Movers & Shakers

Rod Sheard & Chris Lee

Global design practice Populous has created some of world’s best-known sports and entertainment buildings. Founder Rod Sheard and rising star Chris Lee talk about the changing face of stadia design


Read on turning pages | Download PDF | sign up to CLAD

While Rod Sheard’s name might not be the best known in this line-up of movers and shakers, his buildings are undoubtedly among the most seen in the world. With more than 30 years of experience in the field, Sheard can fairly be described as the father of modern sports and entertainment architecture. In addition to two Olympic stadiums – Sydney in 2000 and London in 2012 – his vast portfolio includes London’s Wembley Stadium, Ascot Racecourse and the retractable roof on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

Born and raised in Australia, Sheard joined London-based practice Howard V Lobb and Partners in 1975 and was soon working on a number of sports projects. He became a partner in 1981 and chairman in 1993, changed the name to LOBB Sports Architecture and opened a second office in Brisbane. Five years later the firm merged with HOK Sport, founded in 1983 as a division of the US-based HOK Group. Finally, in 2009, Populous was created through a management buyout, and now operates as an independently owned collective with more than 500 staff worldwide.

While the firm’s name and structure has been in flux, however, its record of designing world-class sports and entertainment buildings is entirely consistent – and part of the reason for that, says Sheard, has been its emphasis on recognising and nurturing talent.

Identified by Sheard as a rising star, Chris Lee is a senior principal at Populous with more than 30 stadia across five continents on his resumé, including the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal Football Club; Aviva Stadium, home of Irish football, in Dublin; and the Estádio das Dunas for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Now based in London, he spent six years in the US leading the firm’s New York studio.

When and where did you meet?
Rod Sheard (RS): Working on the Olympic Stadium in Sydney in 1996.

Chris Lee (CL): That was my first job with Populous, or LOBB as we were called back then. I was fresh from college and a professor of mine said, ‘You should meet these guys. They’re a bunch of Aussies, based in London, who are doing some really interesting work.’ So I met them and I was very impressed.

RS: Chris stood out from the crowd. He’s got a lot of talent, which is pretty clear to everyone who works with him, so taking him on wasn’t a difficult decision.

How has the business of designing and building sports and entertainment buildings changed in the last two decades?
RS: When we started out in the 80s, stadia were pretty boring buildings. They weren’t seen as ‘good neighbour’ buildings and most cities didn’t want them. Because they were only used 25 times a year, they were pushed to the outskirts of the city, where for the vast majority of their life they would sit idle, with a chain link fence around them and a few old newspapers blowing around. They were really a strange sort of building. They weren’t even seen as mainstream architecture, but as engineering structures. I remember a client saying many years ago, ‘Do you really need an architect on a stadium?’

But we never believed that was the way it should be, and over a period of time, from around the mid-90s, that perception started to change. A number of firms, including our own, recognised these could be amazing buildings; they could be good neighbour buildings and they could be used seven days a week. Even a modest stadium can attract more than a million visitors a year, and any city asset that can bring in that number of people can have an incredible impact on city planning. You can grow areas that are slow in developing, you can regenerate areas and you can bring in huge revenues.

CL: Rod is being modest. I think it was in many ways him who saw the opportunity to make these buildings more special than they had been, than these functional concrete seating bowls.

For me, the turning point for the industry and certainly for our practice was a couple of smaller projects: the Reebok Stadium in Bolton and the Galpharm Stadium in Huddersfield. They’re only 25-30,000-seat stadiums but they were seen by their local communities as incredibly important assets, so the buildings Rod designed for them became very special buildings. They were not on the outskirts and huge master plans developed around them. There were new houses, new shops and new facilities all leveraging the infrastructure associated with these stadiums, so they really became urban regenerators.

What sets Populous apart from its rivals?
RS: We’re the only firm in the world that specialises exclusively in this building type – what we call sports and entertainment buildings, but what are really just places where large numbers of people gather. That’s not to say we don’t have competitors, but those firms will also do airports, hospitals or schools. In the architectural profession, specialising is not seen as the thing to do, so we’re a bit of an oddball.

People do ask if we get bored doing the same sort of buildings all the time. If they were simple buildings, maybe we would, but these days they are so complicated and can have such a huge effect on cities. As a building piece alone, a great deal of science goes into them – in people movement, in sight lines, in creating atmosphere – but there’s also a great deal of economics: how do you create income from them?

Specialising means we know the building type like no one else can know it, and that gives you a freedom when you design because you don’t have to worry about practical things. If you were taking on a stadium design for the first time, you’d be so obsessed with getting the science right it would really hinder your creative instincts.

CL: Our other huge advantage is that we have up to 100 projects on the boards at any one time, from Malaysia to Brazil to North America. As a practice, there’s an enormous amount of learning that can be transferred between those projects.

What have you learned from each other?
RS: Something Chris has, quite apart from his natural skills as an architect, is energy – energy to explore new things and not to be daunted by the complexity of an issue. I’ve learned that from him.

CL: I’ve learned everything from Rod. He’s been my mentor throughout my career and still is. Many people view him as the father of sports architecture and I genuinely believe he has defined that sphere.

Which of the other’s projects do you admire?
RS: That’s easy: Chris’s best building is the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. It was one of the most challenging sites we’ve ever done. It was incredibly tight, it had railroads going through it and a million practical issues. But Chris managed to craft out of that awfully difficult site the most amazing gem of a building – a building that to be absolutely honest I don’t think anyone other than Chris could have conceived or driven through.

CL: The Sydney Olympic Stadium was an amazing building that defined large-scale, international-event stadium architecture. It was the pioneer of integrating green architecture into a stadium, pushing forward things like rainwater harvesting and natural ventilation. It was an incredibly simple and elegant piece of architecture for such a big building. And it had an incredibly clever economic strategy behind it, having been designed to drop down in capacity to meet a post-Olympic legacy.

I also have huge admiration for Rod’s work on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Putting a moving roof over a natural grass court without changing the humidity, the temperature or the playing conditions – it’s an incredible bit of science, but when you’re there the experience is seamless.

Why is leisure architecture important?
RS: We’re seeing how big an influence the buildings that house sport can have on a city, and we’re only scratching the tip of the iceberg. Chris and I have been working on ideas where the stadium is literally embedded in the city centre; where you almost don’t know you’re in a stadium. With the technology we have now, we can convert a 40,000-seat stadium into a city square in a day. We’re working on one in Taiwan called the Taipei Dome, which is both a baseball park and a shopping centre. It’s rare for us to design a stadium that’s just a stadium.

Sport also seems to be immune to world financial issues. When the crisis hit a few years ago, almost every building type took a downturn, except sport. The money that flows into sport never seems to reduce – in fact, it increases every year – and some of it goes into the infrastructure that keeps sport running. So we’re starting to see what an amazing contribution to society sport and entertainment buildings can make.

CL: What I like most is the idea of community they create. It’s a rare moment when you get to sit with 60,000 other people, all sharing the same experience. Feeling connected with other human beings is really the magic bit for me.

Not counting your own body of work, what’s your favourite leisure building?
CL: The 1972 Olympic Stadium by Frei Otto. Forty years later, the stadium and the park are still a phenomenal example of integrated architecture and landscape.

RS: I rather like the Bathers’ Pavilion at Balmoral Beach in Sydney!

How would you sum each other up in a single sentence?
CL: For Rod, it’s a single world: visionary.

RS: Chris is a creator. He cannot not generate ideas of how to do things.

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: WTS International, Inc.
WTS International’s internal design team collaborates with the client’s design firm to focus on creative aesthetics and functional considerations that impact profitability for spas, fitness centres, and leisure facilities of all types.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
A bronze mesh allows sound energy to reach the hall’s walls, improving the acoustics
"It’s a privilege to have completed a scheme of such importance to the cultural identity of Antwerp - Stuart Mills"

SimsponHaugh’s latest project

Parks and public spaces are reported as ideal places for reflection and inspiraton
Tom Lindblom
"Public spaces support the widest diversity of experiences"

At last concrete proof that design is the critical factor that turns good experiences into great ones says Gensler’s Tom Lindblom

Tom Emerson collaborated with students from ETH Zurich to build the Pavilion of Reflections
"You could have cultural events and museums that go from city to city. It’s a new way of thinking"

Rising sea levels and a shortage of land are leading to increased interest in floating buildings. We take a look at some fascinating projects

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
At the Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, reclaimed brick walls create multiple courtyard enclosures
Rossana Hu studied at the University of California at Berkeley, where she met Lyndon Neri
"Interior projects carried out by architects have a depth that’s generally lacking today"

Neri & Hu’s latest project

For the Tushino project, amenities will be housed in separate volumes called ‘Parachute Hybrids’
Steven Holl is widely considered to be one of America’s most important and influential architects
" What sound is to music, light is to space "

The acclaimed architect speaks to CLAD about Donald Trump, Zaha Hadid and not being obedient

Spa concept: Explore the Icelandic spa retreat inspired by surrealist folk tales
"We want to create the illusion that guests are entering another world when they arrive at the resort"

An Icelandic spa retreat inspired by surrealist folk tales

features
Adriaan Geuze
"The profile of landscape architecture has been raised by international cities competing with one another"

How the West 8 founder is using the healing power of nature on a Korean site with a turbulent history

The MACRO contemporary art museum, Rome
Decq has been recognised for raising the profile of women in architecture
"Things have improved, but not enough"

On women in architecture

ABA have designed four residential towers with leisure space for the Greenwich Peninsula scheme
Alison Brooks
"The profession is changing"

We need to help the public understand that architects are on their side, argues The Smile designer

cladkit product news
FAÇADE award winners 'diverse and remarkable', says SFE board member
Ramboll was awarded for the Blavatnik Building, Switchouse Extension of the Tate Moder
Lauren Heath-Jones
A trio of British leisure facilities have been honoured in the Façade2017 awards. Established in 2013 by the Society of ...
Ben van Berkel launches UNSense startup to boost health and wellbeing in built environments
Kim Megson
Dutch architect Ben van Berkel and his design firm UNStudio have launched a tech startup to “improve the health and ...
Hotel Crescent Court opens new spa following multi-million-dollar renovation
Hotel Crescent Court has reopened its spa after a multi-million dollar refurbishment
Lauren Heath-Jones
Hotel Crescent Court, a luxury hotel in Dallas, Texas, has reopened its spa and fitness centre after completing a multi-million-dollar ...
cladkit product news
Dornbracht debuts Rainmoon wellness shower concept at  Salone del Mobile
Rainmoon is a multi-sensory wellness experience designed to revitalise and reinvigorate the user
Lauren Heath-Jones
Dornbracht, a German-based luxury bathroom specialist, has launched an innovative new shower experience, Rainmoon. Slated as the next generation of ...
Kvorning wins contest to design aquaculture exhibit at Norway's Coastal Museum
The exhibition explores the history of Norway's fish-farming industry dating back to 1970
Lauren Heath-Jones
Copenhagen-based design studio Kvorning Design and Norwegian advertising agency Vindfang have won a competition, organised by Museums in Sør Trøndelag ...
London's new pollution-eating living wall has air purifying power of 275 trees
CityTree is a living wall that reduces particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in the air by 30 per cent
Lauren Heath-Jones
The Crown Estate, a London-based commercial real estate company, has partnered with Westminster City Council and cleantech specialist Evergen Systems ...
cladkit product news
Parkside opens flagship Chelsea showroom
The showroom is designed to inspire its clients
Lauren Heath-Jones
Parkside, a designer of contemporary porcelain and ceramic tiles, has opened its first showroom in the UK. Located in Chelsea ...
Empex Watertoys partners with Singapore architecture firm on new splash park
Buds is a new splash park that caters to children aged 12 and under
Lauren Heath-Jones
Empex Watertoys has partnered with Singapore landscape architecture firm Playpoint Singapore Pte to create Buds, an exciting new splash park ...