Unconventional approach could lead to better design, says EDGE architect


Every part of the stadium is built out of the ground causing the tall structure to use lots of material.

A typical stadium design approach has all the structure out of the ground with even the lowest tiers need lots of structure to span between the raker

As more decks are added the problem is exacerbated.


This tall stadium is a model imported from the west and is based upon construction practices which make sense in an urban environment. With tight horizontal space in a city, going upwards is the logical solution. This does not translate to a brand-new desert site. There is no benefit to going higher.

The GCC rarely builds stadiums in existing neighborhoods to leverage infrastructure. Since the sites are not in existing parts of cities, the infrastructure gets easily tripled when considering the separate networks of roads and power distribution  which have to go to each of the sports, residential and commercial areas separately.

This means that sustainability begins at the site selection stage. Leveraging existing assets is crucial if we want to maintain a low carbon footprint, and stadiums which integrate well into their neighborhoods become a community resource for the entire year.

Unfortunately an integrated site selection for sports construction is not likely in the GCC. Despite this we must emphasise that reusing existing facilities, which tend to be inside cities, is a far more sustainable approach, especially at the relatively small seating bowl size in this area.

Adaptive reuse of existing facilities:

We recommend a survey of existing facilities which can then lead to potential stadium redevelopment. This saves time and material, and in most cases with the proper facelift, an existing structure can fit into the most current standards.

An example of this approach was on the Bahrain National Stadium (pictured) refurbishment. This was a very fast track project, which required refurbishing a dilapidated facility from the 1970s in an incredibly short amount of time for the Gulf Cup in 2012.

Bids were solicited from several contractors to build the project using a design-build approach. This was the most logical method, since with design-build, the team works in an integrated way rather than the combative approach of traditional design and tender practices.

The contractor has incentive to proactively solve problems on site rather than using any issues as a stalling tactic for the timeline.

The condition of Bahrain National Stadium prior to refurbishment left much to be desired as the entire structure looked awful prior to the remodel

We teamed up with Cebarco Bahrain, who are the quality contractors behind the Bahrain race circuit. The work began with a point cloud survey of the current condition. This was then brought into a Revit (BIM ) model from the earliest phases.

This meant more accurate data more quickly. A traditional design and tender approach would mean huge delays compared to design-build. Our team worked hand in hand with the contractor identifying issues and addressing them with solutions.

Since we were employed by Cebarco, it meant that the amount of documentation could be considerably reduced since the contractor had qualified engineers on its team who helped us to quickly make decisions.

The end result? We finished the project in record time and had a great opening for the Gulf Cup in the stadium. The refurbished facility looks brand new even though the structure is untouched. This is a great example of a low-tech sustainable design leveraging existing assets can meet tight deadlines.

The tonnes of material and time saved made the project well worth it to the Government Organisation of Youth and Sport, who were in charge from the client side. A great turnaround time, lots of savings and a result which was not at all wasteful.

The lesson we learned is that there is great benefit to reusing existing facilities. This is fundamental sustainability.

The entire existing structure based on the point cloud allowed us to make adjustments to accommodate the uneven nature of the built steel roof.

In the converse scenario, facilities tend to be far away from existing neighborhoods, generally taking a place out in the desert along a highway bypass. While this creates problems from the infrastructure point of view, it also creates an opportunity for a far more efficient structure with less environmental impact than current methods.


Unconventional Construction Methods

This is achieved by the time-honoured tradition of building seating decks on earth berms rather than using a lot of structure to support the seats.

The model has been proven multiple times in all sizes of stadiums. The Rose Bowl for example, is mostly a bermed seating bowl.

Fans prefer this facility to its modern counterparts due to the feeling of all the fans being connected. This is despite the fact that newer facilities have far more seats which are closer to the field. The perception of a space such as the Rose Bowl creates intimacy which cannot be achieved with a tiered stadium.

The Rose Bowl creates a feeling of connectedness among its fans, despite its poor sight lines (c-values) and large capacity. Often a simpler, time-tested approach to seating is far better than the multi-deck stadiums of today. This is a great example of a sophisticated low-tech solution. It solves a complex problem simply.

This brings us to stadium construction methods in the Middle East. As discussed above, the predominant paradigm of a tall multi-tiered structure creates great waste of resources and comes at a high cost.

If we adopt an earth-bermed seating approach such as the great facilities of the past, we can reduce costs by at least 25% and use less material resources. Using this method can cut months off the stadium construction timeline. The GCC contractors have no qualms about moving millions of tonnes of sand on various projects every year. The effort required to build an earth-bermed seating deck is tiny in comparison to the many regrading works going on all around us.

Using earth-bermed seating can reduce the amount of structure drastically. Only a few parts of the stadium would need their own standalone structure.

This brings us to the idea of bio-structure. It is based on Ginger Krieg-Dossier’s bio-brick.

In bio-brick,bacteria common in wetlands are used to bind the soil into a solid. This removes the need for baking the brick, saving huge amounts of energy. Simply form the brick, add the microbial solution, and it becomes a stable brick shape.

Regarding bio structure, this is simply taking bio-brick technology further and at a larger scale. If an earth berm is constructed, using the sand for additional structure becomes simple if we inject the solution starting from the foundation and bottom of structure. This means the sand itself turns into foundations and columns with a minimum of human effort and greatly reducing the need for costly structure.

Using a macro bio-structure approach can reduce material use significantly. The parts which need to be structured use bacteria to stabilise parts of the earth berm and consolidate it into a solid structure.

To ensure the stadium maximizes fan comfort, and in order to extend the usable months of the yearly cycle, we advocate basing the design on environmental computer models. These models include items such as sun exposure, shading, and the use of Computerised Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to maximize natural ventilation.

When all the factors are considered holistically rather than solving one problem at a time, the temperature of seating decks in outdoor stadiums in the GCC can be brought down significantly. This in turn means the ability to extend the usable months from the current six months, to nine months.

As a result the extended usable time generates additional income for the stadium owner, and makes it an active part of the community.

Using CFD simulations to check air flow rates and paths, the fan comfort level can be increased without increasing the cost. This is another example of a sophisticated low-tech solution. The technology and mechanical equipment required is greatly reduced in a stadium with no moving parts, yet the result performs better than most of the existing counterparts. .


We are firm believers in sustainable design, which falls into two categories: Adaptive reuse, and novel construction methods.  We insist that better early analysis of a project, taking as many factors as needed holistically, can produce a simple yet sophisticated result.

Will our methodology ever be used? Given the right client and project, the ideas in this article are robust and this means implementation of the process is just a matter of time.

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