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Serving up an ace

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Building Design Partnership's Millennium Building for the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon is set for its second tournament. How has it fared?

Pete Sampras has something to thank Building Design Partnership for. The top seed was level at 4-4 in the first set of the men's final at the Wimbledon Championships last year, having a tough time against the popular Australian Pat Rafter, when rain forced them off Centre Court.

The American trudged off in search of somewhere to get his head together and, thanks to BDP, was able to walk from Centre Court, through one of two new links for the players to the architect's brand-new Millennium Building and on to a 'Zen Garden' the designers had created inside, alongside a series of rooms for physios, trainers, dope testers and doctors. The rain passed, and Sampras, refreshed after his spell in the garden, went on to win his fourth consecutive championship and his seventh overall.

In truth, of course, Sampras would probably have won with or without BDP's Zen Garden. But the firm's entire architectural solution for the new building on the site of the quaint old Number One Court - this highly complex, symbolic and multi-layered scheme designed as a low-key, 'open air', pavilion-like collection of spaces rather than a building - has won over plenty of other key users.

The Daily Telegraph's tennis correspondent, John Parsons, has been to a staggering 41 tournaments in SW19. He has witnessed at first hand the changes that have taken place at the Wimbledon estate over the years and has watched BDP's work on bringing order to the environs since the multi-disciplinary firm completed a masterplan for the All England Lawn Tennis Club's long-term development strategy in 1992.

He has also been closely involved on behalf of the Tennis Writers' Association, which was consulted widely about the requirements of the press alongside similarly thorough and laudable surveys from the club into the needs of, in the first place, players, then members, officials and ball boys and girls.

'The general feeling is that everyone is delighted at how well it has worked, ' says Parsons. 'The convenience of everything is the big difference. I think we'd give them nine-and-a-half marks out of 10.'

Parsons' chief haunt, the logically thought-out press facilities for the evergrowing number of journalists converging on Wimbledon for a fortnight every year, is entered from the north-west corner.

The architects created a bank of 400 press desks to cater for the 1,000 accredited members of the written press corps. Each is newly fitted out this year with desk-top monitors to keep track of courtside action, and Parsons was closely involved this year in specifying the new Knoll desks. That the old ones were unsatisfactory was one of his few criticisms of the new facilities (the other is that journalists are slightly further from their Centre Court seats). Last year the club simply brought over the rickety old desks from the former press facilities, which had themselves been shoe-horned into the Centre Court's underbelly.

The press also now gets an interview room for press conferences - 'it's like a small cinema' - while Sue Barker does her stuff to camera in an adjoining BBC studio.

BDP director and architect Tony McGuirk adds that there is also, importantly, an outside mixing and smoking area for journalists, an open courtyard to bring down light into the lower areas. And, mercifully, the club has also chosen to extend what was an originally inadequate bar facility alongside a press 'lido' area that gets the evening sun after the copy has safely been filed. 'Can you imagine having a very small bar for journalists?' asks Parsons with a grin.

Now in its second year, the building's main strength is clearly in the ordering of its spaces, geared around the traditional, very English hierarchy of the All England Club - and with players at the top of that tree.

The quiet, unobtrusive but practical scheme is E-shaped in plan, with the back spine of that 'E' rising up Somerset Road and incorporating three discrete main entrances for different user groups as it steps up the 9m level change. It appears as two storeys above ground at the northern end, 'unfolding' and becoming more 'extrovert' towards the southern end, where the building is four storeys above ground. Plant in the 20,000m building is tucked away underground. The number of level changes, bridges and discrete territories - the building boasts an astonishing 440 rooms - could have been as confusing as an Escher drawing, but signposting is broadly adequate and, as Parsons says: 'It's a maze until you've done it once.'

The entrance for members is at the southern end near the No 2 Court, with a slightly underwhelming internal staircase lined with photostatted images of champions (automatic club members) from years gone by.

Members can walk out onto two main dining areas on two levels on the southern finger of the 'E', with a 'garden' level and a terrace level above that. The feeling is very much of 'inside outside' spaces, using screens, aromatic cedar wood - an echo of BDP's Sunderland University campus - grass and glass. And the architects consider themselves fortunate to have been able to design a 'Mediterranean-like', nigh-temporary looking building, primed almost exclusively for enjoying mid-summer. Members can use some facilities year-round.

Nevertheless, despite the acclaim, members were initially upset at being led away from their leafy, English garden-like traditional enclosure, complete with a pergola, near the southern outside courts and a stone's throw from Centre Court.

'The members loved their enclosure and were very devoted to it', says McGuirk. But now they like the lofty aspect and views south from the new building. The garden in their new home also has dedicated access via a bridge to the upper levels of the Centre Court clubhouse.

Players, though, form the top of the tree as far as the club's brief was concerned. They enter from the mid-level, further up the road from the members' entry point. From their people-mover drop-off space, they move inside to the air-conditioned lobby (players from other, hotter countries expect this), which BDP has attempted to design as little like a hotel as is possible.Distinctly hotel-like facilities such as a hairdressers, travel office and reception are on hand, however.

The architects chose to keep the players' extensive changing rooms next to the Centre Court, spread over three levels, with the top seeds on top. And Sampras, Henman, Kournikova et al can get to them straight past another turfed garden (that tennis-in-acountry-garden atmosphere again) and via a bridge over the new public axis, St Mary's Walk, below.Or, as Sampras did, they can use the subterranean route past a special gymnasium, medical centre and that Zen Garden.

It is worth talking here about St Mary's Walk as another key exterior design component of the building. McGuirk and colleague Chris Harding came up with the new public link from north to south as a way of cutting what was becoming a heavily congested area to the east of the estate - the new circulation route running from BDP's new Number 1 Court in the north, past its broadcast building and landscaping, then Centre Court and on to the outside courts to the south. The new axis is named after a Wimbledon church, the spire of which is visible to the south, and it allows for quick people movement while adding to the informal atmosphere of the tournament - fans can glimpse players scuttling to their changing rooms and officials to their posts over the bridges of the Millennium Building.

The route will also pass down towards the next phase of development, to be masterminded by BDP and again to be designed by the firm within its long-term masterplan. The current, inadequate No 2 Court next to the Millennium Building will be redesigned and resited at the southern tip of the estate and work, including new toilet facilities, should start as soon as play is over this year.

But the players get what is the prestige element of the entire Millennium Building.

They get the top 'lido', 36m up, again with the 'floating' roof, again designed to be as much of an 'outside' and summery space as possible, with fantastic views over their playing colleagues on No 2 Court and beyond. A 'leaning height' handrail at 1,300mm on the balustrade enables seated competitors to see out and is ideal for those overly relaxed competitors who want to put their feet up and watch. On the inward-looking equivalent balustrade, on the other side of the 'finger', the architects fought to retain clear glass against the wishes of the members, who did not want to be looked down upon. They said they would frit the glass if it proved unworkable after last year's trial, but it is still clear today - a lesson in how the different user groups have got along in a new, more informal setting.

Elsewhere, BDP has included facilities for officials and ball boys and girls, such as the ball store, designed with the twee-sounding notion of creating something akin to a cabin in a country village from which children buy ice cream. Materials throughout the Millennium Building include subdued Iroko wood, which has fetchingly turned silver in places in the sun, glass, fabric awnings and a timber soffit to the soaring curved roof of colour-coated green standing seam aluminium, to relate to Centre Court and the new No 1 Court.

Throughout, 'Hollybush Green' paint was chosen as a slightly more uplifting, 'youthful' and 'vibrant' variant to the older, more khaki colour used on the render in most of the rest of the estate.

The Millennium Building has already clinched a Quality in Construction Award from AJ's sister magazine, Construction News, and is now established as the new nerve centre of the championships. But in designing what the architects claim is almost a 'nonbuilding' ('We tried to de-build it, ' says McGuirk), and one that serves as an efficient backdrop to the important events taking place on court, they have also managed to create one third more public open space.

Simultaneously, BDP has gone some way to dealing with congestion in the ground, and added 725 seats to Centre Court.

In short, it works. And, in two Sundays' time, that Zen Garden might inspire a new champion to join the members' hall of fame.

Cost summary Costs expressed as a percentage of total

Demolitions/temporary works/works to existing structures 1.70 Sheet piling 0.10 Piling and pile testing 2.61 Substructures/superstructure concrete 20.01 Sprayed concrete 0.07 Precast terrace units 0.11 Roof steelwork and fire escape staircase 1.86 Non-structural metalwork 0.32 Balustrading 1.19 Metal roof covering 1.21 External roof canopies 0.67 Fold arm blinds 0.08 Asphalt tanking 1.46 Blockwork 5.07 GRP panelling 0.03 External joinery 2.69 Metal louvres 0.11 Centre Court windows 0.50 Patent glazing 0.09 External roller shutters 0.02 General 'wet areas' fit out 4.51 Metal stud partitions 0.45 Fabritrack wall linings 0.01 Fire protection/stopping 0.73 Internal joinery 2.14 In situ finishes 1.26 Floor and wall tiling 0.93 Kitchen wall finishes 0.14 Screeding 0.80 Timber strip flooring 0.16 Soft floor coverings 0.88 Raised access floors 0.16 Suspended ceilings 1.01 TImber ceilings 2.13 Decorations 0.74 Floor sealants 0.02 External fresco 0.06 Specialist joinery 0.89 Specialist joinery: catering 1.35 Statutory signage 0.01 Centre court seating 0.04 M&E services 16.95 Lightning protection 0.01 Lift installations 0.90 Plumbing installations 2.71 Vacuum drainage 0.26 BMS/Controls 2.28 Statutory connections 0.09 Sundry BWIC 0.30 Metal boundary fencing 0.10 Hard landscaping 1.03 Tarmac surfacing 0.09 Soft landscaping 0.08 Public address 0.68 Structured wiring 0.74 RF distribution 0.64 Security systems 0.16 Preliminaries, insurances and management fee 14.67 Total 100.00

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