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Architect's account

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building study

lobb Sports Architecture's Reebok Stadium, the new home of Bolton Wanderers, points the way to the stadium of the future, housing leisure as well as sports facilities and signalling the regeneration of both the club and the town


lobb Sports Architecture

On 1 September 1997 the 25,000-seat Reebok Stadium, a new home for Bolton Wanderers Football Club, hosted its first football match. The club had wanted to move from its 102-year-old home at Burden Park for some years. It wanted a new football stadium which could offer superior viewing, comfort and safety standards to all spectators, and make an architectural statement to help give the club the profile and identity it desired. The stadium also had to accommodate restaurants, shops, conference facilities, exhibition spaces, a nursery and medical facilities.

The local authority supported the project and wanted an indoor community sports facility and exhibition hall to form part of it. A key factor in this support was the promise of 3000 permanent new jobs to be created by the surrounding development at Middlebrook Park, in addition to the temporary employment during stadium construction.

lobb Sports Architecture became involved in the project in 1994 when it entered into discussions with the local council to identify an appropriate site. The 208ha site is near Horwich, on the outskirts of Bolton, close to junction 6 of the M61 motorway, providing good road links to Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds via the M62, Preston and the North from the M6. 'Grey field' land and a former refuse site, it was largely owned by the club and the council with some areas in private ownership. The stadium occupies the most prominent location, as the flagship building on this new leisure and retail park.

The design of the stadium represents an advance on lobb's award-winning stadium at Huddersfield (aj 27.10.94), with the lower tier being designed as a complete continuous bowl. All seats are under cover and within 90m of the centre of the field and provide a clear view of the whole pitch. The extensive site enabled the stadium to have its own ground-level 25m- wide surrounding pedestrian concourse which provides a circulation route between the various entrances, can accommodate external concessions and pre-match entertainment, and acts as a clearly defined 'place of safety' in case of emergency.

In response to the client's ambitions for a landmark structure, lobb developed a building form which focuses visually on a dramatic roof oversailing a simple oval bowl. The bowl has an oval plan form, providing constantly changing perspectives from any viewpoint. The roof was conceived as four leaning, tapering tubular towers supporting the pitch floodlighting and the main roof trusses which spanned the full length of each side. The trusses are curved at top and bottom to reflect the true viewing nature of the bowl and the natural integrity of the structural elements. The composition achieves a floating scalloped canopy over the bowl, each element fitting neatly to the other and the whole reading as a unified form.

The West Stand contains public areas, including the main concourse, on level 1; level 2 is a service and administration floor containing offices for the club and stadium management, a boardroom and changing and warm- up facilities for players; level 3 accommodates a second concourse, private boxes and a 450-seat banqueting suite; level 4 is another public concourse with access to the upper viewing tier; level 5 contains plant and engineering services.

The East Stand houses most of the community facilities: levels 1 and 2 accommodate a 20,000m2 double-height exhibition space with a clear 8m- high ceiling and a sprung floor for sports activities; level 3 accommodates a concourse; level 5 has plant and engineering services.

The North Stand is the 'home' end for Bolton Wanderers' supporters and backs on to a 5000-space car park. Level 1 accommodates the public concourse and will later house retail areas and possibly a creche, while food and beverage areas are planned for level 2; level 3 contains a concourse and executive private box holder facilities.

The South Stand is the 'visitors' end of the ground and backs on to its own car park. Internal circulation is similar to that of the north stand and can be subdivided to allow for varying numbers of visiting fans. Escape time for all stands in a case of emergency is calculated at below eight minutes from any seat to 'a place of safety', which is the wide public concourse.

General spectator access is through turnstiles set in the perimeter wall. Stand corners each contain two banks of turnstiles and exit gates, one set serving the lower, and one the upper tier. Separate vip access is available to both the West and East Stands' executive areas at level 3 which can be used on a daily basis for meetings and entertainment.

The Reebok Stadium has probably the best circulation of any football stadium in the country: excellent vertical circulation, uninterrupted service circulation on the lowest levels and access available all around at upper concourse level. For the stadium operators this makes management much easier because they have access to all levels at all times without having to leave the building. Another unique feature is the twin player tunnels, allowing both teams to enter the pitch at the same time.

The Reebok Stadium has been quickly adopted by Bolton's supporters as their spiritual home. Many have suggested that it would never have been built if it was not for the precedent Huddersfield set in the development of its new stadium, winner of the riba Building of the Year Award in 1995, but to see this new building in the shadow of Huddersfield would be wrong. Huddersfield was designed for a smaller club with fewer financial resources, and was intended to be built in four separate phases. The Reebok is a more extensive development, bigger and more integrated in concept, built in one phase and providing the extensive facilities required for a modern premier-league club.

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