CHALLENGE. For over 100 years, The Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, England has been an iconic event, and since the advent of television, it has been watched by tens of millions of viewers all around the world. Almost as well-known as The Championships of course, were the many interruptions for rain, causing problems for both the competition organisers and television schedulers.
Populous’ brief was to accommodate increasing visitor levels and give players and members an improved level of facilities they expect, while maintaining the unmistakable atmosphere has required a careful balance of innovation with the retractable roof for Centre Court. The main challenge for the design team was to create a technologically unique system, whilst maintaining the feel of ‘tennis in an English garden’ for spectators and players alike.
INNOVATION. The hydraulically operated roof measures 65×75 metres and is a ‘folding fabric concertina’ with steel trusses supporting a translucent fabric skin. This skin allows natural light to reach the grass on the court, while an airflow removes condensation from within the bowl. In this way, optimum player performance and spectator comfort is maintained, while the sense of tradition that pervades the historic 1922 show court remains undisturbed. Beneath the roof, extra rows of seating, lifts and new members’ facilities enhance the experience even further.
"The mission statement which accompanied the last Wimbledon master plan, in 1993, suggested that the tournament should feel like “tennis in an English garden”. That principle was applied by architects Populous, who did a fine job in maintaining a sense of tradition while updating the facilities."Simon Briggs / Tennis Correspondent, Daily Telegraph
IMPACT. Since the installation of the new roof in 2009, The Championship fortnight has become a guaranteed event, avoiding major disruption to the event programme. As a result, Wimbledon has been able to retain its status as the premier Grand Slam tennis event within the tennis calendar, with broadcast coverage of the tournament going out to an audience of millions worldwide.
Populous upgraded the south-eastern, northern and eastern wings of the existing Centre Court and provided new accommodation comprising debentures, hospitality and dining facilities to take the Club into the 21st Century.
The most dramatic feature of the redesign was the retractable roof. Its evolution was scientifically demanding: measuring 65 x 75 metres, the hydraulically operated structure is like a folding fabric concertina, with steel trusses supporting a translucent fabric skin. The roof now allows matches to be played under cover in the event of bad weather during the two weeks of the Championships.
The combination of special and specific roof and bowl requirements needed a unique design solution. A key consideration was the internal environment during those times when the roof is closed: both the players and spectators need to be comfortable in the closed environment. To that end, the design allows natural light to reach the grass, while an airflow system removes condensation from within the bowl.
With tickets increasingly in demand, an extra six rows of seating on three sides of the upper tier increased the capacity at Centre Court from 13,800 to 15,000. New wider seats have been installed as well as extra stairs and lifts to provide greater spectator comfort. To allow for the new seating, new media facilities and commentary boxes have been incorporated. A core requirement of the proposal was to maximise the flexibility of the Club to provide facilities of the highest quality, both for the two high profile weeks of the Championships and the remaining fifty weeks per year, enjoyed by the members of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Facts and Figures
- Roof weight
- 3,000 tonnes – equivalent to 8 jumbo jets
- Roof area
- 6,000m2 – or 75,000 Wimbledon umbrellas
- Volume of Centre Court with roof closed
- 87,000m3 – enough room to fit 290million tennis balls
- Roof movement speed
- 13m per minute – if the roof continuously moved it would reach Buckingham Palace 24 hours later
- Air-conditioning supplies
- 143,000 litres of air per second – enough to fill a hot air balloon in 18 seconds
- European Structural Steel Design Awards
- Stadium Business Awards, Innovation of the Year, 2009