There was a time when a football venue only hosted football games and an auditorium only hosted music events. This is very rapidly changing according to VenuesWest Chairman Graham Partridge.

“Whilst the sports venue core focus was the competition surface and the entertainment venues top priority was acoustics in the last two decades these have been superseded by user experience and venue flexibility,” he said.

VenuesWest is Western Australia’s provider of premier sports, recreation and entertainment venues and its growing portfolio includes the new and world class Perth Arena and the redeveloped state of the art nib Stadium as well as Challenge Stadium, Arena Joondalup, WA Athletics Stadium, WA Basketball Centre, Midvale Speeddome, Perth Motorplex, Champion Lakes Regatta Centre and the WA Rugby Centre, with the State Netball Centre under construction shortly..

“Twenty five years ago venues like Challenge Stadium were purpose built to deliver elite sport and sporting events as niche venues.”

Today, venue operators often have additional commercial considerations to ensure the sport can be delivered. Operators must be able to deliver services like concerts, banquets, festivals and profitable community programmes as well as multiple retail,food and beverage opportunities to a level much higher than ever before. There can be no tunnel vision on what a venue can do.

New Kid On The Block

The brand new, world class Perth Arena is probably one of the best examples of versatility imaginable. Besides its clear superiority in concerts, indoor sporting events and functions it will also be able to challenge the outdoor market with its unique retractable roof.

However, it is the auditorium configurations allowed by clever trussing that enable many stage options as well as the best house reduction system in Australia. This provides the venue an extraordinary range of event types that can challenge all venues but the super-size out door arenas or the tiny theatres.

The issue for venue reconfiguration has always been the cost and time of change over, especially between sporting events and concerts. Perth Arena short cuts many of the labor intensive problems of the past making short time window reconfiguration entirely possible.

The Perth Arena has a capacity of up to 15,500, but the flexible curtaining system makes many sizes and configurations possible, down to 3500.

The bowl has 85, 65 and 55 tonnes of rigging capacity for shows with multiple rigging areas and the underside of the roof is 33m above the event floor.

The roof is supported by two 10m deep megatrusses weighing 417 tonnes each and spanning 115m on four 28m high megacolumns weighing 71 tonnes each. There is 6,250 tonnes of steel in the building.

Each completed panel of the opening roof weighs 530 tonnes, travels 28m, and takes around 13 minutes to open or close.

Perth Arena also provides digital signage and HD connectivity which is the best technology in Australia and includies Digital content on over 300 screens.

The 88 LED screen feature pendant in the foyer is the largest in the world with 44 screens on each of the curved sides. The LED super screen in the main bowl has a maximum single display size of 13.6 x 8.0m.

Financial responsibilies require a venue in this century have occupancy well in excess of what was often seen in the 20th century. To secure more events, design needs to take into account not just what happens on the night but how fast and how easy transition to the next venue format can happen.

According to Graham Partridge increased competition has meant the concept of a venue being constructed for predominantly a single purpose is an idea that is not practical for many venues.

Creating multipurpose indoor outdoor spaces in one venue has brought about many changes to design especially in the areas of:

Acoustic planning
Utilities available
Access for production
Ingress/egress flows
Movable seating
Sound proofing and damping
Versatile temporary structures

The first thing we look at in a venue plan is not; will this space deliver what it is meant to deliver, but: how many things can this space deliver, and also, how hard is it to change from one event mode to another.

The USA and the UK have led the way with push button venue control which can do things as complex as changing all of the team and sponsor signage in a venue without so much as a single cable tie. It was only in the 90’s that sideline scrolling signage was considered cutting edge!

Other innovations like flexible seating, trussing and curtaining in venues of all types are now necessities and not add ons.

In the past there has been million dollar retrofits and upgrades for power and acoustics to change a sports arena into a concert arena. Now that expenditure needs to be considered at the front end of the design.

The Retrofit Venue

VenuesWest provides a good example of an evolving venue that was born as a humble community recreation centre and evolved into one of the major festival and outdoor concert locations in Western Australia

Arena Joondalup is these days a multi-purpose stadium, entertainment, sport, recreation and aquatic centre.

Located on 35 ha of parkland approximately 25 km north of Perth, it was officially opened in 1994 as a regional sporting facility for outdoor field sports featuring an Australian Rules football stadium and indoor sports lead by swimming and basketball. The centre provided the usual support services like childcare and cafes. It was significantly a venue for sport and community not a concert venue.

By 1999 Silverchair were headlining the Rock It concert at the venue to more than 20,000 people. It was a great first effort but it also highlighted the venue was simply not built for concerts and festivals.

The biggest challenge laid in things like power supply, acoustics, ingress and egress, shade areas, toilets, catering and waste management.

Over the next 12 years the venue hosted another eight Rock It concerts, as well as a number of other large festival events including a 50, 000 capacity, 5 stage Future Music Festival and Hip Hop specialist Supafest for over 20,000. In 2011 over 60,000 concert goers enjoyed the venue in just two events. 12 Years of evolution taught many lessons to the VenuesWest team about what they would have specified had they had access to the design 19 years prior.

Design for 2013

So how do you design your single purpose venue so it can be potentially converted to a multi-purpose event venue ? There are 12 big considerations.

  • Configuration: which way does the wind blow in the afternoon, which way are the suburbs. Think about if your outdoor/indoor concert area is configured in a way which may see homes blasted with sound by the afternoon breeze. You can never ever change this once the venue is up
  • Power: the venue needs accessible power for extensive stage lighting and concert sound as well as a myriad of food and beverage and other needs. Having too little is expensive to change later.
  • Toilets: Build too many and lock most of them up most of the time. Demountables are necessary but should be minimised
  • WIFI: in 2013 you cannot live without it for concerts and major events
  • Grandstands: is your tiered seating effective for a concert configuration or are you only considering sports fans
  • Perimeter fencing: can you lock your venue down if required
  • CCTV: how much coverage can you offer for security and police?
  • Lighting: how many lumens can you offer at the flick of a switch?
  • On site movement – how easy can people move around the site
  • Egress and ingress – how many, how fast
  • Local Relationships – is there existing good relations with local council and or people?
  • Location: will your location allow for a great transport management plan? Are you located where road closures could be possible if necessary?

“Once upon a time the roadie was the biggest player in the concert set up and the grounds keeper was the most important person in your sporting ground,” said Graham Partridge.

“These days visionary venue management is focused on better venue occupancy and cutting edge venue design based on flexibility and usability. “