Oriam is a new sports performance centre in Scotland providing facilities for the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Rugby Union among others. Here Nathan Wheatley, a member of the Institution for 16 years, describes his work on the project.

Oriam comprises a full size, indoor, synthetic pitch for football and rugby with seating for 500 people, a nine-court sports hall, a fitness suite and a high-performance wing. However, its most striking structural engineering feature is its roof, which is roof design ‘elevated to an art form' according to Building Design magazine.

We very much enjoyed the challenge of designing the roof: the brief was to create a building which would inspire a future generation of athletes to the top of their sport. That’s why the roof arch is derived from the path of Roberto Carlos’s famous free-kick, taken for Brazil against France in 1997. Carlos’s free kick appears to describe a spiral, which is a shape of constantly changing radius.

For the purpose of fabricating the steel arches in a cost-effective way, this spiral geometry has been approximated as a series of curves of constant radius (three curves for the Football Pitch Roof and a further three curves for the Sports Hall roof). 

This dynamic asymmetrically curved profile makes the building unique. Standing on the sports pitch and looking up at the roof, the supporting steel frame is prominent against the luminous backdrop of PVC fabric. Great care was taken to ensure that the details were elegant and precise, and the steel buttresses at either end of the roof span have an especially sculptural quality. Aesthetically and practically they anchor the roof down to the ground.

Oriam Roof exterior
(Image: Ioana Marinescu)

Engenuiti undertook the design and exploration of the fabric panels up to the point of detailed design, and developed the arches to ensure we created a geometry that was simple to fabricate, achieved the required internal heights for the various sporting uses, and also maintained the sweeping asymmetrical form that architects Reiach and Hall envisioned.

This roof design has only been possible in recent decades because of advances in computational analysis. Finite element analysis or FEA software divides the fabric into a mesh of smaller, simpler parts and predicts how they will react to real-world forces. The software can calculate the combined effect of thousands of individual finite elements in a matter of seconds, whereas by hand it would take days. This makes it possible to accurately map the distribution of tensile stress across a fabric roof with a complex and undulating surface.
Oriam Roof
This map of tensile stress can be directly superimposed onto a 3D analysis model of the steel roof arches. Relatively quickly we were able to consider a range of loading scenarios created by gravity, wind, snow and thermal movements. Design is an iterative process, and several variations of secondary arch shapes were considered before ultimately arriving at the final design.

The project is also notable for its use of offsite fabrication - individual steel elements and connections were fabricated off site under controlled, highly regulated and safe factory conditions which delivered precision engineered components – and also allowed a rapid, waste-free assembly and comparatively quiet construction process. This was important as the existing Centre and Academy building needed to remain open during the construction work.  

There was a great team spirit amongst everyone involved in the delivery of the project – it was a very exciting process from start to finish and something that we hope all of Scotland can be extremely proud of. We’re thrilled to see it shortlisted for The Structural Awards 2017.

Explore The Structural Awards.


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