The influences on sport and design in China and how it differs with the West

August 19, 2016

Since its opening in October 2015, tens of thousands of visitors have attended events in the Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre in southern China. To mark the success of the project, ArchiCreation, a highly recognised professional architecture periodical in China, has released a book entitled ‘From Iconic to Professional: The Future of Sports Venue Development – Special Issue for Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre’.

 ArchiCreation featured Andrew James, Senior Principal at Populous and project leader for the design of Zhuhai Tennis Centre, in the book, and in the wide ranging interview Andrew describes the inspiration behind the design, trends in Stadium design and he looks at the differences in design processes between East and West ….

 ArchiCreation (AC): When did you join Populous?

ANDREW JAMES (AJ): I joined Populous in 2000 when Populous was looking to grow our work in Asia. I had already been working in Asia for 10 years. I love sports work. It’s the best job I can ever imagine.

 AC: There are two key modes, or stages of life for large scale stadiums: during the event and post-event. Some clients care more about the utilization during the event while others may think more about the legacy mode. Which stage do you think is more important?

AJ: All aspects of design, operations and management contribute to how well the stadium works, during both event and legacy modes. We tend to take the point of view of the fan. Of course, we have to get the stadium technically right, so the field of play works properly for the players, for example, but as designers, a stadium is all about the spectator experience, which we call the fan experience. We focus on making the day as enjoyable as possible for spectators so they will continue to come back. What we call the fan experience encapsulates all aspects of design. Why is the fan experience so important? If the fan, or the spectator, has a bad experience at the stadium, next time they will watch it on TV, even if their favourite team is playing. The last thing we want are empty stadiums. The most important thing to the business of sport is that you have full stadiums and to have full stadiums, the fan experience has to be good.

AC: In your speech at Tsinghua University in 2012, you said the London Olympic Organizing Committee was very concerned with the financials and how the stadium would function after the Event, and they had many discussions with Populous about this. The life span for the stadium was set to 50 years; 2/3 of the total budget was to be put towards maintenance and operation, leaving only 1/3 for construction. The principle for this design was completely different from any project before. They wanted many of the venues to be temporary, only to be used for the Olympics. However, architects usually want their work to last as long as possible. This time Populous changed its design concept, and came up with the idea of “embracing the temporary”. Could you elaborate on this idea referencing the examples of main stadiums for the Beijing Olympics and London Olympics?

AJ: Building a stadium just for one event, like an Olympic Games, is very different from building a stadium for club football where it’s used every weekend. No one wants a “white elephant” where a building is used only for a major event and no one has considered its legacy and what will happen with the building afterwards. A designer must think about what is going to happen after the main event. The London Olympics are a good example. In London all the permanent stadiums built had to have a business case to justify their existence after the Olympics. London only built five permanent venues. All those venues are still used regularly and they all make money. The other 139 venues were all temporary, built for the Olympics and then dismantled. However, times have changed. In 2008 in China, I believe, the Bird’s Nest in Beijing was built more as a monument than a sports building. The Beijing Olympics was about showing the world that China was back on the world stage. The Bird’s Nest was symbolic, and I think it achieved its purpose. The design was right for China at that time. But China has moved forward. Now China is looking for more economically sustainable buildings with a long term purpose; that is a big shift in thinking in China in the last decade.

AC: But recently, the Bird’s Nest has been losing money.

AJ: Yes, because it was designed and built for a different purpose 15 years ago. I’m sure if it was built now, things would be different. There are different standards. Now, if we are designing a stadium in China, it must have a long term purpose.

AC: Do you have any suggestions on how to design and operate a large scale stadium in China? Will the retractable roof be a trend?

AJ: The future of large scale stadiums in China is all about the development of professional sport, and mostly that means football. You have to have a demand to build new sporting facilities otherwise there is no point building it. There is a history in China of cities building sports parks which are only used once or twice. But China is changing and increasingly encouraging and participating in professional sports. I think you will find that the China Soccer League will grow very quickly in the next five years and soon there will be as many people watching football here in China as there are in England. When that happens, then there will be the demand for stadiums that are purpose-built for football.

The problem in China at the moment is that there are many stadiums which have athletic tracks surrounding a main field, and these stadiums are not appropriate for football. So China has to decide whether to renovate existing stadiums or build new stadiums specifically designed for football. If we get it right, these new stadiums will eventually be used every weekend in the China Soccer League. Then if you consider the question of an opening and closing roof over the stadium, well, just look at the English football stadiums. The climate is difficult in the UK; it’s always raining and cold. But most stadiums are open-roofed. This is because when spectators come to watch sport they want to escape their homes and offices and experience the feeling of watching an outdoor sport being played outside. It’s the same with American baseball parks. A few are roofed, but nine out of ten are outdoor stadiums. People want to feel the weather – the cold, the heat, even get a bit wet. It’s an adventure, an escape if you like. So the focus of design is all about capturing the experience of watching an outdoor event, in the most comfortable way possible.

AC: Also in your speech at Tsinghua University, you listed six key design issues in the London Olympic project: bidding for the Olympic Games, master planning, design of the main stadium, design of temporary facilities, environment design and upgrading infrastructure. However, it seems that the design for the main stadium usually gets the most attention. Even though it is just one out of six issues. What is your opinion on the relationship between a single piece of architecture and the overall planning?

AJ: Only 1/10th of the money spent before the London Olympics was spent on the sports facilities. 9/10ths was spent on upgrading infrastructure like roads and rail, and the making of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Of that 10 percent spent on sports facilities, maybe one quarter was spent on the main stadium. So that’s only 1/40 of the overall cost. But, the main stadium is the one facility that attracts the focus of the world. You see in Japan now, the original design for the Tokyo Stadium was cancelled because it was too expensive and didn’t fit on the site properly. When thinking about its function and legacy, everyone started questioning the iconic design. Now the Japanese are hopefully considering something that’s more appropriate for its legacy purposes as well as for the Olympics on top of any budgetary considerations.

The best thing about the London Olympics was the creation of the new park. It was the biggest new park in London in over a hundred years. To me, that’s the real legacy of the London Olympics. The organisers took an area of London which was ugly, industrial and polluted and made it beautiful. The Park is a wonderful legacy to leave behind for the city. The Olympics lifted the spirts of people in London in a way that nothing had done in a long time, maybe since England won the Ashes in 2003 or the Rugby World Cup. That’s what a major sporting event can do – it can lift the spirits of the whole country.

AC: Which is the most important of these six points?

AJ: I can’t tell you what’s the most important; they are all important. But you need to leave a legacy which makes people’s lives better. They have more and better sports facilities, and during the event itself everyone feels great. What’s best is the way we feel. The overall desire is to make people feel better about their lives, I would say that’s best.


AC: That’s your company’s name—Populous.

AJ: Drawing people together. It’s about loving life, attending a live event, and sharing a common experience.

There had been a lot of discussion in our office about whether or not we should put all of the drawings for the Zhuhai Tennis Centre in this book and whether or not other architects are going to copy those drawings. But that’s not the point. Any architect can design a seating area, or back of the house areas. What is actually important is how you put the whole design together. It’s the combination of everything. And always keep in mind that on event day, the experience of being all together for one day is the most important thing.

AC: Also in your speech in Tsinghua, you stated that the Sydney Olympics was the “green Olympics”, the Beijing Olympics was more of a symbol for the development of China and London was the first Olympics to consider environmental, economic and social values. You also mentioned that usually the main stadium seemed to be the one taking most of the investment, but for London actually a large portion of money went to upgrading infrastructure. It seems there are major differences in perception between western countries and developing countries in Asia. At least in China, a large stadium is directly linked to tourism, it becomes a tourist attraction afterwards. Take Beijing’s Bird’s Nest as an example. It was to become a new tourist attraction after the Olympics so it was designed for that purpose. But in Western countries, it seems that people want to focus more on using the stadium as part of their daily lives. In China, the practical meaning of stadiums and their role in urban life tend to be easily ignored.

AJ: I believe China is in transition right now, moving towards a much more commercialized response to sports buildings. When the Bird’s Nest was designed in 2002, it was perfect for what Beijing wanted at that time; it was a symbol that Beijing had arrived on the modern world stage. It was a very monumental, beautiful, sculptural building; a powerful, strong statement. So at that time, it was right. However we are now discussing the legacy of buildings and this is really a new discussion since the London Olympics. The Bird’s Nest was right at that time. China has changed and now the issues are different. China is changing faster than anywhere else in the world.

AC: I believe you must have seen many iconic stadiums in Asia already and have met clients who only care about the building’s appearance. Do you ever come across conflicts between your own design principles or philosophies and a client’s expectations?

AJ: What we always try to do is understand what an owner wants. We don’t say, this is the right and only solution. How could I come to China and say this is the right design. I’m not Chinese. I can’t say that. We must try to understand what the owner wants, it’s not about what the architect wants. I try to fulfil what they want as well as I possibly can. The architect should follow what the owners and clients want. Many architects think it’s our duty to change the world. But the world changes because society changes. Social change drives architectural change. So now, China is changing socially, and this is driving these discussions about legacy and architectural designs will follow these discussions. We can help social change along by understanding what our Clients want, but we are not here to initiate change. It is not our job.

AC: To have a sustainable stadium, there must be a consensus of a sustainable lifestyle among the public. How does one architect promote this concept during design?

AJ: When we first unveiled our design for the London Olympics, it was criticized by many architects, especially in the UK. Firstly, they were jealous, and they all thought they could do a better job. And you know what they said? The UK architects said, “Oh, look what Beijing did! How magnificent that Bird’s Nest is! And you want to give us something that looks like an industrial gas works!” That’s what we had to deal with. But it was our client that asked us to come up with the environmentally sustainable solution. It wasn’t us telling the world. The London Olympic Organizing Committee was the one that had the foresight and the courage to say the London Olympics are going to be about environmental sustainability.

So we came up with a design that used as little material as possible in the design and building of the London Olympic Stadium. Even some of the steel work involved reused piping. We followed our client’s wishes. But architects always get the criticism. That’s just our job. So yes, the stadium was criticized by everyone. But then, over a few years people’s opinions began to change. By the time the Olympics happened, everyone was proud to have a building that was environmentally responsible. People also criticized the cost. They said it cost more to do a temporary building than to do a permanent building. At first, yes, it did cost a lot. A fine balanced structure sometimes costs more than a less sophisticated structure. However, after the Games, this stadium was designed to reduce down which reduces maintenance and management costs for the next fifty years. Therefore, in the long term, it’s much cheaper. It’s also environmentally responsible to be frugal with using the world’s resources; it is part of a philosophy that says it will cost money but you will get a better solution. Promoting the concept of environmental sustainability is largely the government’s job. Why would a company, which is focused on maximizing its profit, want to spend more – unless the government was encouraging it? It has to start with the government encouraging companies to be social and environmentally responsible.

As designers, we have to do our job as well as we possibly can. If the client is talking about having a more environmentally responsible building, we have to understand what it means, research it, and maybe even take the idea a little further still, encourage our client to go one step further. For us this means we need to read, research and understand. A good architect is continually upgrading his skills, that’s just learning.

Zhuhai Tennis Centre (6) (Large)

AC: Compared with the projects we have just talked about, we can see Zhuhai Hengqin Tennis Centre is quite distinctive in many ways. It is built on currently unexploited land rather than a mature urban setting. It is like a plain piece of paper having no urban context. Though located close to Zhuhai, there are not too many people because Zhuhai has never been densely populated. The project will purely rely on the event itself to encourage fans to travel long distances. Have you ever come across this kind of situation before?

AJ: The tennis center is being built as the catalyst to draw people in and focus on developing a new city. A lot of residential apartments, commercial developments and office buildings will grow around the Tennis Centre and, one day, it will be in the middle of a new city. It’s a good way of bringing energy to a new place, attracting attention to that place by bringing in a special event. I will give you another example. When we began the design of the Nanjing Sports Park, the site was just rice fields. There was nothing there for three kilometers in any direction, just rice fields. The client said: “Don’t worry, one day, there will be a city”. Now if you go to Nanjing Sports Park which we designed in 2001, and was built in 2004, it is surrounded by high-rise buildings like Central Park in New York. So it’s true, it is the center of a new city. Zhuhai Hengqin Tennis Centre is a smaller version of that. There will be international tennis events and in ten years’ time, there will be buildings all around it, and it will function as an Event Centre and a big park and tennis club for the rest of the year. The client wanted to have a professional tennis tournament but we also then discussed legacy as the tournament is only one week a year. So we designed a facility that can be used the other 51 weeks of the year by the community. So it has two different functions, just like Nanjing Sports Park.

AC: Do you think this way of stimulating the urbanization process of an area will succeed?

AJ: I don’t know. It’s up to the developers – how fast they can build the urban development, how fast they sell the buildings around the Tennis Centre. But, from what I see, when people in China start to do something, it happens very quickly. I just used Nanjing as an example. When we designed it, I had no idea that in ten years’ time, Nanjing Sports Park would be the centre of a new city. But everyone said that would happen. And it did. So I think it can happen here too. The area around Zhuhai Tennis Centre is smaller, but it’s got the canals, and boating and all that water. I think it will be a lot easier for Zhuhai to build an attractive development than it was for Nanjing. There is good services here, better transport solutions, and healthy air. The Event is just one part. Of course, it doesn’t solve everything. People won’t all move here just because you are having a tennis event. They will come because there is good education, good roads, good services and local shops, and clean air. The event is only one part.

AC: Back to Nanjing, there are so many details in the old city. While the new city has lots of problems, such as single function and little details.

AJ: You can’t move millions of people from the countryside into the city and fit them all in the old existing cities. There is not enough room. So what do you do? Knock down the historic buildings or build a new city beside the old one? I mean, of course it’s going to be different, and sometimes these new developments take time to grow.

We have similar situations all over the world. Some people like new places, some people like the old places. So an architect has to keep an open mind when planning. I personally, like to live in an old place, where everything is small and the green of the city is tighter, interesting things happen. But you can’t have everyone live in the old place. So you have to make a new place. On that basis, I think I’d rather build a new town and leave the old town like it was. There is no perfect solution, but development is development.

AC: We know that in the Hengqin project, Populous has been fully involved in all aspects of the design, from masterplanning, architecture, and landscape architecture to lighting. Compared with the London Olympic Stadium, do you think you have considered all six design issues in the masterplanning? Is the urban development issue of the area part of Populous’ study or research agenda?

AJ: Every new project is unique. We can’t really say that the six objectives for the London Olympics should be the same objectives for Zhuhai Tennis Centre. I think the first objective in Zhuhai was to create a place where you can hold an event, and that is working well. People love coming to the Event and hopefully they will come back next year because they enjoyed the event experience. Secondly, it was to create a place that can be used by the community for the other 51 weeks per year.

We took into account the likely future development and possible transport options. In terms of sustainability, right now we are looking at an entry gate and pergolas. My personal feeling is that the site is big and open. We can make it a little bit softer, bringing in more greenery and vegetation.


AC: What are the differences and similarities between the London Olympic Stadium and Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre?

AJ: Zhuhai Hengqin Tennis Centre and the London Olympic Stadium are very different. The Olympics is the biggest event in the world. But in terms of the clients, they were focused in much the same way. In both cases I believe our objectives aligned very closely with our clients’ objectives. It’s quite simple when you stop talking about what the building looks like for a while and you talk about what you will do, and what the building will do. You try to align your objectives with the client. When you get on to the same road, you can move forward together. With the Zhuhai project, we were pretty closely aligned. We had a client that lived and breathed this project for the six months of the design period, they just couldn’t think about anything else. So when you have a client that is really, totally engaged, like ringing up at four o’clock in the morning from Paris, saying I have just had another idea, that client is engaged.

AC: We know Populous had a quite special way of working as a team on this project. Instead of having a design team that fully works on the project, you coordinated and organized designers and experts from all over the world. How does Populous ensure that team members, who are spread around the world, can all reach the same level of correctly understanding the project and making the right decisions? How do you guarantee the design outcome will meet Populous’ standard quality?

AJ: It’s one of the biggest challenges we face as an international architectural firm – maintaining the ideas and quality of the original design all the way through. What we tend to do is try to stay on designing the project as long as possible, to the end of detail design. But there comes a time when the local architect has to take over, sign the drawings and eventually submit them. We try to build a positive relationship with the local architects, involve them early on so they understand the philosophy of the design. And then we try to have some of our people stay on with the local architect to make sure the DNA of the scheme continues right through and you don’t lose the original concept.

AC: In terms of design, what differences have you found between China and western countries?

AJ: Everything moves much faster in China, which means you have less time to design and buildings are built much faster. That has its good and bad side. There is a certain amount of copying of design that goes on here, by architects. The problem with that is it’s done without an understanding of why a decision was made and what works in one situation doesn’t necessarily work in another. So if you just copy the work without understanding, sometimes the design won’t work. Things move so fast in China and the design time is often very short, and that can be problematic. In the most sophisticated countries, architects get paid a lot more than in China. Firstly, the construction budget for the same building would be three times as high in America or the UK as in China, and then, correspondingly, the architects’ fees would also be higher. So, of course, if you only get 1/10 as much in China, then you have to cut your service a bit. You have to move fast and do less. So sometimes, then, you get buildings that look really good from a distance, but when you get closer, you start to see problems. Sometimes it can be like this in the differences between new cities versus old cities. The old cities have had hundreds of years of people renovating and fixing things up. You have beautiful touches like brass door knobs and intricacies around the windows that you don’t have in the new cities, because the building happens just so fast.

AC: Which do you prefer?
AJ: I am happy in China because buildings actually get built. I have been working on projects in some other country for 15 years, and we are still at feasibility stage. So, that doesn’t make you very happy. In China, our projects like Nanjing Sports Park and Zhuhai Tennis Centre are built, so that makes me happy. Also, you can see, by just travelling around that China is getting wealthier. Developers are now looking to create buildings of the highest possible standard and are looking for the world’s top architects to help. I have also noticed how much people have learnt in a short time. You can see in twenty to thirty years, how much the place has changed. China’s infrastructure is now world class and moving forward faster than anywhere else.

AC: Compared with clients in western countries, have Chinese client left some distinctive impression on you?

AJ: I think China’s goals are very high and things move at such high speed in China, so Clients want results quickly too. In Europe you might have months to consider a proposal, then the client wants a design then a discussion. It’s a different way of thinking. Europeans are very comfortable. They don’t want their lifestyle to be too affected by a project. In China, everyone just works, works and works. Lifestyle issues are not even part of the equation.

Let me give you an example. I said to my wife: “Come to China with me for ten days and we can combine business with some time together”. We arrived at the hotel at 2 am after a long flight. I got picked up at 8 am, so I had just four hours sleep, and then arrived home at 11 pm – 15 hours later. I woke up at 7 o’clock the next day, and did it all again. My wife said to me, “Is it going to be like this every day?” I said, “I think for the Chinese, this is the way you work!”

AC: How do you comment on the work of local architects?

AJ: We’ve been working with the LDIs for 15 years. We know most of the good ones that do our types of buildings and there are only a limited number of them as we are so specialized. So we will meet them all, look at their projects, talk with them, try to understand what type of people they are, whether they like working with foreigners.

Zhuhai Tennis Centre (12)

AC: How about you collaboration with LDI in Zhuhai Hengqin project?

AJ: We had conflicts earlier on, but in the end, I think the result is pretty good.

AC: Traditionally, architecture design is based on individual experience, heavily branded with the architect’s personal style. But Populous’ work involves a lot of technology and engineering, which requires shared knowledge and experiences and that forms the company’s design philosophy. In exactly what way does Populous manage and stimulate the individual knowledge and experiences, and then transfer them into the company’s intellectual advantage?

AJ: It is also important to transfer company knowledge to an individual. You need good experiences, and you need time together, you and the company. You need to work on good projects with good clients. When you are young, you need a mentor within the company who can guide you and help you stay focused on the long-term goal.

In Populous we have this concept or strategy now called “PI”, “Populous Intelligence”, where everyone in our company gets together and they talk about the subject matters that interest them. We evolve cells or “clubs” if you like where people focus on an aspect of design or philosophy that’s related to the design, and work together, research and read, and then feed that knowledge back into the whole company, through presentations and the like. We have to stay in front of everybody else to maintain our advantage.

We try to harness the ideas of everyone, especially our young people, and feed it into the company’s DNA. It’s taken us thirty years to get to this point. We continually change, update, reinvent and question ourselves. In the past it has been our offices in America and Europe which have led the way, but who knows, in the future, it may well be our Asian offices leading the way. Things are moving here, and new ideas are tested all the time, and we can feed these ideas back to the more experienced people in Europe and America. They are like adults learning from children. When your children get to about 18, they actually start teaching you a few things. They talk about the latest, greatest gadgets, and pop music, and if parents are open and smart, they will learn from their children. So we have to make sure that the more experienced people in our office keep on listening to the younger people in the office. It’s two-way mentoring. The older people shepherd the younger staff through, and then they have to be open to listen to new fresh ideas from the younger staff. That’s the challenge for a person, and also the challenge for a company.

AC: So, every architect in Populous has Populous’ DNA?
AJ: Ideally, of course, that is the goal. But what exactly is that DNA- I’m not sure. It’s a love of what we do. It’s a love of sports, entertainment, and drawing people together. It’s a love of understanding how people use our buildings, staying interested in that, watching what happens to a building over time and how it’s used. It’s a love of designing good experiences. And I guess it’s a love of making people’s lives better at the end of the day.

AC: How do you build and maintain this knowledge system?

AJ: That’s a really good question. I talked about the Pi (Populous Intelligence) cells we have where people from all over the world get together and discuss some aspect of their work, say 3D modelling, or marketing, or new design tools. They discuss things on the phone, or over the Internet. That’s one way we develop and build knowledge.

But the real cultural stuff, the cultural DNA, the Populous philosophy, that doesn’t really transmit through computers. That’s more face to face time. So we spend an awful lot of money having mini conferences between the offices, all getting together, in great places, too. We used to do them in our own offices. Now, we’ll go to Paris, or Copenhagen, or New York or Bali to have meetings. And we find everyone really enjoys it, they feel good to be part of Populous because we are having our internal meetings in interesting locations. People connect better, they are not so defensive, the communication is better and the result is better. So now while thinking, “let’s be cool and enjoy ourselves”. And that’s how you develop culture. That’s how you get people to listen and learn, that’s when they are open.

AC: Research empowers a company’s design competitiveness. But the investment in research may not bring direct benefits, in some projects, the cost of research may consume a large portion of the profit. We can see that none of Populous’ projects are purely based on ready-to-use experiences; there has always been comprehensive research, analysis, studies in technology and comparisons between various options conducted before making the design decision.

AJ: That’s about management and management techniques can be quite different. China and Korea have the same issues. Highly intelligent, talented people go and get the best education in the world. And when they come back, they look at their opportunities to work for that architecture market, and they either just follow, or they start their own practice, and often there’s not a great place for them to continue growing. What we are doing now is looking more and more for talent from around the world, because we recognize that talent. We are doing it in India, for example. There is great talent in India, highly educated people doing great work. I think Populous is in a good position because we are not a big company, but neither are we a little boutique practice of ten.

This philosophy has grown in the company and it’s great to be part of. When we rebranded as Populous six years ago, it gave us a chance to develop a fresh perspective. And we started listening more and started realizing it was our young talented staff who would drive the future. It’s the young, creative, intelligent people that make us better, but we have to keep learning and researching.

AC: How do you manage the research department?

AJ: As I mentioned, partly we are doing it through innovations like Pi- “Populous Intelligence”. We let our young staff research the things that they like, and we encourage them. We also have three research fellowships a year. Staff come up with a good research idea, we give them 10,000 dollars and overseas trips to further that idea.

AC: What if the research result is not adaptable?

AJ: We don’t tell people what to research. A lot of their research is just about things they love. Sometime it’s of use, sometimes it’s not. Not all research is going to be useful. But sometimes, there will be a great idea and it’s used in a project. The architect is just so proud of himself for having come up with the idea that’s actually included in a project; he doesn’t always need extra money to be motivated.

AC: How does the company encourage the staff to devote time to research?

AJ: Inspiration and reward. It would be rare if we said no to someone wanting to do some research. We give people time off each year to go to conferences, to attend learning programs – that’s all part of research

AC: How do you set the subjects and goals?

AJ: It’s a process of constant reinvention. You keep trying. Finding ways to implement research is like research itself. Sometimes you try something, it doesn’t work; and then you try something else. You just have to have faith and confidence. We know it is the right thing to do.

AC: How does the company evaluate the outcome of staff’s research?

AJ: Like I said, we have competitions, like the Populous Fellowship. And we encourage people to keep pushing the envelope, because we include their ideas in real projects.

AC: How do you judge whether or not they have done the research?
AJ: There is an evaluation system, and people who win the Fellowships have to do presentations to the office, so that everyone can learn.

AC: Populous describes itself as follow: we are a group of innovators, ground breakers and visionaries. We are a global collective of architects, designers, technical experts and industry veterans. We are the people who create the places where millions unite…Our team’s international perspective brings together ideas from across cultures, activities, building types, events, and landscapes to realize a vision that connects fans with each other through their shared passions… we harness that knowledge to create places and experiences that have a strong and lasting impact on communities. We unlock potential and generate durable revenue streams. From this description, we can see Populous’ business has expanded from sports facility design to event management; and the latter is playing more and more part in the business.

AJ: We do a fairly narrow cross section of architectural work. But within that cross section, we go deeper. For example, we design sports buildings and then in some buildings we have actually managed the events as well, like the Super Bowl, in America. Activation is another area of specialization we do now. Clients say: “You build the building, you sell the building, you have the plazas, landscaping, everything in place; signage, way-finding even, well now we need sponsorship!” So we have developed a service called Populous Activate to help clients make the most of their precinct and their asset. It helps make money and it means people have a more enjoyable experience.

AC: How do you predict the direction of the future?

AJ: I don’t really. What we have to do is understand and follow our clients. I’ll stay flexible, follow the clients, and do what’s needed.


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