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Stadia design breaks new ground

ANALYSIS

Less is more if you want to win in the stadia construction game.

STADIUM DESIGN and construction has been booming in Britain for the best part of a decade. There are at least 12 (probably more) major stadiums being planned or built in Britain - from Southampton to Dundee. And contractors are tripping over themselves to be associated with these prestigious structures.

At the same time, stadium owners want more from their facilities. The stadium market is becoming crowded and the owners need all the latest design features to have the competitive edge over their rivals. They demand multi-functional facilities that can operate 365 days a year. They expect closing roofs, sliding pitches and moving seating blocks.

Several contractors have even set up their own stadium design and build divisions to exploit this lucrative market. At last week's Stadia & Arena 2000 conference at the London Arena, Dutch giant HGB showed off impressive designs for two near identical £125M stadia in Coventry and Dublin. These contain just about every gadget available including moving roofs and pitches. The only stadia in the world with these features, at Arnhem in Holland and at Schalke in Germany, were also built by HGB.

These are far in advance of anything in the US, which has for years been ahead in terms of stadium technology and comfort.

But contractors beware! Stadia - particularly the prestigious ones - can be a messy and expensive business and can seriously harm your reputation. Just ask Laing.

The contractor announced earlier this year that it had taken a £26M hit after it was forced to radically change its design for the new Welsh national rugby stadium - the Millenium Stadium - in Cardiff. The redesign was necessary because of a dispute between Laing's client, the Welsh Rugby Union, and the neighbouring Cardiff Rugby Club which shared a grandstand that was to be knocked down to accommodate the new structure.

Laing submitted a fixed price bid for the design and build job and won the contract with an impressive design with a highly complex sliding roof. When the dispute (which was nothing to do with the contractor) prevented the original design going ahead Laing found itself having to foot the alterations bill.

Against all the odds, Laing will have the stadium ready for the Wales v South Africa International this weekend so it can be tried out in advance of the Rugby World Cup in October. But the story demonstrates that high profile stadia are surrounded by all sorts of historic and political issues over which a contractor has little or no control.

It is a recipe for classic contracting problems. The client is so desperate for a 'Rolls Royce' that it will ask for every bell and whistle the chairman has ever read about. And the contractor is so keen to work on the great project that it offers a dream car for the price of a mini. It may be more profitable for construction companies to lower their sights.

One company doing very well out of Britain's stadium boom is Ayrshire- based contractor Barr. Although the company was responsible for the largest club stadium in the country - the 66,000 seater Celtic Park in Glasgow - Barr has carved out a niche designing and building small, functional and affordable grandstands for smaller clubs.

Although these structures do not push back the barriers of architecture they give the customer exactly what he needs quickly and cheaply. And they do get the accolades. Barr's Rugby Park Stadium in Kilmarnock was nominated as a building of the century on Channel Four's series of the same name last week.

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