of the experience they deliver, and this fact is driving developments in stadium construction, according to the senior design engineer for facilities at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Aurecon’s Kourosh Kayvani. In order to do this successfully, stadiums need to allow fans to share their experiences of events online. After all, he says, “What’s the point of bagging a world cup final ticket, if no one knows you’re there?”

He explains that some of the latest developments in stadium construction include high-tech information and communication technology infrastructures that can support strong and reliable WiFi coverage for fans, so that they can share live updates on social media: “There are also apps that require high-density WiFi, [such as those that] cater to spectators who want to watch the match simultaneously on their devices for commentary or different vantage points.

“In the future, [spectators may also] even use an app to order food and beverages to be delivered by GPS drones. These add to the terabytes needed during the few hours of the event. Outside of the stadium, the need to live-stream the event presents an opportunity for the [event] operator to create an enticing virtual experience for fans who are unable to attend in person.”

Aiming to cover all eventualities, Kayvani says that Aurecon begins its design process with stakeholders by envisioning all the details of the desired experience, considering the requirements of the fans, the operator, the athletes or performers, and how these can be supported by the business model.

“Designing and constructing a facility that can accommodate the ever-increasing hunger for WiFi is a must. Because of the size and complexity, it is more cost-effective to design flexibility into the stadium than to retrofit,” he says.

Construction services company ISG carried out the renovation of the stadium at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City. As the facility dates back almost 40 years, a number of its mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services were outdated and were no longer compliant with international or local standards, according to project manager, Aidan Berry. He outlines the challenges his team faced.

“For this particular project, the key challenge was keeping the stadium live throughout the duration of the refurbishment – approximately 30 weeks – as the stadium hosted live events during this period,” Berry says.

“Ensuring the existing tenants in the office spaces within the stadium remained operational, with no interruption to their business operations, [also] posed several challenges, from logistics and operational perspectives, especially with the upgrade of the electrical substations and air-handling units. This meant planning and scheduling shutdowns, while keeping the building fully operational.”