A progresive testing ground

WSP are, at any particular time, involved in the design and delivery of a number of major international sporting venues around the World. Experience has shown us that the sport sector is a progressive and dynamic testing ground for the incorporation of new building technologies. For instance, past innovations include safety and security systems, EPOS, ticketing, materials specification and advanced media and rich product technologies.

Currently, innovative technologies encompassing environmental benefits are at the forefront of design thinking, forming the backbone of the balance of commercial need and reality with functional, eco-friendly development. For example, it is hoped that the push to host a low Carbon 2012 games will provide the impetus for the development of clean waste-to-energy systems and improved recycling initiatives.

The new technologies and innovative ways of servicing stadia that are developed during this programme of building are likely to have potential for successful adaptation and incorporation into other types of building. Once a major sports project has pioneered new and cutting edge technology, this will often be adopted as part of the day-to-day design process. This potential cross-fertilisation of technologies across sectors means that a great opportunity exists for high profile sports facilities to act as catalysts, raising the profile and deliverability of sustainable design within the industry as a whole.

Such inspiring developments within the host Nation or City itself bring long-term benefits in terms of urban regeneration and legacy. However, to have a chance of recreating the successes seen in the ‘Barcelona renaissance’ following the 1992 Olympics Games, care must be taken to ensure that the primary infrastructure and community facilities which underpin the sports campus, leave a ‘village’ which can then form the beginning of a new and enduring community.

This represents a massive financial undertaking (which is in the main publicly funded) and without proper business planning, developments can too easily become white elephants and any legacy becomes redundant.

To satisfy economic, social and environmental needs in the delivery of a community anchored by a sporting facility, early holistic planning is key. District heating/cooling, renewable embedded energy generation, water recycling, a carbon neutral community and recycled/recyclable material specification can all be commercially viable, but to be successfully implemented, must be considered at the strategic planning and modelling stages of the project. It is therefore vital that individuals with the required specialist knowledge are involved early in the development process.

However, the intensive building programme currently planned in the development of major stadia in the UK, may well pose certain challenges for our industry.

With any major event there will inevitably be some ancillary and associated developments, driven as a response to the business plan, community needs or entrepreneurial opportunism. By closely monitoring the main development proposals, it is possible for businesses to also secure contracts on adjacent sites, since for many developers and local councils the chance to benefit from an upgrade in the local infrastructure is an attractive proposition.

However, the temptation to become involved in such developments must be tempered by the fact that the planning and delivery of a major project absorbs a huge amount of intellectual property. Key personnel within an organisation may be seconded for several years, creating a void which is difficult to fill. Succession planning is therefore vital, particularly for organisations deployed in the delivery of global projects where specialist sector knowledge is key.

In addition, the scale of construction activity required to deliver facilities for an international sporting event within a pre-determined time frame is immense. Supply chains can be put under extreme pressure, resulting in shortfalls elsewhere within the regional construction market.

The industry is also pressurised by the delivery programme. These are dictated by the winning bid (which is itself a response to criteria determined by the awarding/sports governing body (i.e. IOC, FIFA, UEFA, IAF etc)), and the time from bid award to the hosting of a major international sporting event affords relatively little opportunity for contemplation.

As such, it is becoming increasingly important to the host City/Nation that the planning of these events and the legacy is carried out with the involvement of experienced specialists. This can create an elite few global organisations with the requisite knowledge base.

However, in fast tracking the planning process, it is important that the projects do not lose the ability to innovate and incorporate new thinking. In order to see again the benefits reaped by large-scale sports developments in the past, the opportunity to develop and embrace new technologies is crucial.

Organisations should not revert to a “here’s one we did earlier” mentality. Instead opportunities should exist for global organisations to learn from smaller companies with local knowledge. For example, it may be that ‘niche’ companies are already pushing conventional boundaries within a local setting, and experienced global organisations can engage with these to find new ways of working on the large-scale project.

The hosting of a major sporting event will inevitably be a catalyst for change for the whole community and its success will be the captured image or experience of a generation. The success of the legacy will be judged for generations to come, and as an industry we have a role to play in ensuring that the legacy is a prosperous one.

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