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Fit for purpose

Richard Johnston, Associate Architect, explains how one university turned a constrained site a into a spectacular sports facility

Posted by Fiona Cowan | October 11, 2016 | Estates

When Northumbria University set out to improve and revolutionise their sports facility, now known as Sport Central, they had big ideas for a state of the art sports, teaching, research and leisure facility that would also facilitate and encourage community use. They also sought the ‘holy grail’ of space rationalisation and consolidation by co-locating their departments of Sports Science and Sports Psychology within the new facility.

Northumbria’s impressive accommodation list for Sport Central included everything from a 3,000 seat international standard, multi-use arena convertible into three separate sport halls to a swimming pool, squash courts, indoor running track, high climbing wall, fitness suite and a secondary full size sport hall.

The university had big ambitions to build the facilities on a highly constrained, inner city brownfield site. But how could all of these accommodations fit on such a constrained site?

To design a sports facility, you need to start by looking at how you can actually arrange all of the different courts, suites, tracks, pools, etc. into a single building. While these are basically three dimensional volumes, their sizes are prescribed by sports’ governing bodies, national standards and the level or standard of competition, making arranging them less simple and flexible than say your typical classroom and studio configuration.

At Sport Central, where the site size was particularly constrained, it was quickly established this was a serious three dimensional puzzle, requiring a Tetris-like approach to fitting in all of the pieces just so. Just how would the menagerie of shapes, sizes and forms be cohesively contained into one effective and efficient building? The answer was found by using three dimensional modelling, developing an optimal solution which not only fit within the site’s physical footprint, but was logistically buildable during the construction phase and minimised the impact on business as usual for the university and students.

To achieve this, we used modular components, panelised façades and off site construction for key areas of the building, minimising space and fabrication time on site and reducing waste.

Inside the building, the upper sports hall was positioned above the swimming pool with a thermally and condensation controlled structural separation floor.

Squash courts with dividing walls and mobile bleacher seating also provide easily configurable, flexible spaces.

The result of all this was an award winning, highly successful state of the art facility housing national and international sporting events, and providing a home for the Newcastle Eagles basketball team. Above all, it has become a highly popular sports, health and educational facility for the University of Northumbria and its surrounding community. 

Richard Johnston is an Associate Architect at Atkins Global.  His education portfolio includes the award winning City Campus East and Sports Central at Northumbria University. Alongside his higher-education work, he enjoys pushing the boundaries of volumetric and offsite construction to deliver 21st century solutions to clients across the entire education sector.

www.atkinsarchitecture.com

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