Sports, entertainment venues need engineering athleticism


CSE: How have the characteristics of sports and entertainment venues changed in recent years, and what should engineers expect to see in the near future?

Cooper: Community/campus partnerships have expanded the possibilities and the required flexibility of these spaces. Combining what would have been multiple specific-use buildings into a single facility that is used more days and more hours of the year, but for more purposes, should be a better use of capital resources, and we don’t see that trend changing in the future.

Lewis: Sports and entertainment venues seem to be in a perpetual arms race. To that end, each venue is looking for the big “wow” factor that can excite a fan base. The architects lead the charge through unique designs, which always raise the bar for unique engineering solutions that don’t hinder the architecture. The biggest trend we see right now is opening up various buildings to the exterior and bringing the outside elements in. This is done through large club and lounge levels with both inside and outside elements. While creating great spectator spaces, this creates issues for maintaining HVAC performance and meeting demanding energy codes.

McKinlay: I believe the current trends today are designing sports venues that are more flexible in use to host multiple events, not only the sports games of the home teams. These events can include concerts, NFL and Major League Soccer (MLS), conventions, monster trucks—you name it. In addition, there is a trend to locate stadiums in urban cores where there is greater access to mass transit as well as urban renewal opportunities by increasing demand for new hotels, retail, and restaurants. Thinking of a sports venue as an integral part of a city’s fabric encourages developers and designers to consider the venue itself in more flexible terms—what happens in 30 years when the sports team moves or what happens on the other 200 or 300 days a year when there are no sports events? I also think there is a welcome trend to make sports venues more environmentally responsible, not only in terms of energy efficiency, but also in the high-demand operations during event days. This is a huge opportunity when you think about how much water is used in a sports venue, but also the waste from food concessions or the impact of getting people to and from the stadium. We recently developed a plan for a sports venue to be carbon neutral in emissions generated by visitor car trips on game day. This was interesting because it’s difficult to implement solutions, like renewable energy generation technologies, in a stadium, so it forced us to identify opportunities that could provide a larger benefit to the community at scales from the neighborhood up to the state level.

Larwood: Sports venues are continuing to evolve to be more entertainment-oriented, and entertainment venues are broader in their entertainment-ability. We are seeing sports venues built to be highly flexible, taking on everything from concerts to rodeos to exhibits. Both sports and entertainment venues often will have a broadcast component built in. TV broadcast for sports, and also radio, was incorporated into the LA Live facilities. We are even seeing this in college performing arts theaters as well.

Evans: These venues are increasing in size to accommodate larger occupant loads. Smoke management systems are being incorporated into the facilities to allow these larger occupant loads and limit aisle width increases (smoke protected assembly seating). Over the past 10 to 15 years, theaters on the Las Vegas Strip have been constructed to allow the performance to surround the audience. Although this provides a more intimate experience, it makes it difficult to incorporate the level of protection provided by a proscenium. This inevitably requires using the alternate methods and materials provisions of the International Building Code to develop a performance-based fire protection approach to provide equivalency.

CSE: How does a sports or entertainment venue differ from any other large building?

McKinlay: The main difference is that in a sports venue there is typically one large volume of space holding a huge amount of people that need to be comfortable at the same time. In addition, the buildings are quite complex from a technology standpoint, and the acoustics need to be perfect to maximize the experience of the spectators and the TV viewing audience at home. This puts a significant demand on the building systems, which need to be designed to be robust to handle the large fluctuation of loads and at the same time be flexible for multiple uses of the facility. And, of course, the sheer size of the occupancy of these facilities—typically between 30,000 and 80,000 at a time—means so many design decisions are influenced by how they move through the site and building, the length of time they will spend there, and how they arrive and depart. It quickly becomes a question of urban planning.

Larwood: The biggest difference is in their occupancy—high-density and shorter duration. Other large buildings—whether a commercial office building, school, or convention center—tend to retain their occupants for longer periods. For the guests of sports and entertainment venues, their visit is a very special occasion, one that allows them to feel good about spending more money. Based on that special use, the excitement and entertainment is expected the minute the guests walk through the front doors; the path to their seat is charged with visual stimulation—the art, the lighting, the video screens, the signage, and the views—that’s how it becomes so special, and few other large buildings provide that experience in the same way.

Evans: These venues accommodate large occupant loads that require designers to ensure a safe environment. Since large open areas do not provide fire-resistive separations, other means of protection are necessary. Automatic sprinklers are invariably installed, but in high-bay spaces there is little assurance they will perform as intended. Mechanical smoke management systems are common but have their own design constraints and limitations that must be well understood. A well-designed egress system is a must.

Lewis: Sports and entertainment venues are unique to other projects because of the number of different project types you have under one roof. You can have a bowl with 15,000 people, to a private suite with 20 people. You have full-blown restaurants, multiple bars, retail areas, offices, ticketing areas, small and large restrooms, and hydrotherapy areas with lap pools, saunas, and hot tubs, or a doctor’s office with X-ray machines. Having this many different spaces under a single roof really reiterates how important initial planning is when developing your systems and taking into account how each space will be used by the end user.

Cooper: The usage schedule for these buildings can differ significantly from other large buildings, and the usage may also vary from day to day. Because of the large numbers, density, and/or activity level of people in a space, people-generated latent load can be a major design factor. Spaces also tend to have multiple uses that must be accommodated by the buildings’ systems.

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