The conversation around what makes a stadium sustainable suggests more than just a positive impact on the environment; it relates to usage, legacy and creating public good will.

Perhaps inevitably, however, building technology and subsequent energy usage is a natural starting point.

A benchmark in this regard is Stade Oceane in Le Havre, France, designed by KSS Design Group Ltd, Europe’s first carbon positive stadium.

The 25,000 capacity stadium was required to be exemplary in its overall energy performance both in the design and construction of the building and surrounding infrastructure to reflect the emerging energy regulations in France and wider commerciality of stadia.

Stade Oceane

Stade Oceane

The stadium bowl is acoustically sealed so noise remains contained and is wrapped in 34,000 square metres of ETFE. ETFE systems have a carbon footprint that is approximately 80 times lower than comparable transparent systems and they weigh as little as one to three per cent as much as traditional cladding systems. Combined with the system’s life expectancy and its capacity to be completely recycled, this makes ETFE one of the most sustainable building products available.

Cement with very low carbon content (half composed of fly ash, produced by thermal power plants) was used in the construction of the stadium. As a result, the carbon emissions were 22 per cent lower than that of standard concrete.

Other features which contribute to the stadium’s environmental performance include 1,500 square metres of photovoltaic panels on the roof, a system to recover rainwater for watering and for the toilets, optimized thermal insulation thanks to closed spaces, and regulation of temperature and lighting based on occupancy.

But beyond this, it is the concept of multi-use stadia which is driving the development of sustainable buildings that previously would have been single-use (i.e.: Olympics) or single-capacity (i.e.: football). These buildings are now used throughout the year, for professional athletics, major sporting events, live music performances and more.

A prime example of this is Incheon Stadium in South Korea by Populous, in collaboration with local firm Heerim Architects and Planners, where legacy and sustainability were the driving factors.

The stadium was designed to hold 60,000 people for the 17th Asian Games in 2014 and to then be reduced down to a single sided grandstand for 30,000 afterwards as a People’s Park for the city of Incheon.

Incheon Stadium in Asian Games Mode

Incheon Stadium in Asian Games mode

“Rather than consider how we could shrink a 70,000 seat stadium, we turned the idea on its head and thought let’s build a 30,000 seat stadium and add 30,000 temporary seats,” said Populous senior principal Andrew James.

This approach provided multiple advantages. It reduced the building’s permanent size by two thirds meaning there are substantial savings in operational and maintenance costs. Secondly, it meant the permanent seats could be sited in the optimal position for these sports, in this instance, in the west stand. The temporary seating for the north, south and east stands could be hired in. It also meant that with one permanent stand, the architects were able to move the field of play right up to the action on the western side.

“But the biggest advantage in the design is the freedom it provided in terms of legacy, putting it at the forefront from the outset,” said James.

The plans were always based on a community park, which after the Games, replace the eastern stand, forming a traditional stadium hill, with plazas on the north and south ends, providing atmospheric spectator viewing while a match is on, and a green space for the public to enjoy at all other times.

In addition, the roof of the temporary stand becomes the canopy roof of a new post games retail component, containing a shopping mall and car park. The shell that housed the broadcast component, pre-game function spaces and site management of the temporary event is replaced with vibrant commercial space, creating a permanent attraction for the local community.

Incheon Stadium After The Games

Incheon Stadium after the Games

“The entire design was an exercise in how a building can be planned to transform itself. We believe this has successfully opened up a new approach to adaptable stadia,” James noted.

Populous also led the concept of transformational stadium design through its work on the London 2012 Olympic Stadium and the iconic Wembley Stadium.

At the Olympic Stadium the architects embraced the temporary, exploring form, materials, structure and operational systems to bring a structured palette of elements into a cohesive design

This not only enabled the overlay of theatre and spectacle in staging the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 80,000 capacity venue, but also promoted possibilities of transformation after the Games down to a minimum 25,000 seat venue form.

Olympic Stadium in Transformation Mode

Olympic Stadium in transformation mode

The London Olympic Stadium is currently under a transformation process into a multi-use stadium for football, athletics and concerts. The re-design began in early 2012 and is due to be finished in summer 2016.

Although designed primarily for rugby, football and concerts, the new Wembley stadium is capable of hosting world-class athletics events by means of a platform adaptation. With the platform in place, the seating reduces to 67,000.

Seats that are moveable and interchangeable mean a high degree of flexibility for stadia, as is also shown in Singapore.

Even though the old National Stadium in Singapore wasn’t built to host any one single event – six to 10 major events were held annually – it was still, to Sports Singapore (formerly Singapore Sports Council), regarded as a white elephant.

The new National Stadium is a multipurpose venue capable of hosting 55,000 people during events, concerts and four sports with seating that allows different pitch sizes and configurations: athletics, football, rugby and cricket.

Singapore National Stadium in Rugby Mode

Singapore National Stadium in rugby mode

DP Architects director Teoh Hai Pin, however, admits that a trade-off in a multi-purpose arena is inevitable.

“Once you’re able to cover the huge pitch, it becomes a space which you can use for a myriad of events, even though sometimes it means a little compromise when you have a concert and the acoustic reverberations may not be fantastic,” he said.

The success of the National Stadium goes beyond the confines of the stadium itself; it is due largely to its integration into a larger, community-focused precinct known as the Sports Hub with emphasis placed on creating accessible, sport-centric spaces that the general public can use.

It includes an aquatic centre, community sport facilities like lawn bowls and a beach volleyball court, office spaces for Sport Singapore and National Sport Associations, retail space in Kallang Wave Mall and more. It includes everything you need in an Olympic park, but compacted into one-seventh its magnitude.

Singapore Sports Hub Precinct

Singapore Sports Hub precinct

“There hasn’t really been a proper platform where Singaporeans can mingle and spend some time. The idea of the hub is to bring all of these facilities into one spot, inject facilities that Singaporeans want to go to, and add a bit of a commercial quantum so that it becomes a place where Singaporeans cannot afford not to go,” said Hai Pin.

From an aesthetic perspective, it doesn’t have the same impact as say the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing but, again, Hai Pin says that this is another reason for its success. He argues that radical designs, while initially cool, risk being obtrusive and even ostentatious in the long run. Instead, the design team went with the everyday and the utilitarian in hopes that people will use it for a long time.

Technology does, of course, still play its part; 4,000 square metres of solar panels covering the dome, for example, have been arranged to tap energy from the sun, convert water to stored ice, and then release as cool air under the seats. “Bowl cooling” achieves a 60 per cent energy reduction compared to using conventional, non-renewable sources, but it is just part of the sustainability equation.

Legacy and multiplication of use is of equal importance when it comes to sustainability, which is about more than just reducing a building’s carbon footprint. It is about creating a design that’s unassuming, timeless and adaptable.