'Atmosphere is absolutely critical' - Orlando City provides A-League stadium blueprint

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The MLS outfit's new stadium opened to much fanfare over the weekend and the designers behind the venue are set to make their mark on the A-League


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A-League fans have received a glimpse into the competition's future, with a new stadium in the United States providing a hint of what proposed venues in Australia could look like.

On Sunday, Orlando City christened their new home with a reported sell-out crowd turning up to see the home side overcome New York City 1-0 in their 2017 MLS opener.

 

Orlando City Stadium was designed by Populous - the same architecture firm behind the new Western Sydney Stadium and commissioned by Geelong's A-League expansion group Victoria Patriots to put together a site analysis report for a possible new stadium.

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Populous' work at Orlando City Stadium will have had many Australian fans salivating as the 25,500-capacity venue has a safe-standing area catering for 3,000 fans behind one goal.

A safe-standing area is reportedly being considered for the Western Sydney Stadium, which will be the future home of the Wanderers.

 

With another A-League aspirant - Southern Expansion - also announcing an intention to build a football-specific stadium this week, Goal spoke to Populous designer Richard Breslin regarding the latest trends in sports venue design.

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When asked to highlight the key element to stadium design, Breslin's answer is disarmingly obvious but something that will appeal to the majority of A-League fans.

"Atmosphere is absolutely critical," he tells Goal.

"What we work very, very hard doing now and what we've always spent a lot of time looking at is how do you get that intensity of experience when you're actually there.

"What you really want is a continuous [seating] bowl. You want the seating bowl to wrap all the way around, you want to try and capture the atmosphere, the noise, the activity of the crowd.

"As soon as you start having gaps or breaks in the seating bowl, that's when the atmosphere escapes.

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"The other thing that we try to do is proximity to the field of play. People want to be as close as they can possibly be to the field of play.

"So we spend a huge amount of time when it comes to working on the geometry - what we call the cross-section - of the seating bowl to understand how we can get people as close as possible, with the best-possible sightlines."

While Populous has already made its mark on Australian sport - they designed Melbourne's Etihad Stadium, Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and ANZ Stadium in Sydney - their portfolio of smaller rectangular venues is more applicable to the future of the A-League.

Taking that into account, Breslin points to MLS again and Sporting Kansas City's Children's Mercy Park plus Forsyth Barr Stadium in New Zealand as examples of very successful smaller stadia.

Children's Mercy Stadium Sporting Kansas City MLS

Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, USA

Children's Mercy Park has a capacity of under 19,000 for MLS games, while Dunedin's Forsyth Barr can expand and contract from 20,000 to 30,000.

"One thing we did do at Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin was we built the shell and the fixed roof based on it being for 30,000 seats but then on the two short ends we built a concrete pad there and the venue managers, they owned 10,000 temporary seats," Breslin explains.

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"So we built 20,000 permanent seats and when they need to they can come in… and install the temporary seats in those ends."

While the prices for these venues might make your eyes water - the cheaper Forsyth Barr Stadium still cost over $170million - Populous attempts to reduce costs by keeping all administration areas, change rooms and corporate boxes in one stand.

Forsyth Barr Stadium

Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand

"You're keeping all of your internal space - all of your air-conditioned and treated space, the space that you need lifts to get access to - you keep that all on one side," says Breslin.

"Just concentrate all your facilities."

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But for those fans hoping for a silver bullet that will see more A-League clubs build their own stadiums, Breslin has some bad news.

When asked why there aren't more new venues being commissioned and built, Breslin answers: "It's fairly straightforward. It comes down to the money - both the money to actually build it but then also the money to maintain these buildings as well."

Orlando City v New York City MLS 05032017

Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, USA

Breslin adds that Populous are also focused on designing stadiums that can be used every day of the week as no-one is interested in 'white elephants' perched in outer suburbs.

Populous spend a lot of time consulting with clients to ensure public transport access, while also working to incorporate local businesses and flexible areas so stadiums can host other events.

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"For a 30,000-seat stadium, we might spend a month going through a briefing process," Breslin explains.

"[Plus] a couple of months doing concepts; couple of months doing systematics - building up on those concepts; then develop some designs for four months, maybe five months; and then you start doing work with your tender documents for another three or four months.

"Then to build a 30,000-seat stadium, you're probably looking at anywhere between two and two-and-a-half years."

Western Sydney Stadium is set to be completed by 2019.

 

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