- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by Trevor Mein
- Architect H2o
This article was originally published in Architectural Review Asia-Pacific magazine #128: New Civic Realms.
Sports stadia are quite particular animals, highly evolved spatial types usually deliberately separated from the outside world by layers of circulation contained within an external shell. H2o’s Lakeside Stadium takes a similar approach to Renzo Piano’s Stadio San Nicola in Bari, Italy, albeit at a much smaller scale. As with its larger Italian cousin, the white, pre-cast concrete forms of the Lakeside Stadium in Albert Park, in Melbourne’s inner- south, emerge from the earth as a kind of permeable fortress. The porosity of the outer shell allows a direct connection to be made between the auditorium seating and the world outside. The spectator is not separated, but suspended between the spectacle inside the stadium and the events of everyday life outside.
The redevelopment of these historic grounds was part of a state government initiative to reinvent the complex as a major sporting centre within Victoria. The project had to meet the requirements of multiple stakeholders, including Major Projects Victoria, the Victorian Institute of Sport, Athletics Victoria and Parks Victoria, as well as those of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
A series of existing and new buildings define the stadium complex, including the existing 1926 grandstand and refurbished Bob Jane Stand, a new athletics administration building, a new north stand and pavilion and other major additions. According to H2o’s Tim Hurburgh, the key design challenge was to create built forms that would successfully anchor and define an otherwise daunting expanse of open space, serving as both a backdrop to the action and shelter for spectators. H2o responded to this challenge with two distinct but causally connected strategies. The first involved the dispersal of functionally distinct elements – a new stand, gymnasium and offices – to create a permeable boundary around the playing field and running track. The second involved the unification of these disparate built forms through the use of a shared material palette and motif.
Experienced as a series of distinct interventions, partially determined by the limitations of existing heritage structures, the campus of buildings forms a space that is both open and closed. The original stand is bookended by two new structures, while fenced earth banks between the old and new stands, remnants of the previous stadium, hint at the existence of an event space and the terraced seating inside. A hexagonal motif recurs throughout the complex – in the timber-clad grandstand insert, across areas of concrete paving, and, most notably, in the precast concrete external cladding and glazing of the athletics administration building. This motif, which apparently reflects the patterned surfaces of nets and balls, was intended to unite buildings of differing scales, functions and eras. Apart from the symbolic value, the purpose of material repetition is worth broader consideration as the tessellated surface is on the verge of ubiquity in contemporary Melbourne architecture.
From LAB’s Federation Square, ARM’s Melbourne Recital Centre, Lyons’ Swanston Academic Building and Sean Godsell’s recently completed Design Hub, the playfulness of these serial investigations is apparent, but what of their mindfulness?
Sandra Kaji O’Grady has argued that serialism is not a stylistic category but a technique, first devised in musical composition, ‘in which rules are given at the outset of making a work of art to regulate the permutation, combination, frequency, repetition and internal relations of multiple identifiable elements’. In the visual arts, the technique is commonly used in the organisation of independent formal or graphic elements, where the sequence and relationship between elements is both a determining factor and an outcome. The value of these investigations is the revelation of symbiotically connected, but potentially conflicting forces within the system. Without such purpose, serialism is reduced to repetitive pattern, an applied decoration that dominates to the point where architectural expression is overwhelmed by monotony. Ground eliminates figure and tension ceases to exist.
As the critical theorist Arthur Wortmann argues, the generic must always go hand in hand with the specific; the mass-produced has to be individualised – a procedure which Kenneth Frampton referred to as ‘different repetitions’. In the context of H2o’s Lakeside Stadium a unified individualisation has been achieved through the careful consideration of new interventions in relation to the parkland context and the existing architectural elements. The success of the first strategy potentially negates the need for the second. United by functional and spatial relationships, it is possible that a repetitive material language becomes surplus to requirement – at least as a generative organising system.
Overall, H2o’s Lakeside Stadium is a fine example of what can be achieved when architects and stakeholders persevere with complex programmatic ambitions. When closed institutions are open to public access, walls become permeable, form and space intertwine and the Colosseum becomes the piazza. We are left to wonder though what might happen when, one day, the cultures of art and sport
are co-located once again.