Building new sport stadia can be a tricky business – which is where surveyors come in useful.
If you haven’t yet become aware of the unique and eye catching structure of the main stadium that will be used at the Beijing Olympics in August, you soon will. Nicknamed the bird’s nest, for its interlocking exterior network of ribbon-like steel strips, it is sure to become the architectural icon that symbolises the media coverage of the event.
Here in the UK, on a slightly more modest scale, the Wembley arch has quickly become the design element universally associated with the stadium, which opened last year. We’re living in an age when new sports stadia are destined to become notable as much for their exterior aesthetic appeal as for their functionality and, of course, for the sporting dramas they play host to. But although that can elevate the role of the architect in the creation of these new structures, it in no way diminishes the part played by other professionals. And the one profession represented at every step of the way in these projects is that of the chartered surveyor.
From concept to completion, day-to-day management and sale, there’ll be someone involved in a surveying role. “At the last count, I found there were 170 specialisms within surveying,” says Gary Strong, director of practice standards and technical guidance at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Of those, there are certainly half a dozen key roles likely to be represented in a sports stadium project. And the first of these is the planning surveyor. “Planning surveyors get involved at the very outset and have to negotiate their way through the labyrinth of government planning laws. Their role is key in deciding whether the thing is ever going to get built,” explains Strong.
This stage can often drag on, as potential sites are suggested, and then rejected for any number of reasons. Liverpool Football Club, for example, has spent the best part of a decade arriving at a site and a design for a new stadium to replace its current Anfield home. Surveyors were involved in feasibility studies of various projects and designs, including sharing a new stadium with their neighbours and rivals Everton. Eventually, the city council’s approval was secured and a dramatic design was unveiled for a £400m, 60,000-seater new home. With sweeping lines, something of the spaceship about its shape, and acres of glass, it is sure to dominate its location, in Stanley Park, a stone’s throw from the club’s current ground.
In the building phase, the quantity surveyor assumes a central role. This is the person who checks that the quantity and quality of all materials arriving on the site match the details set out in the contract between the builder and whoever’s footing the bill at the end of the day. On stadium projects, because of the sheer scale of the undertaking, there are usually several quantity surveyors involved, each responsible for a different area of work, and all reporting to a project manager, whose job on site is to ensure that all the professions and contractors work together as smoothly as possible. These days the position of project manager is often filled by a chartered surveyor.
“On a big project of the size of Wembley, with several building firms involved in the construction, there’ll be a lead project manager with a team of project managers working for him,” explains Strong. “Each of these looks at different elements of the project, and tries to identify potential blockages where contractors are working together.” Even bigger than Wembley, of course, is the multi-venue Olympic Park now beginning to take shape in East London’s Lea Valley, in readiness for the Olympic Games in 2012. As well as the Olympic stadium itself, there’ll be an aquatics centre, velodrome and separate arenas for fencing, hockey, handball and basketball. The fact that building work on the stadium started this spring, three months ahead of schedule, was thanks in no small part to the work of chartered surveyors in completing the preparatory work across the whole Olympic Park area.
One of the less glamorous, but nonetheless crucial, tasks in this respect involves providing the new site with the utilities – including power, water, gas, sewerage, and telecommunications – that will serve the new buildings and the area as a whole for decades to come. Andy Oddie, a chartered quantity surveyor working for one of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) partner firms, has been leading a team of surveyors doing just that job, starting two years ago on an old industrial area, already crisscrossed, beneath the ground with ageing pipes performing a variety of functions.
“We had to identify exactly where all the existing pipes in the ground were, and either remove or divert them so construction could take place,” he explains. That’s now done and surveyors are overseeing the installation of new utilities – including an energy centre, wind turbine and power substation to service all the Olympic facilities and the surrounding area into the future. Oddie, 29, rubs shoulders with surveyors and other construction professionals on this huge site on a daily basis. All, he says, are now excited by the above-ground facilities beginning to emerge. “That’s the big buzz for the younger surveyors; seeing all the hard work over the last couple of years finally coming to fruition,” he says.
Other quantity surveyors are moving in on the Olympic site next, working from documents detailing the quantities of every single material needed to build the stadium and other structures. New stadia are usually built on vast sites, away from houses and offices. However, other traditional surveying roles are still required. These include what are called “rights of light” issues, caused by the shadows cast by big new structures, and boundary disputes. “This is the domain of the building surveyor,” explains Strong, “who also advises on construction materials and issues of sustainability.” And if that sustainability ever gets called into question in the years following a stadium’s completion, surveyors are the first professionals called upon to bring their all-round expertise to bear on a building’s future. From to start to finish, these dramatic new architectural creations wouldn’t exist without chartered surveyors.