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Manchester's lap of honour

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Following the success of the Commonwealth Games, Manchester hosted an international conference on international sporting events and the buildings in which they take place. Paul Finch and Zoë Blackler report

How about this as a call to arms on the part of public clients everywhere: 'Positive discrimination in favour of quality outcomes.' The speaker was the chief executive of Manchester City Council, Howard Bernstein. He was speaking at the 'Bid to Benefit' conference, held last week in the afterglow of the city's Commonwealth Games triumph and staged in its new five-star Lowry Hotel.

The conference's catalyst was Peter Budd, head of the Arup office in Manchester. It included a strand organised by the RIBA, 'Sport by Design', giving delegates the chance to choose between sessions as diverse as the importance of public relations to Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics and the benefits or otherwise of closing roofs for modern stadia. Doug Chadwick, RIBA regional president, kicked off the day with the observation that the city had 'steered a perilous furrow' in basing its entire Eastside regeneration strategy on building a stadium and winning the Games - but it had worked.

Listening to Bernstein, you could see why.He argued that the council had moved away from municipalism to an enabling function, building strong partnerships to achieve clearly defined ends. He wanted positive planning in a world-class public realm and the quality discrimination mentioned above. (An example of this attitude was the decision by Manchester University and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology to merge, creating an institution on a par with London University, Oxford and Cambridge. ) Bernstein estimated that of the £600 million of public money invested in the city by the programmes surrounding the Games, the ratio levered from the private sector was 1:2.7 - a massive input.

The Games, he said, had generated 6,100 jobs, 3,000 of which will continue, and worldwide exposure could increase visitor levels by 300,000 a year. The task was now to 'secure the legacy'.

James Burland, ex-Arup Associates and the key designer of the Commonwealth stadium (AJ 16.5.02), described it as 'a very long haul'. In winning major events, he argued, much of the initial architectural work relates to the bid, not necessarily the final outcome. The City of Manchester Stadium had its origins in an Olympic bid, then an attempt to build the national stadium. Now, with the Games finished, it will be redeveloped as a home for Manchester City FC. All this had allowed 'time for refinement', said Burland. The deal with Manchester City provided a key moment in fixing the design - for example, the separation of the roof structure from the rest of the enclosure.

Burland spoke further of the 'intensity line' or 'emotional axis' that informs the success of many stadia. This, he said, brings the possibility of regenerating cities around events that take place in venues incorporating maximum portability - temporary light-weight seating, for instance, or stands in which giant cranes form the columns, moving on after the circus leaves town, as it were.

After a valiant attempt to defend the idea of a stadium at Picketts Lock, Burland showed examples of the ideas his practice has been working on, from Accra to Richmond to Stratford. 'Don't waste resources over-designing for the temporary, ' he urged, warning those gathered not to imagine they could successfully transport stadium design ideas to any old location.

In the first of several parallel sessions, Richard Breslin, associate principal at HOK Sport+Venue+Event, drew on his experience with Sydney's Stadium Australia, built for the 2000 Olympic Games. The design team had to meet the 'onerous' requirements of the games, as well as considering the lifetime needs of the building. The plans had to fit within a broader vision for Sydney, 'a mechanism to improve the lives and the environment of people living in the city'.

In the short term, the venue had to accommodate a huge turnover of sporting events over a short space of time and up to 110,000 spectators. It also had to provide a large number of warm-up areas, technical and press areas, entertainment areas for spectators to help ease pressure on ingress and egress, and transportation to and from the site.Many of these facilities were designed to be temporary and the two end stands are currently being removed to reduce capacity from 110,00 to 80,000.

On the decision not to install a retractable roof, Breslin said, it was not just the cost of construction that made it financially unviable but the immense and continuing cost of maintaining the structure and the associated air conditioning systems (see Astragal).

The difficulty of converting the stadium for post-Olympics use has not been helped by its position so far from the centre of Sydney and the heavy reliance on private transport to reach the site.

More generally, Breslin described how changes in technology are affecting spectators. At HOK's new racecourse at Great Leighs in Essex, the client has rejected a huge grandstand, specifying instead a large media complex and facilities for punters to view and bet over the internet.

Dr Larissa Davies of Sheffield Hallam University expanded the theme of regeneration through sporting events, concluding that Sheffield's investment in sporting infrastructure for the 1991 World Student Games had brought significant economic benefits.

Sports-related events now accounted for 4.1 per cent of the city's GDP, compared with 1.6 per cent UK-wide, she said.

Roger Kallman from SOM and Tim Spencer of transport consultancy Steer Davies & Gleave gave concise accounts of the place and organisation of stadia in the contemporary city, their examples ranging across history and geography, including some wonderful images of mainly Roman designs. The importance of centrality, proper transport arrangements, whether public or private, and rapid crowd dispersal were emphasised.

Stadium design is about resolving conflict and complexity. J Parrish of Arup Sport gave an insight into the potential of CAD design, covering everything from sight lines to the appropriate geometries.

As key designer of Stadium Australia and Cardiff 's Millennium Stadium (in his days at Lobb and HOK Lobb), he should know.

It was good to hear from Alastair Mackintosh of Manchester City and Dipesh Patel of Arup Associates (the project architect who brought the City of Manchester Stadium in on time and in budget) about what lies in store for the stadium. It will be ready for the start of the 2003/04 season with capacity increased by 10,000 to 48,000. The more detail you heard about the project, the more impressive it became. What an idea: actually planning something properly and then getting it done.

For contractor Laing, which suffered financial nightmares at Cardiff, there must be some satisfaction that Manchester went well and it made some profit. There are no plans to build a roof on the stadium - Howard Bernstein said it would have cost an additional £40 million.

But who, especially in Manchester, is afraid of a bit of rain?

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