David Morley Architects is building a new athletics centre to be used to train British athletes to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. David Morley talks to Sutherland Lyall about the challenges of designing an indoor multi-sports facility.
David Morley Architects' new ú13.9 million Lee Valley Athletics Centre is at Picketts Lock in east London, north of the 2012 Olympics site. It is due to be completed in September of this year as a facility for local schools and clubs - and as the home of Enfield and Haringey Athletics Club. It will also be used by UK Athletics to train top athletes for the London Olympics, and those in Beijing in 2008. It will have the only 200m, six-lane indoor athletics track in the South of England with a 100m sprint track.
Funding has been provided by the DCMS Capital Modernisation fund, Sport England (via the Lottery) and the site's owner, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, which is effectively the client.
Morley's practice has substantial experience in sports building design. Its work includes the English Institute of Sport at Bath University; the National Cricket Academy at Loughborough University; and the indoor cricket centre at Edgbaston.
David Morley says, 'London is very short of indoor sports facilities. Although 40 per cent of the Great Britain team comes from London, the facilities don't reect that. So the plan here is to develop this site as a key regional centre for athletics training - but also as a focus for community sports.' Picketts Lock has long been developed with pitches, a driving range, tennis courts, a leisure centre - now mostly derelict - and a cinema. The new building is going up on the site of a former all-weather pitch adjacent to several bus stops and the leisure centre, which will be demolished incrementally. Immediately south of the building will be a full-size 400m outdoor athletics track.
SAWTOOTH The building is covered by a vast sawtooth roof, curving from the low east side, facing the landscape of a golf course, up to the west, where it appears to be supported on the inner-edge top of a long, two-storey box running north-south facing the road - and the Stansted Express railway track. The upper oor of this box is the 100m indoor track, with changing rooms and offices and other facilities in the ground level. It is an unusual arrangement, which had been done only once before in the UK, at Sutton Arena. The west side of the big roof, which stops at the edge of the runningtrack box, is actually supported on big raking columns in the form of truncated inverted pyramids at 18m centres, the whole building being based on a 7.2m (longitudinally) by 9m (laterally) grid.
The running-track block extends out beyond the main roof by two bays to the south - where it has a deep overhang to shade the all-glass end wall from the sun. The glazed north facade is the same shape but needs no shading. On the inner side of the running-track block are two long scissor ramps (rather than lifts) for athletes to get up to the 100m tracks. The crossover point of these ramps can be used as a platform for medals ceremonies.
The big oval track, with its banked curving ends, is dug into the site - obviating the need for handrails which occurs when, as is usual, the track is built up from ground level.
A lot of big vaults are based on arbitrary aesthetic choices.
The cross section of this vault is based on function: the minimum heights that different sports demand - with pole-vaulting the highest, followed by throwing sports such as javelin and hammer.
Even hurdling requires a clear height of 4.5m. By juggling these heights around it was possible to develop a good and economical curve. The organisation of this deceptively simple building has a satisfying, better-mousetrap quality about it.
CONTRACT This is, of course, an OJEU scheme, and the architect teamed up for a competitive interview with its collaborator at Bath University's English Institute of Sport. They were structural engineer Buro Happold and M&E services engineer Max Fordham, with Livingston Eyre as landscape architect. Morley says that their design approach was that 'the building envelope should do most of the work [with] little mechanical kit'. Although competing design teams had to quote a fee, quality was a more important selection criterion. The QS, EC Harris, and project manager, Drivers Jonas, were client appointments, as this was a design-and-build contract. Drivers Jonas had also managed the selection process - a sensible enough thing because it was going to have to work for several years with the chosen design team.
Morley says of the idea of project managers and the traditional architect's role: 'There is a lot of overlap. If there was a project where we were on board first I would say it [using a project manager] was down to the complexity of the job and the resources of the client. We see the project manager as sorting out the client interface and us managing the interface with the contractor and the team. The role of the project manager can introduce some additional complexity. But on this project it hasn't been a problem at all: it was a given from the outset. And Drivers Jonas can bring considerable experience in sports buildings.
'Where you have additional complexity in, for example, an evolving brief, it is much more straightforward for us to speak directly to the client and have a one-to-one interaction. If [this contact with the client] is third hand there is a danger that things have to be revisited or we find decisions are made without us being aware of them.'
Because this was a JCT major works design-build contract, the practice took the scheme to detail-scheme-design stage D and, with planning consultant GMA Planning, secured detail planning consent. Morley says, 'We did a set of drawings and Drivers Jonas did a performance spec, and we supplemented that with performance specifications for the building elements.
Then we were novated to Shepherd Construction.' Under this arrangement the architect currently goes on fortnightly site visits.
Morley says, 'This is where it becomes like a traditional contract: we are standing side by side with the main contractor pointing out quality-control issues about the subcontractors.' He agrees that there might have been some problems, 'if they had built a wall and you wanted it pulled down just when they had done most of the concrete. We have to be persuasive rather than dictatorial'.
Because most of the contract was based on a performance specification there were potential disagreements about product selection. Morley says: 'Generally, on most of the key suppliers, we didn't find it all that difficult to agree. This is the second time we have worked on a sports complex with Shepherd. I think they simply realise that it is important not to compromise on quality.
So in terms of products generally that was the case and I can't remember any contentious issues.'
STRUCTURE Morley explains, 'Buro Happold did the detail design. The key to the roof design is first integrating the environment issues with the structure, so as to reduce the visual clutter when you look up. The second point is to find a rhythm and a module which will allow in daylight at a certain frequency, so we can locate the artificial lighting to reinforce the natural light. We established that you can do that in a 9m grid, so you effectively have a series of trusses that provide the structure for the roof, with the fittings attached to the bottom of the trusses.'
Of the columns supporting the high end of the roof trusses, Morley says, 'We looked at this raking configuration so that the columns pick up the trusses and give a slightly bigger span, and because they splay outwards they are stiff and don't need cross bracing.'
The trusses have to be braced to stop them rotating, and there are struts at regular intervals between the top of an arching truss and the bottom chord of the adjoining truss. The vertical face of each truss is glazed and the slope, following the line of the inter-truss braces, is a Kalzip standing-seam roof; more accurately, section of roof. Although there are the struts between trusses, the canted roo-ng is carried on long Kingspan liner trays - there is no secondary support structure other than this. Morley says of the Kalzip roof: 'Standing-seam aluminium is very good as a natural finish, it makes for minimum maintenance and can cope well with the double curvature of each roof section, which is a slightly warped plane due to the truss getting deeper as it rises higher.'
The bespoke rooights from Duplus Domes run the entire length of each curved truss. Each end of the building is fully glazed, with the north wall serving as an extension of the function of the north lights in the trussed roof. Morley says of the team's choice: 'Technal has a system which has glass-to-glass vertical and horizontal transoms with a projection', which emphasises the horizontal emphasis desired.
The elevations, particularly on the sprint-track block, are a mixture of glass or dark-grey Gima terracotta blockwork - both of which are reasonably vandal-resistant materials. The blockwork runs as a kind of plinth around the whole building. Morley says, 'We have used it several times. The first was with one of the first cases of rainscreen cladding at Oxford. Since then terracotta rainscreen has been quite difficult to get into low-budget buildings.
But if you stack-bond terracotta blocks it looks very similar, and we used it this way at Bath.'
INSIDE The design team went for Armitage Shanks pre-plumbing. Morley says, 'There was a need for robustness. We needed quite a high specification for a building which would also be used by the public.'
Morley explains the need to keep on top of sports-product evolution. He says, 'Every year there are new products, so the final decisions about surfaces weren't made when we started off. UK Athletics hears from everyone around the world. It is important, for example, to have the right bounciness and resistance to spikes. Spike-friendly flooring here is Altro's embossed Sportflex Track. And there is also an aesthetic issue to do with colour, But performance is paramount. In fact the running track is going to be blue. Seats are red, walls are white, and this is Britain, so the tracks are blue. We have taken red, white and blue throughout the building. It seemed to have the right feel about it, and the TV people like blue tracks.'
One little specification surprise is that Trapex door fittings were specified rather than D Line. Morley says: 'Trapex is very similar to D Line, and is more competitively priced.'