Architects with Olympian talent take out QUT Outstanding Alumni Award

An architecture firm responsible for designing two iconic Olympic stadia, the upcoming Winter Olympics’ facilities in Russia, the fabulous new roof over Centre Court at Wimbledon, Ascot Racecourse, and the new Wembley Stadium, has truly earned the name Populous for its ability to gather the world in one place.

John Barrow and Rod Sheard, two of Populous’ guiding stars and senior principals, today were named joint 2013 QUT Outstanding Alumni Of the Year at a ceremony at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

At the ceremony, Mr Barrow said: “The qualifications we got at QIT served us well to allow us to take on the London Olympics and to be so successful” noting Populous now has projects in 30 countries. Mr Sheard said he was humbled by the achievements of the other QUT Outstanding Alumni Award winners and quipped: “If only I’d paid a bit more attention, I would have done a lot better.”

Mr Barrow and Mr Sheard graduated from QIT (a QUT predecessor institution) with a Diploma of Architecture in separate years in the 1970s. Both soon beat a path to London and first Rod and later John gravitated to what would become the world’s largest specialist sports architecture practice, garnering a slew of international projects on the way.

Next year alone, thousands of people will flock to the Populous-designed Winter Olympics stadium in Sochi, Russia and the Estadio das Dunas a new stadium for the FIFA World Cup in Natal, Brazil, not to mention our own Suncorp Stadium whose redesign Mr Sheard also had a major hand.

Growing up in Australia, Mr Sheard says, meant sport was always going to be part of his life.

“My grandfather was one of the founders of tennis at Milton and my family were heavily into sport. I played tennis until I was 18 but lacked the killer instinct,” he said.

“When we were working on the new roof over Wimbledon’s Centre Court we were invited into the Royal Box.

“Ken Rosewall was also a guest. He was a hero of mine as a kid and so when I was introduced to him I told him that he probably didn’t remember me but I was a ball boy for his match against Rod Laver in 1968 at Milton for the Australian Open.

“He looked at me for a moment and said without hesitation, ‘Yes I remember and you were crap!’ That was the era I would like to have played tennis in.”

While sport was important, architecture was always going to be his vocation.

“I never connected the two until I came to London and started working in an office that just happened to be working on a small sport building.

“In those days sports building were seen as rather utilitarian buildings, more an engineering challenge than a work of art. In the next 30 years the genre evolved from small scale, low-brow venues to structures that could put a city on the international map and provide a community with a sense of identity that no other building type can do.”

Mr Sheard masterplanned and designed the Sydney and London Olympic stadia and facilities.

“When we designed Sydney it was the first Olympic Stadium to explore the idea of changing the size after the Olympics had left town, predominantly for economic reasons.”

London’s 2012 Olympic Stadium followed suit – its 80,000 capacity has since been downsized (thanks to its removable top bowl), to a smaller stadium just right for ‘local’ football games or concerts. This ensures it remains a viable legacy, unlike some Olympic stadia too expansive and expensive to run that become beautiful, but white elephants.

Apart from being multipurpose, the London stadium was billed as the most sustainable stadium.

“Often the energy used to run a stadium is never surpassed by the energy that goes into building it. We built the lightest Olympic Stadium ever, with just over 10,000 tonnes of steel, compared to perhaps four to 10 times that for a typical stadium of that size, so we used less materials, we also used recycled materials.”

Mr Barrow started off wanting to be an aeronautical engineer and gained a pilot’s licence at 17, before he got a driver’s licence.

“Soon after I became passionate about architecture and this evolved into a focus on sport and entertainment, and how these facilities can have such a profound effect on the neighbouring community, in some cases, on an entire nation.”

Mr Barrow was involved in the masterplan for the London Olympics masterplan and London Olympic Overlay or Operational planning and then directed the Winter Olympic Stadium project which will host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia early next year.

Again, this stunningly designed stadium has elastic capacity to future-proof it for further international gatherings – seating can be increased to 45,000 for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, up from 32,000 for the Winter Olympics and then down to 25,000 for local use.

“Populous designed the bid and masterplan for the Winter Olympics. The biggest challenge was creating a sustainable legacy, which will be achieved through downsizing the stadium for football and university sports.

“The stadium will be used mainly for the opening and closing ceremonies and medals presentations. It will form one of these games’ main icons which will showcase the whole nation of Russia,” Mr Barrow said.

“It captures the views from inside to the sea in one direction, and to the mountains in the other direction. The stadium evokes memories of the gorges and valleys linking the mountain venues to the Olympic Park.

“It’s visible for kilometers in every direction and is designed to become a beacon and lasting memory of the Games.”

And, as Populous is found in places where the peoples of the world gather it is no surprise the firm is designing several FIFA World Cup 2018 stadia as well as working on both the Brazil World Cup 2014 and Rio 2016 Olympics.

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