Elite sport, major events and community legacy

published in sb 3/2018

Author    Richard Coulson, Director at Cox Architecture, www.coxarchitecture.com.au
Photos    Christopher Fredrick Jones and Cox Architecture





Cox Architecture were responsible as designer of two venues for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games: the Anna Meares Queensland State Velodrome and the Optus Aquatic Centre. Richard Coulson explains the idea on how to achieve post-Games ongoing community benefit.

Sport is a fantastic part of our lives. It is participatory, recreational, competitive and entertaining all in one. While some sports require vast amounts of territory and complex infrastructure, others can occur wherever kids decide they occur. Designing sporting venues requires careful consideration of these elements with the enduring objective to always celebrate the joy of movement and that special spectator atmosphere. Sports infrastructure however competes with the arts, culture, transport, health, research and education for funding. Like most public endeavours, there is always limited funding and the requirement to demonstrate value.

Increasing awareness of post-Games risks

The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games is no exception. The Games were secured in an environment of increasing awareness of the capacity for large international events to cripple cities and leave long trails of debt. There is significant evidence of venues from recent major events like the Olympic Games and World Cups falling into disrepair quickly after competitions conclude, either due to lack of maintenance or lack of functionality, but ultimately through lack of use.

We have recently designed two venues for the 2018 Games and a third venue, the Cairns Convention Centre designed in 2004, is also being used.

The Anna Meares Velodrome and the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre (named throughout the Games as the Optus Aquatic Centre) were both designed to deliver an unparalleled sporting atmosphere for the two weeks of the Games as well as for many years to come. They each have their own unique approach to demonstrating excellence, value and ongoing community benefit.

Cox Architecture won the competition for the Anna Meares Velodrome, situated in the Sleeman Sports Complex at Chandler, in December 2013.

Anna Meares Velodrome

The complex included an original but outdated concrete velodrome from the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Cox designed the new velodrome to align with the updated international standard cycling lengths and technologies. World-class velodromes now have timber tracks and are enclosed stadia to protect the track, allowing all-weather riding and control of additional climatic conditions including wind and light. The track itself is an amazing piece of joinery, and its craftsmanship is an inspiration for the entire building design.

We designed the stadium to feature 1,500 permanent seats based on the relatively modest requirement for spectator seating for national events, including additional space allowance for 2,500 bump-in seats along the track straights to suit the requirements of the Commonwealth Games.

The project is notable for its large saddle-form roof of over 10,000 m² in area. The large steel superstructure is clad on the walls and roof with a combination of opaque and translucent tensioned membrane fabric. The roof span north-south measures 120 m and the roof span east-west measures 110 m.

The stadium has a diverse range of facilities that provide ongoing community legacy benefit, which means that it has a genuine post-Games life. It can operate as a competition or training track, and includes a public gym and hireable function space. The infield is used for court sports like futsal and school physical education, with operable nets separating this space from the track. The concourses are used for yoga and Pilates, and the kiosk and public amenities can serve both the velodrome and adjacent BMX track.

The Anna Meares Velodrome has been described as a “game changer” for the sport in Queensland and already holds national records.

Gold Coast Aquatic Centre

While our strategy to ensure the longevity of the velodrome revolved around enclosing and preserving the track, our strategy for the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre was to bring the main pools outdoors, enhancing the usability, sustainability and general enjoyment of the outdoor venue.

The Gold Coast Aquatic Centre is a recycling and expansion of the old Southport Pool that was built in the 1960s. It occupies a spectacular site adjoining the Southport Broadwater and forms a part of Broadwater Parklands, a highly popular recreational resource on the Gold Coast. The underlying proposition of the design was to eschew the trend toward internalised pool halls and open the experience out to the parklands. This ethos generated the idea of treating the facility like an elevated ground plan into which the pools are sunk. This strategy emanated into the building components, reading like colonnade frames around the pools so that they have the identity of a series of Roman Impluviums.

Existing concrete elements which conveyed the character are retained, and a minimal palette of concrete and hardwood are employed to reinforce the character. The colonnade and impluvium concept provides three simultaneous design benefits: firstly continuous shade and weather protection around the pools both in Games and long term community use, secondly a platform for simple erection of temporary seating during the Games that facilitates pool level activation and views out to the Broadwater, and thirdly the integration of reverse seating on the Broadwater side for the globally renowned Gold Coast Marathon and Triathlon. This latter benefit was not envisaged by the brief but achieved by design value add.

The project recycles and enlarges the former main pool into a Games-standard 50-metre ten-lane competition pool. An 8-lane training pool, programme pool, diving pool, learn-to-swim pool and children’s play pool were added. The frames of built elements around the pool comprise a gymnasium, dry-dive facility, function centre and community meeting rooms, spectator concourse and 1,000 permanent spectator seats.

The impluvium concept evolved from understanding the existing facility as a part of the Gold Coast’s rich heritage of modernist architecture. That led to the idea of a landscape approach, rather than an overt architectural approach, of submerging the pools into an extended earth-bermed podium and of framing the building elements as a continuum around them. The frames and colonnades afford the unusual benefit in aquatic centres of maximising visual connection to the external public realm. The architectural vocabulary was developed to form a vertical rhythm of concrete and hardwood treatments that reinforce the innate modernist typology while simultaneously serving as sun-shading, shelter and social spaces.

Change in operations

Working with the client, we saw that adaptability was the key element of the project. The elevated concrete decks were central to executing this strategy. The challenge was to do so in a configuration that supported the requirements for a fundamental change in operations between the community venue and the event venue. The venue has an even more dramatic change of profile than the velodrome between its daily use and the Commonwealth Games event, moving between a 1,000-seat and 10,000-seat condition.

The venue operates across a range of high performance for Australia’s elite swimmers and divers and, almost water park-like, receives unbridled enthusiasm from locals. Recently, The Australian reported patronage had risen from 170,000 a year to 589,000 in 2016-2017.

Catalysing effect

Both venues have a great potential for joy, longevity and community value. South East Queensland has an interesting history, with the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games still resonating as a turning point in the city’s maturity. With the Gold Coast as one of Australia’s fastest growing cities, the imminent Games are sure to have a similar catalysing effect.

Thirty-six years on, the sports remain largely the same but the infrastructure and strategy behind the infrastructure could not be more different. It is with this reflection in mind we design versatile, functional stadia that serve multiple groups, purposes and most importantly, their local communities.