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Sports Architecture By Rod Sheard. Spon Press, 2000. 256pp. £45

I have never met Rod Sheard, but as I read his book Sports Architecture I kept seeing the face of Sir Alex Ferguson. Here is a man who has achieved more than most in his chosen field, and retains a youthful exuberance and an overwhelming desire to win and go on winning.

I began the book expecting to discover examples of superlative arenas worldwide, with technical solutions to the many problems sports architects face each day - how you get the grass to grow when the roof reaches out to keep spectators dry and warm; standardised stadia; moving pitches; multipurpose arenas, and so on.

Sheard's book does illustrate dramatic schemes in the UK, Australia and the Far East, but they are all by HOK/Lobb. He touches upon most technical problems and - Ferguson-like - explains that they are all solvable as long as HOK/Lobb's computers get to work.

The book starts with a fascinating and beautifully written introduction by Simon Inglis, after which Sheard explains why he took the very brave decision to concentrate his professional career on sports architecture alone. A detailed analysis then takes us through the requirements of client, spectator and participant, explaining how HOK/Lobb solves each complicated equation.

About halfway through you sense the turnstiles opening and the crowd flooding through to enjoy the main event - case studies of the best stadia Sheard and his team have completed, from the first 'banana'truss at Huddersfield to the wonderfully successful Stadium Australia, applauded by most of the world watching the recent Olympic Games.

You have to be impressed by Sheard's achievements (I keep saying Sheard because he does not mention anyone else), but I kept thinking I would be more impressed if he gave us his thoughts on, say, Bob Fuller's clever solution at Old Trafford, or on Fred Tulip's Stadium of Light in Sunderland - in my view the most cost-effective, atmospheric and infinitely enlargeable stadium yet built in the Premiership.

I kept wondering where HOK's American stadia were and what we can learn from them. What about the Germans and the Dutch, particularly Arnhem, the first stadium in the world with a retractable pitch, proving to be a revolution in arena design which at long last offers the chance of a truly all-purpose venue? What about clients and clubs with little or no money, those who see Stadium Australia and Wembley as no more than an interesting irrelevance to their particular ambition?

In the final chapter, Sheard shares with us his dream for the future - the fourth generation, in which jet travel and Internet technology will whisk the HOK/Lobb team anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. The book is a wonderful office brochure, a testament to a man who appears to believe wholeheartedly in everything he has done and intends to do long into the future.

Which makes me think of Sir Alex again, with the irritating but inevitable conclusion that if you go to a Manchester United megastore there is not much point in asking for a Coventry City scarf.

Geoff Mann is a senior partner with RHWL

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