The recent start of main construction on the 92,000 seat Beijing Olympic stadium has crowned a meteoric four years for Arup Sport, fuelled by bespoke design software and IT tools from other industries.
Since the specialist division was formed on the back of the City of Manchester Stadium project for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Arup's designers have had plenty of practice on the CATIA software, now being used on 35 live stadium projects worldwide and another 85 potential schemes.
In Beijing the suite, originally developed for the aerospace industry, was responsible for the roof's interconnecting steel form - likened to a bird's nest (NCE 9 December 2004).
The software worked out a generic structural solution to the complex geometric form, which is independent from the stadium bowl.
The roof consists of straight lines that wrap up and around the stadium bowl. Where they cross, connecting nodes are formed.
CATIA was able to automatically calculate the positions of these nodes and, if the overall geometry altered, the local solution and associated drawings also changed.
CATIA's most famous application has been on the complex titanium roofs of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
But Beijing was the first time the software has been applied to such a large and complex building project, says Arup associate and lead roof designer on the Beijing Olympic Stadium Martin Simpson.
'It doesn't just create the geometry but it has an understanding of how it is going to be built allowing us to anticipate construction problems.
'On Beijing it has demonstrated the ability to speed up the design process and improve confidence in the solutions we produce to reduce risk and potential problems on site.' Written by Arup Sport director and lead architect Jay Parrish, the software calculates parameters of the structural form down to the last millimetre while the designer is drawing up the stadium.
This cuts out time-consuming mathematical calculations later on in the project and enables Arup Sport to present a robust project budget very early on, Parrish explains.
'If you changed the height of the front row by 100mm then you add millions of pounds to the cost because it would affect the row behind and so on and then the roof gets bigger so the span gets bigger, ' he says. Such certainty also helps when working with other members of the multidisciplinary stadium team, such as acoustic, space planning, lighting and fire experts, he adds.
With its own bespoke tools and Microstation computer aided design (CAD) software, Arup is now in a position to give clients the choice of several fully designed 3D stadium proposals.
For example, the final design of the Beijing Olympic Stadium was version 32 and the final design of the 66,000 seat Munich Allianz Arena for the 2006 World Cup was 33.
'We can do the sight line equation for a stadium up to 100,000 seats in a matter of minutes and that establishes the generic principles, ' says Parrish.
Clients are presented with a menu of structural solutions worked up to their specifications which could include a cable net supported structure, a smooth and continuous form or an asymmetrical one.
Ukrainian football club Shakhtar Donesk recently opted for an asymmetrical form that tilts north to south for its new 50,000 seat stadium. But this was only after being presented with four 'completely different' detailed 3D designs, to UEFA's Five Star standard as suitable for a UEFA Champions League football final.
Parrish says there is still scope to develop software much further. 'Application of IT on stadium design still has a phenomenal way to go in managing the process right through to construction and facilities management. That is something we will push forward.'