John Smith’s Stadium
CHALLENGE. A small town in the north of England, Huddersfield has an enviable record when it comes to sport. The birthplace of rugby league and the home of the Huddersfield Giants, the town now also boasts an EPL team following Huddersfield Town’s promotion in 2017. In 1991, a partnership between these two teams and Kirklees Metropolitan Council came together with the ambition to create a mulit-use complex that could serve as a world-class home to both professional teams, as well as being a hub for the local community. Populous’ winning scheme for the new stadium was based on the ‘Stadium for the Nineties’, a theoretical project developed by the Populous design team for the UK Sports Council.
The 50-acre site for the project is on the edge of Huddersfield town, constricted by the River Colne to the west, and the wooded Kilner Bank to the east. The design ambition was for the the stadium to act as a social oasis, attracting future investment into leisure and retail developments on the site.
John Smith's Stadium is the only stadium to ever win the coveted ‘Building of the Year’ award, the forerunner of the Stirling Prize, from the Royal Institute of British Architects
INNOVATION. The Populous masterplan designed to allow the new stadium to function in conjunction with the commercial and leisure facilities, including a multiplex cinema, food and non-food retail, and a community leisure centre. The north stand was designed to incorporate a hotel in the future, as well as housing all the back-of-house facilities for both professional clubs, and maintenance and service required to accommodate the hotel. The stadium design also includes a 25m swimming pool with a fully adjustable floor. The pool also accommodates synchronised swimming, diving, water polo, and competition diving.
IMPACT. The main architectural challenge for the project was to design a roof that allowed uninterrupted viewing from every seat, as well as the addition of roofs to the future end stands. The arch, which became affectionately known as the ‘banana truss’, consists of a white tubular-steel prismatic structure, the largest element of which stretches 140 metres and weighs 78 tonnes.
Since opening in August 1994 John Smith’s Stadium has become a landmark venue, attracting sustained international publicity and winning a number of design awards.
Populous’ design for the John Smith’s Stadium was based on Stadium for the Nineties, a theoretical project developed by the practice for the UK Sports Council. Crucially, the design was in full compliance with the new legislation of the Taylor Report, published in the wake of the Hillsborough stadium disaster of 1989. It also embraced new technology to provide improved sightlines for spectators in all areas of the ground.
Populous developed its own computer program to create a digital 3D model of the project, allowing the designers to generate different viewing positions within the seating bowl and that made it possible to ensure clear sightlines for every spectator. The result was four futuristic orange-segment shapes as stands, high and deep in the centre, low and shallow at the ends – a far cry from the box-like structures that had been the norm at football grounds since the 1930s.
The stadium’s curved roof trusses, affectionately known as the ‘banana trusses’, carry the full weight of the structure without the need for supporting columns. The unusual shape of the trusses gave the stadium a swagger that turned heads across the architecture world.
“Before this project I don’t think big-name architects would have been interested in designing stadiums,” says Dale Jennins, Site Architect on the project,” they were seen as just these crinkly tin sheds built for containing people. But the John Smith’s changed all of that.”
Such was the elegance of the building’s that the year after it opened, the John Smith’s Stadium was crowned the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Building of the Year. It remains the only sports stadium to win the coveted prize to this day.
The John Smith’s Stadium broke all the conventions of a football stadium as a cold, unwelcoming building offering little more than a plastic cup of tea and a pie on a dingy corridor. It was a deliberate policy of Populous’ interior design team to use a variety of vibrant colours throughout the building. Where other architects may have used solid walls around the lifts and stairs, Populous used glass blocks, trimmed in the blue and white of the town’s football colours, to offer visibility and uplift.
As one of the earliest examples of a multi-use stadium to be shared by two professional clubs playing different sports, part of the brief called for the co-occupiers of the venue to be able to function as independently as possible. This is reflected in the distribution of permanent accommodation for each party. Club offices with their own private entrances and dedicated entertainment areas help establish a sense of identity in a shared venue. These facilities created new opportunities for revenue generation on non-match days – a relatively novel concept at the time, but one that has become the bedrock of modern business planning for stadiums.