2014 saw the completion of the new-look 7 500-seat Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne Park, after a major redevelopment that included an additional 1 500 seats, a retractable roof, full air conditioning and a significantly enhanced food and beverage offering.
The project is the final and largest element of the first stage of the Victorian Government funded $366 million Melbourne Park Redevelopment.
The consultant team, including Joint Venture Architects NH Architecture + Populous and Aurecon, was appointed by Major Projects Victoria to provide the design services on this project.
“Successful stadium design involves maximising the stadium’s usage. The Margaret Court Arena project has transformed an existing, under-utilised outdoor tennis court into a year-round entertainment venue,” says Mark Sheldon, Aurecon’s Project Director.
Preparatory work commenced on site in March 2012, including extensions to the concourse and alterations to the back-of-house area.
Major construction works were undertaken immediately after the 2013 Australian Open, including the addition of a fixed roof and enclosure wall, prior to ‘handover’ back to the Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust for the hosting of the 2014 Australian Open.
The fully completed arena was again handed over in November 2014, ready for the 2015 Australian Open.
“A stadium’s roof is often a demanding structure to design and build, requiring a significant architectural and structural engineering effort. Even more so when the roof needs to be retractable, requiring specialist mechanical engineering input.
Collaboration is key: aesthetics must meet the engineering requirements of strength, serviceability, reliability, and durability,” says Sheldon.
As such, the crowning feature of the venue is the sleek and acoustically lined operable roof, which can be opened or closed in less than five minutes, housing a multi-purpose arena with 7 500 seats suitable for tennis, basketball, netball and concert events throughout the year.
Apart from the engineering challenges presented by the roof, arranging the works around the Australian Open tournaments meant programming for this project provided a significant challenge for builder Lend Lease and the consultant team.
Construction planning also needed to address the challenge of building over an existing structure while ensuring the ongoing operation of the adjoining Rod Laver Arena. The building was designed in a 3D virtual environment due to the complexities associated with working within and around the existing structures on all sides of the site.
The arena now provides full air conditioning and new sports lighting to meet current and envisaged future televised broadcast requirements.
Furthermore, the new enclosed concourse provides a controlled environment for patrons and a significantly enhanced food and beverage offering for year-round events.
Joel Stringer, Head of Design & Project Management for Victoria and South Australia of Lend Lease Buildings, was the managing contractor’s representative of the project. “We had a very strong team from Aurecon. It was quite a complex, challenging project based on the fact that there wasn’t a reference project that could be used to gain insights on creating such a slim-line, operable roof,” said Stringer.
“Aurecon had some very technical challenges to design a roof that would not only retract in less than five minutes, as requested by the client, but would also comply with the tennis regulations regarding roof dimensions and simultaneously be lower than Rod Laver Arena’s roof next door,” says Stringer.
Key service delivery attributes, says Stringer, include Aurecon’s ability to understand the end user’s objectives while also balancing that with the objectives of the developer. “It was a balancing act to meet everyone’s needs, but Aurecon did very well in that capacity.”
Aurecon has been the engineer for all major sports facilities with retractable roofs in Australia over the past 20 years, including Etihad Stadium, Hisense Arena, and Perth Arena. Each of these projects features large external structures that allow the operable panels to span across the openings. However, a different approach was needed for Margaret Court Arena.
The solution, developed in conjunction with the architects and our sub-consultant Walter P Moore, was to allow the trailing edge of the roof panels to be supported by the fixed roof via a series of seven ‘mini bogies’ for each of two operable panels that measure approximately 57 m x 32 m. A single downturned major truss that spans the leading edge of each roof panel supported by the drive bogies, which parks at the edge of the fixed roof when in the opened position, completes the structure, allowing an astounding straight-line dimension of 1.25 m between the top of the operable roof panel and the top of the fixed roof.
The most visual component of the new Margaret Court Arena is the copper penny coloured roof structure, which is now featuring in aerial images of Melbourne. The original concept for Margaret Court Arena by the Joint Venture Architects, NH Architecture + Populous, was that the new building should sit comfortably alongside the existing Rod Laver Arena, which it abuts. It needed to demonstrate that it was a separate building, and that it had a more intimate capacity.
The solution aimed to develop a building that sat below the Rod Laver Arena roof, however the tennis ‘high ball’ line meant a sleek roof profile was required.
In another first for Australia, the operable panels are driven by single rail bogies that feature a rack and pinion system for accurate control of the roof positioning. This system was developed in conjunction with Lend Lease’s sub-contractor, Vector Lifting. The bogie drive system has similarities with the New Wembley National Stadium in the United Kingdom, which was also designed by the Aurecon team in Australia.
Apart from providing engineering services on the project, Aurecon was also required to assist with the implementation of sustainability certification for the project, with the goal of achieving a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating on completion, which it was awarded in July 2015.
Margaret Court Arena has subsequently been designed to achieve this certification and will focus on lowering operating costs and conserving energy, water and other resources during operation.
Increasingly, stadiums must be adaptable, high performing buildings that are able to provide multi-use functionality. The Margaret Court Arena project has transformed a facility that was normally only utilised for a few weeks during Australia’s summer months transformed into a year-round, multi-purpose revenue generating venue.
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