Maker Stuart Blower describes the experience of designing a second-place competition entry for FC Barcelona’s Nou Palau Blaugrana and how we can apply it to world-class stadia everywhere.
A new arena for Barcelona
In 2016 Make came second in a global competition to design the Nou Palau Blaugrana, a new multi-purpose indoor arena for FC Barcelona, one of the world’s great sports clubs. Best known for its supreme footballing prowess, FCB also has European Championship-winning teams in basketball, handball and ice hockey, all of which currently play in the badly outdated Palau Blaugrana, the smaller sibling of the 100,000-plus-seat Camp Nou football stadium.
Building upon our experience designing the Copper Box – the popular handball arena for the London 2012 Olympics – as well as our masterplan for the new Tottenham Hotspur FC stadium, Make led a team to produce a design that sets a new industry standard for multi-purpose venues around the world.
The brief called for a 12,500-seat indoor sports and entertainment venue that could host a variety of sports and concerts year-round and provide additional training and performance facilities alongside the main arena. Working closely with MANICA Architecture from Kansas City and BCQ Arquitectura from Barcelona, we produced a bespoke solution that’s both state-of-the-art and cost-effective. The flexible design – a visually strong orthogonal form – balances the key drivers of functionality, value for money and placemaking, creating a robust standalone identity for the Palau.
The all-important bowl
The seating bowl is key to the success of a venue like this. It needs to offer spectators maximum comfort and provide an immersive, exhilarating visual and auditory experience. Since the atmosphere of a Barcelona basketball game can easily be as intense as that of the football matches next door, intimacy and flexibility were vital considerations in our design.
Together with David Manica and his team – brought on as technical designers for the bowl and its functional layout – we created a unique 270-degree configuration that meets the strictest federation requirements for basketball, handball, futsal and ice hockey. The horseshoe arrangement of suites and upper-deck seating ensures maximum seating and revenue generation for end-stage concerts, and creates a spectacular viewing experience from every seat in the house. All sightlines meet the minimum requirements of C=90mm throughout, though the compactness and intimacy of the design means many viewing angles actually exceed these requirements.
The orthogonal form offers excellent acoustics and state-of-the-art sound control for all modes of entertainment, from European Cup basketball games to classical concerts. We pushed the efficiency of the volume, using a flat-trussed roof structure to provide maximum acoustic quality and flexibility in lighting control. We also produced an upper and lower tier design, separated by a VIP level, which allows the upper tier to be easily curtained off. This enables the bowl to work for full and partially full events alike without losing that all-important atmosphere.
A major benefit of our orthogonal design is the reduced construction costs and programme, compared to more complex forms. It minimises wasted internal space, holds the facade as close to the bowl as possible and features four carefully tuned elevations as a result.
A focus on people and placemaking
The venue is designed as a good neighbour and has quality placemaking at its heart. The principal elevation responds directly to Espai Barça (the forthcoming remodelled Barça campus), marking the main entrance to the Palau and extending the public realm right up to the front door. Visitors are greeted by an animated facade that reflects activity inside and out, adding to the great sense of arrival.
Concourses blur the boundary between internal and external, with some concessions pulled outwards to get the bowl as tight as possible to the field of play, animating the exterior and providing additional revenue streams all year round.
Our design welcomes, energises, feeds and entertains spectators and players alike. It offers the best-possible environment for fans to support their team and display their allegiance, ensuring they’ll return time and again to this wholly community-owned club. A full venue is a successful venue and, therefore, a sustainable one.
Creating a successful sports arena
To be successful, venues like this need their own character – a unique feel, both internally and externally, that differentiates them from others and creates a sense of belonging among spectators. As designers, it’s up to us to study the habits and rituals fans engage in before, during and after a match. Where, when and how do they gather? What features can we provide to enable and enhance this? Paving the way for an unforgettable visitor experience was a key consideration for us. The Nou Palau needs to be its own building and brand, not simply a mini-Camp Nou.
Today’s spectator experience is so much more than a hot dog and soda (though that’s still on offer); it’s approaching a VIP offering. Getting close to the action now extends beyond simple glimpses of the athletes to include exclusive views of and even interaction with teams as they arrive and leave the pitch. Our Palau design introduces a ‘dine-and-view’ restaurant with table service, overlooking the field of play, as well as VIP suites with direct access to courtside seats. It’s all about providing a live experience that beats watching the match at home on TV. This is the future of sports matches and a crucial way to retain fans.
We should also be aware of how new technologies are enhancing the spectator experience at multi-entertainment venues. With smart devices, spectators can instantly upgrade their seats, change viewing angles, watch replays, order food and drink, and listen to referee commentary and TV analysis. These offerings will only continue to improve in the future.
And then there’s the athletes’ experience, which is integral to a sports venue’s success. Players need state-of-the-art training and warm-up facilities and a secure, well-organised environment that supports pre-game preparation. The offer should be premium but relaxed. Ideally, venues should inspire the home team to win and intimidate the away team.
A legacy that lives on
Creating a legacy venue depends on a number of factors, the most important of which is financial sustainability. That means being open every day of the year, whether there’s an event or not, and offering more than just sports and concerts – essentially, being a leisure destination in its own right. Just look at The O2 in London, which alongside its sporting and music arena has a cinema, a bowling alley, clubs, restaurants and bars, and is busy year-round.
Flexibility is a key part of being financially sustainable. Make’s design for the Copper Box, for instance, placed maximum emphasis on the post-Games legacy. The venue’s ability to host multiple events – from sports to concerts to conferences – enables the arena to maintain a profitable life years later. This layering of uses is inherent in our Nou Palau design, which includes outward-facing retail units with external access around the building that benefit from Barcelona’s Mediterranean climate, support the venue during events, animate the public realm at other times and provide those valuable additional revenue streams. The design also features a community football pitch on the flat roof that can accommodate major sponsorship opportunities.
We’ve got our game face on
While we didn’t win this high-profile competition, the experience has been unbeatable and stands us in great stead for our next sports venue design. We firmly believe our design is as good as any other around the globe recently built, offering a world-class entertainment experience, the very best in placemaking and a magnificent new home for FC Barcelona.
Article extracted from Make Annual 13.