Stadium design in a post-pandemic world


How is stadium design influenced by the considerations of a post-pandemic world?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in massive disruption to live entertainment and sports venues around the world – and while optimism about resumption of economic activity, social functions and major events grows as vaccine adoption gains momentum, the long-term are Impact of the pandemic in stages is uncertain.

However, given the likely continuing need for flexible spaces that can meet rapidly changing needs in terms of social distancing and sanitation, it is clear that we need to start rethinking stadium design for a post-pandemic world.

Together we need a thorough understanding of the longer term changes in stadium standards and spectator management and how the relevant changes can be incorporated into the design of upgrades or new facilities.

Minimization of disruptions

The experience of attending live sports and entertainment events over the past few months has been a drastically different experience for viewers. Some events, such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, took place without spectators; while others, like NFL games and Premier League soccer games, relied on “can-noise” sound effects from the crowd.

Some events were even characterized by an eerie silence, broken by the cursing of the players and coaches. It goes without saying that none of these approaches correspond to the spirit of the action or can replace reality, neither for participants nor for distant viewers.

In addition, the UK Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) issued new guidelines in September 2020. Sports Field Social Distancing Planning is a complement to the Sports Field Safety Guide known as the Green Guide. Along with SGSA’s new guidelines, Sport with Spectators: COVID-19 Regulatory Controls, these documents will help venues get viewers back to live sporting events while complying with social distancing requirements.

The UK guidelines above set out two methods of calculating social distancing. However, recently we have seen in Australia, New Zealand and several other countries that viewing capacity is not limited only by the number of safe seats while being socially distant. The capacities in the hall and the mass flow at entry and exit points must also be taken into account.

Interestingly, and perhaps most importantly, the decade-old practice of creating facilities that can be subdivided to create “bubbles” of viewers to keep rival fans apart has new application in a post-pandemic world. The same considerations can now be used to provide public health protections between different audiences regardless of team membership.

In order to implement these subdivided areas, the most important elements are required:

  • having discrete controlled access points for each section from outside the stadium,
  • Vertical traffic, including stairs and elevators, according to the capacity of each section,
  • to have practicable exits in two directions from the grandstands and all waiting areas,
  • Have compliant and accessible toilets, sanitary and sanitary facilities appropriate for the crowd in each section,
  • and to have suitable food and drinks available from the stands.

The long-term effects

The pandemic will have a lasting impact on the stadium experience, and there are important lessons learned over the past few months that will shape our approach to stadium design and construction. We expect there will be a shift towards smaller venues with more luxurious, better-connected viewing facilities.

This includes both physical design elements and new technology – for example, using timed ticketing to cope with crowds at entry points, or implementing disinfection arches as seen at some venues in Asia. Health screening, hand washing, and PPE may also need to be done sporadically at entry points during an outbreak.

Inside, the greatest challenge is to make the circulation process as safe and contactless as possible. Currently, very few vomit are wide enough to allow socially distant oncoming traffic to the seats, so we need to determine how temporary one-way systems or possibly traffic lights can be implemented.

Future designs will likely also offer more variety in seating styles for spectators, such as box (theater) boxes. This will help offset the increased footprint per person, which has increased from 0.25m2 per person to around 0.8m2 to accommodate social distancing.

An added pressure on the safe management of closed warehouses is that there should be no queues in the toilets during an outbreak. To cope with this it will be necessary to increase the number of toilet facilities to reduce the rush.

A more general move towards universal instead of gender-specific toilets and changing facilities could help, but acceptance in individual countries will vary depending on the respective cultural considerations.

Other long-term responses to the pandemic include maximizing the use of contactless technology throughout; and facilitating temporary evacuation of warehouses to aid in capacity management by providing demountable or movable goods, food and beverage facilities.

As with all aspects of design and construction, it is important to evaluate efficiency. For example, it might make sense to consider bacteria-resistant materials for future stadium design. However, stadiums are often easier to clean than other types of buildings due to their robust construction, which consists mainly of steel, concrete and plastic.

The use of innovative bacteria-resistant materials would make stadium construction dramatically more expensive, so there is no direct cost advantage. By intelligently assessing possible responses to the pandemic, we can create stadiums that truly meet the demands of our new normal.

Michael Hegarty is the CEO of dwp

Pictures: Blundstone Arena, Hobart / Supplied.

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