Park life

A major sports complex has been created in a Netherlands park to provide facilities for professional athletes as well as increase the local community’s health. Russ Davenport from FaulknerBrowns Architects spoke to Jack Wooler to discover the array of contents wrapped inside a twisting polished steel ribbon

Sportcampus is a 33,000 m2 sports complex set in the centre of Zuiderpark, a large public park in The Hague. Covering indoor sports from basketball and football to beach volleyball and gymnastics, the facility accommodates The Hague University of Applied Sciences, ROC Mondriaan, and the wider community. Project designers FaulknerBrowns Architects have created an asymmetrical ovoid to house the facility, surrounded by a ribbon of polished steel panels, creating dynamic reflections of the surroundings, including nearby greenery. Given the brief of contributing to a “healthier society,” the architects worked closely with the client and the local community to construct a building that would allow the experienced and inexperienced to join together in a wide variety of activities, in one centre. FaulknerBrowns Architects have been working in Holland for the past 25 years, with considerable experience building similar sports structures across Europe, including Netherlands projects Sportiom in Den Bosch and the National Velodrome at Apeldoorn. They were appointed to the Sportcampus Zuiderpark project through an EU tender and design competition. Originally the client was three-headed: the local housing association, the municipality of Den Haag, and The Hague University, the brief being developed by a combined working party. During the concept design stage, the housing association terminated its involvement, the lead being taken by the city and the university. Completed in 2017, the project has already been shortlisted for Best Building of The Year in Holland, and will compete for the title of World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival in November. With its striking facade, inclusive design, and collaborative build, it is easy to see why the building has been so well received.

Connected space

The collaborative nature of the project was established at an early stage, which according to Russ Davenport, partner at FaulknerBrowns Architects, was a real benefit when defining the project’s direction, as well as being tied into its community role. “Central to the brief was the wellbeing and health education of the community,” he tells ADF. “The provision of a sports library, for example, was seen as an opportunity to engage athletes, students, and the broader public in the DNA of the building.” The building’s programme is split vertically, with the ground floor being a ‘private’ section, including the changing rooms and athlete areas, and the first floor generally being available to the public. The major elements of the structure have been brought together and placed end to end in the centre of the plan. According to Davenport, this was conceived to provide maximum flexibility in use, creating the opportunity to subdivide rooms into a variety of sizes, and accommodate various events. Level 1 covers four key spaces – an arena, ‘dry’ sports hall, beach sports area, and a gymnastics hall. The central hall occupies the middle of the building, providing a 3,500 seat arena space. To one side is the multi-purpose sports hall, which is one of the project’s sub-dividable areas, able to transform into a number of smaller spaces using flexible walls, and large enough to hold 18 basketball courts when fully opened up. On the other side of the central arena is the beach sports area, which can be subdivided into two beach football courts or six beach volleyball courts. To the side of that is the dedicated gymnastics hall, with a variety of equipment and foam pits for practicing jumps. Extending over about 200 metres end to end, these spaces form a 50 metre wide strip that runs right the way through the building. The architect explains that flexibility was an early key design driver: “One of the original ideas behind the scheme was to try to have flexible walls between all those spaces, so that you could actually combine them together to create a totally flexible, multifunctional space.” He adds: “At the end of the day however, as the brief evolved it became clear that the environmental and acoustic requirements of each space would favour a greater degree of separation.” He explains some further benefits of placing the main spaces at the centre of the building, with the smaller volumes around them: “In many ways the reason those four main spaces were brought together was to place them in the middle of the scheme, so that the corners of the rectangular boxes don’t protrude. Then, in effect, the smaller spaces were arranged around the perimeter, allowing us to wrap this conceptual ribbon around them, tying them all together.” Another reason the main arena is placed in the middle is that it has the greatest height demand. The building rises up on one side, and, says Davenport, “its highest point is dictated by the height of the tiered arena seating.” As well as the main areas, there are a number of smaller volumes which sit alongside. These include a dojo, dance areas, and four smaller sports halls (primarily used for the school during the day and the public during the evening). A sports science laboratory is also included within the building, with monitoring equipment and observation windows in order to engage with the ‘Sports hall of the Future’, which has a variety of built-in testing equipment such as pressure plates. It was originally envisaged that there would be a hotel, with accommodation provided for private companies, including brands such as Nike and Asics. This was intended to facilitate the involvement of the companies in research, as well as provide a potential sales point. During the design stages however, this requirement was changed. Once the housing association dropped out of the project, a redesign process based on a reduced area was required. Despite this, a sports wheelchair maker currently have a workshop in the building, and use the laboratories for testing.

Material benefits

The building is positioned with the higher facade oriented towards the urban edge, and the lower facades towards the park’s interior. The building’s facade is finished with polished stainless steel, which shifts in colour constantly depending on the angle the sun hits it. The metal exterior appears seamless, and Davenport says it provides the project with “its iconic image, facilitating a comfortable fit within the park environment, and producing the illusion that it is a much smaller building than it actually is.” Davenport continues: “When sampling the materials, we were immediately seduced by the changing nature of its appearance and its correlation with the ‘movement’ theme. An added attraction was steel’s durability, and that it is maintenance free.” “He explains that the client’s brief was “in two parts; a physical schedule of accommodation, and a less tangible requirement which stated a desire that the building should evoke a sense of movement and activity.” The challenge, he recalls, was that the sports facilities were fixed, ‘box shaped’ volumes. “How would we manage these to produce a building which would ‘flow’ and blend into the park environment; a building where visitors move around externally and internally?” Davenport tells ADF that as the building has “a predominantly windowless facade,” this allowed the creation of a seamless envelope. He adds: “This provided an opportunity for the ribbon to twist and taper.” The whole structure is a steel frame, with piled foundations and a steel, metal deck roof, with a sedum green roof overlaid. There are also steel trusses that span the major spaces, about five metres deep over the long span. “We researched materials which could respond to the demands of constructing a seamless twisting ribbon,” Davenport explains. “We selected metal shingles, a pragmatic and appropriate way to do this.” Besides the green roofs, the other ecological elements of the build include 15,000 m2 of photovoltaic panels placed on the roof, with a heat-regulating sedum roof finish, and two ground water wells that form a heating and cooling system. The beach area utilises heated sand, warmed through hot water pipes laid beneath the floor. Also included is a misting device to keep the dust from the sand. Davenport details the process: “You need to find a certain type of sand which minimises the dusting, and then you need to dampen it through a misting device, to keep any remaining dust down to the surface level.” Internally, the main material used is wood panelling, perforated to provide acoustic benefit. Much of the flooring is prefabricated concrete, as is the arena seating. In the sports areas, flat steel panelled ceilings are employed, with integrated radiant heating panels. A host of public open days were held to explain the project’s novel design, and help engage the community in the process. Once the building was under construction, there were also a number of open days held where the local community could come and tour the building, and at some key stages, actually take part in the construction work. Davenport says the team were “really surprised” by people’s reaction to the edifice as it went up. “It’s a modern building, sitting in what is quite a traditional area, and the park is a listed monument. I must admit that when you engage in these kind of buildings, and you take the decision to make them and put something modern out there, you inevitably put yourself out there for some criticism. “You’d expect it to be more of a ‘Marmite’ kind of building, but it’s not at all. Everyone gets it, feels that it’s working, and that it sits well in its setting, so there’s been very little criticism, which I take as a fantastic compliment.”

Open to the park

Being located in isolation in the centre of a public space proved to be a challenging aspect of the project. The spaces around the building are available 24/7, there are no fences around it, and the building appears to have landed in the park. People can walk around it, and walk right up to the building on every side. “I guess if it was in this country, you’d probably find the client wanted to fence the building in some shape or form,” says Davenport. “It was actually suggested at one point, but we fought quite hard against this, and avoided vandalism by making the building as robust as possible.” A roughly oval courtyard has been carved out at the entrance of the building, accessed from the park. This is by way of a wide opening created via omitting a section of ground floor – a colonnade holds up the first floor. The ‘break out’ space is intended to provide opportunities for social gathering and recreation. The architect explains: “We created this courtyard very much in the heart of the park, and opened it up by raising the first floor accommodation, thereby creating a three-dimensional space. “Being open to the park, one of the big fears was that the space would become a bit of a ghetto at night, but we believed that by making it more open, it would become self policing in character, and it seems to have worked!” “In fact,” he continues, “we even put a basketball hoop in the space, which was a gamble in some respects.” The locals do seem to have respected it, however: “While people do congregate there, we’ve not seen any damage or vandalism as a result of that.” The park itself is protected againstdevelopment, and the site boundaries had to be defined by a re-modelling of the pedestrian route. As an island with 360 degree views and access, “the scale of the project, the internal volumes and the site location, within the heart of the park, dictated a large scale building which was never going to be hidden,” says Davenport. He concludes: “From day one, the building was very much about trying to get the community to engage in the park, but also what was going on in the building. One of the main ambitions was that the building would form a catalyst for the whole local community to get involved in some shape or form, becoming aware of how they can make themselves healthier. “That was what sat behind this building, and in many ways it was fundamental to be able to get the community engaged, until they thought of it as their building.”

Project factfile: Sportcampus Zuiderpark

  • Client: Municipality of Den Haag/Hague University
  • Architect: FaulknerBrowns Architects
  • Area: 33,000 m2
  • No. of seats in main hall: 3,500
  • Completed: 2017