Peter Ayres has been a structural engineer for 30 years. Here he discusses his career and his work on the Otkritie Arena, a 45,000 seat football stadium in Russia, engineered by AECOM. The Arena has been shortlisted in The Structural Awards 2015 Sports or Leisure Structures category.
If I am honest, there was an element of chance about my career choice. Initially I was attracted to civil engineering as I wanted to work on major infrastructure projects - and I chose to study at Sheffield mainly because most of my favourite bands played Sheffield City Hall!
But when I got to Sheffield, I found myself studying under some of the best structural engineering lecturers and researchers of their era, including former Institution of Structural Engineers President, David Nethercot, his research colleague Pat Kirby, and Ian Burgess, who I believe still lectures at Sheffield, turning out some of the best structural engineering graduates in the world. He really is one of our profession’s unsung heroes in my opinion.
I am very fortunate to have worked on many fantastic projects during my career, all around the world; indeed I have now delivered a project on every continent. I doubt there are many professions that allow you to do that.
One project I am particularly proud of is the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station, a previous Structural Award winner and a project for which I was Design Team Director. It is probably one of the most technically advanced buildings ever, the world’s first relocatable, permanently manned Antarctic base –it was a wonderful project which gave me the opportunity to visit the most beautiful landscape on Earth.
I’m also very proud of what we have achieved with the Otkritie Arena. Modern stadia are complex, high performance buildings, where the structure is far more visible - so the impact that the structural engineer has on aesthetic and performance is very high. This is especially true of the roof, which is the dominant feature of many stadia, and helps create their identity.
We had to deal with a number of challenges on the design: Moscow is a demanding environment, where temperatures reach as low as -40 C in winter and as high as +40C in summer. This creates a huge problem where the building wants to expand and contract - if we ignored these effects, the stresses would build up and tear the building apart.
The way we deal with this is by using movement joints; in effect, whilst it looks like one building, the structure is actually made of 12 smaller, independently stable structures, which are isolated from each other. When it comes to the roof we cannot do this, as it has to be a single clear spanning structure. Instead the roof sits on a series of Teflon coated bearings which allow it to 'breathe' by moving independently of the main stadium structure below.
A further challenge of the Moscow climate is the level of snow which accumulates on the roof throughout the long, harsh winter, which meant the roof had to withstand a vertical load more than five times as high as a typical stadium.
We also worked hard to create a good atmosphere for fans – stadiums sometimes suffer in this respect due to large corporate boxes, raised, set-back, seating areas and wide cross aisles for access and egress. In the Otkritie Arena we dealt with this by keeping the VIP and premium areas to just one side of the stadium, and we created a tight, intimate stadium bowl on the other three sides, where everyone has a fantastic view and is really close to the action. The atmosphere when I attended the opening match was electric!
We also wanted Spartak to become a proper community club, which would appeal to families. So the new stadium incorporates many features uncommon in Russian stadiums, like an intermediate “club” seating area, modern integrated catering, a new club shop and even a Spartak themed crèche.
The fans love their new stadium, and attendances have more than doubled in the first season. It is the first time the club has had a permanent home of its own, so it is very special for them.
Seeing any major project you have worked on finally open is always a very satisfying feeling - but when that moment is shared with over 40,000 other people, all cheering along, it is truly special.
Learn more about The Structural Awards.