The Holy Grail of Sports Stadium Design: The Truly Multi-Use Venue

February 16, 2018 / Christopher Lee

When Tottenham Hotspur appointed Populous to design their new stadium, our brief was to not only design the perfect atmospheric and authentic home for the club for the next century, but also to revolutionise modern stadium design in creating a stadium where multiple professional codes could play in a bespoke environment. This has always been the holy grail of stadium design; a multi-use stadium perfectly designed for the needs of all participants – players, spectators, media and operations – from English Premier League Football, to American Football with National Football League (NFL) specifications, and other codes such as rugby and events including major international concerts.

As part of a major regeneration of the area, the club’s ongoing vision is to create a thriving and exceptional sports, leisure and entertainment destination in Tottenham. Designed by Populous and through a close working relationship with technical experts SCX and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, the unique sliding pitch design solution is the key to delivering a world-class, multi-purpose venue, as well as creating the most intense and atmospheric place to watch any football code in Europe. However, this revolutionary piece of design and technology is only one part of the ‘multi-use’ story, which Populous has been refining and developing for over 30 years.

The perfect multi-use stadium has always been the holy grail of sports architecture. It was something that many architecture practices and clubs tried in the 1960’s and 70’s, often with unfortunate results for fans and players alike. For example, the combination of NFL and Baseball on the same site has always been a difficult problem to rectify in the US, but the thought process is understandable; bringing two of a nation’s biggest sports together in a central state-of-the-art location.

With NFL fast growing it’s claim to be one of the biggest fan sports in the UK, Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium is the first in the world to be designed from the start as a home for NFL, as well as an EPL ground. This innovative design has been a key part of the brief from the very beginning of the project, to ensure that a fantastic match day experience is delivered to all fans, whatever code you’ve come to see. What’s really exciting is the way that we’ve been able to draw on our 30 years of football and NFL experience from all around the world to combine them to create a really exciting and innovative opportunity for the club, fans, and the local community.

At the end of the day, this part of the project boils down to this question: how do you create the perfect sightlines for fans and the perfect surface for both soccer and American football, when the latter’s players, standing on the sidelines, are on average over half a foot taller, and 60kg heavier? Anyone who has been to watch the NFL London Games at Wembley and Twickenham will have noticed that the first 10 rows from the sidelines are covered. This has nothing to do with an inability to sell the tickets tickets; simply put, if you sat in those seats, you wouldn’t be able to see any of the action on the pitch!

From the sliding pitch at the University of Phoenix, to the retractable roofs Principality Stadium and later Wimbledon Centre Court, the focus is always on the perfect experience for fans and players alike. All these have been successes in their own right, with Phoenix hosting the Super Bowl in 2015, the roof at SW19 annually guaranteeing play for a worldwide audience at the world’s greatest tennis tournament, and the Principality Stadium often lauded as the greatest rugby stadium in the world. This stadium, however, will be the first time that all this experience has been brought together from the very start of a project for true multi-sport, multi-functionality.

The artificial playing surface for NFL will lie permanently beneath the natural grass football pitch, so that when the natural grass pitch slides away, the artificial surface will lie 1.5 metres below. This approach allows the front row of seats to stay in exactly the same position; up close to the action and at pitch-level for football and 6 feet above the game for NFL, meaning that every fan has perfect sightlines over the entourage of players and coaches on the sidelines. The inclusion of the synthetic NFL pitch also adds to the overall flexibility of the stadium, allowing the club to host a range of sports, concerts and events throughout the year.

To make these kinds of steps forward takes time, and a really close collaborative working relationship with the client. We have spent years refining the design technology for this unique field of play, to make sure it optimizes every opportunity for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and for the local community. This technology follows a particular philosophy – allowing the stadium to be a fantastic, productive and economically valuable addition to the local area, 365 days a year.

However, it’s not just about a grand vision. The success of the concept is in resolving the thousands of issues associated with designing one stadium environment with the different and often competing requirements of multiple professional codes and events; from fail-safe and redundancy issues to ensure the field always moves out (and in when required), to dealing with access to the two different pitch/field levels. For example, Populous designed a series of hydraulic ramps to enable the transition in levels between the changing rooms and the field of play in the different modes of use. Along with hydraulically-operated sections of turf surround the pitch, this completed the transformation from a football pitch to an NFL field.

The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will set a new standard in stadium design, combining cutting-edge techniques and technology with the club’s incredibly deep understanding of their fans. And with the retractable pitch, Tottenham Hotspur will open this new development to a whole new generation of supporters, whatever the code.

For more information about the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium design, visit

Meet the author

Christopher Lee

Senior Principal, Managing Director – EMEA / London

1 thought on “The Holy Grail of Sports Stadium Design: The Truly Multi-Use Venue
  1. The real party trick would be hosting baseball. An EPL football pitch and an NFL field are both rectangles. Many an American stadium has tried and failed to achieve this geometric feat.

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