Multifunctionality is obliging sports facilities to think about the day after, to get away from being conventional centers and to seek spaces where everything is possible.
Sports facilities have become venues and major sporting tournaments are now considered to be ‘events’. Elite sport, which is showing itself to be a global economic driver, sells big shows, much more than just a certain result. And infrastructures which once were sports centers are now containers of space where anything can happen. If they are sufficiently prepared.
Currently, nobody is surprised to see an Olympic stadium become a spectacular concert stage; or that a tennis match is played on the roof of a luxury hotel like the one played by Roger Federer and Andre Agassi on the 321-meter-high helipad of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai; or to attend Beach Volleyball World Championship matches on a 200 m³ floating stadium of sand on the Hofvijver pond in La Hague in the Netherlands.
Architects have faced a new challenge since the global economic crisis laid the foundations of what is profitable and what is not. To their offices come vague requests that ignore a maxim which had always worked: you have to define the specific use of a product before commissioning its design. Today that is no longer the case.
“There has been a very clear change in mentality in what a sports facility should be today, because of its required multifunctionality and, for us architects, it is a constant challenge based on misinformation. We solve clients’ problems, but when they don’t know how to guide us in what the needs are we are forced to invent, and sometimes we have to be very brave,” says Juan Andrés Hernando, an architect and town planner, and former handball player, who has spent 37 years in sports facilities and is an authoritative voice to tell us how much the model has changed and why. “My experience as an athlete has helped me greatly. Knowing what happens within a space is very useful when you draw it, and you aren’t taught that during your architecture degree”.
“Before, sports facilities were for athletes and now they aren’t just for them. The spaces we build must respond to their main function, which is sport, but this activity is often temporary. We have to think about the day after, and for that reason where before we built sports centers now we build containers, and what were known as facilities are now multi-purpose spaces”.
The media, particularly television, and the proliferation in the use of new technologies have influenced decisively in the new model for facilities. “We’ve had to evolve to meet the objective of facilities. There have been many failures in the construction of major sports facilities that were not sustainable. Before, facilities were made for 120,000 people, but not so much sport was broadcast on television. Television channels don’t want to show empty spaces, they can’t sell them. They want full venues to be able to satisfy the brands. TV rights came into play and the scale of spaces had to change. The seats are painted in colors not to make it look prettier, but to hide the lack of public in macro facilities”, explains Hernando.
A NEW MODEL
“The current model opens the doors for the media to market events and these can be of very different kinds: cultural, social, sporting, entertainment, all can take place in a sports space”. There are wonderful sports facilities worldwide that meet this requirement. “In Barcelona, a very clear example is the Palau Sant Jordi. But worldwide, there are other centers of reference that are perfect because of their versatility. Among these I would highlight, besides the Palau Sant Jordi, the Paris Bercy, the Losail Arena in Qatar and the Hartwall Arena in Finland”, says Hernando.
However, major sporting events are also increasingly moving to another class of buildings. This is the case of ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, the second most important competition of this discipline after the World Championships. For the second consecutive year, it will be held at the Barcelona International Convention Center (CCIB) from 10 to 13 December 2015.
And the stage will be also unique: the CCIB will house a 1,800m2 ice rink, 8 cm thick, which will be surrounded by a grandstand with seating for 5,500 people. The architect Josep Lluís Mateo, who designed it under the premise that it could host high-level events, is now excited by what it has become. “It’s exciting to think that a space becomes something magical for a few days, with a tremendous rink and the best ice skaters in the world competing there, then to become the scene of an entirely different event”, he says. “The CCIB opened in 2004 and was part of a new generation of centers, much more modern, American-style spaces that are flexible, generic, non-specialized, where anything can happen. Multifunctionality and versatility are very contemporary features that are increasingly required in all types of facilities”.
Since its opening on the occasion of the Universal Forum of Cultures, the CCIB has staged major events, hosting more than 600 events of all types and 3 million visitors. 83% of turnover comes from international events and 42% of its clients are foreign.