Twenty five years with Populous!

By: Megan Ashfield

This month we were able to celebrate Principal Megan Ashfield’s 25 years with Populous. One of our leading interior designers, with a completed project list which may actually be longer than your arm, we asked Megan to reflect on her experiences with Populous since she first joined our London office in 1990!

What first drew you to sports architecture?

As an undergraduate, I realised quite early on that I wanted to work on large scale projects, and was lucky to have a friend who was already working in sports architecture, and he suggested that I apply.

What is your favourite moment or memory of working at Populous?

There are too many favourites to choose from! A small group of us went out to Australia for a few years to work on designs for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Stadium (now ANZ Stadium), and that was a fantastic experience throughout – a great project, a talented team from designers through to construction crew, a spectacular city to live and work in, and huge enthusiasm from Australians to host the world’s biggest event.

What has been your favourite project to work on at Populous?

Watching the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park develop from a forgotten industrial backwater to an international event sports’ park, and onward into a new community has been fascinating, and there’s so much more still to happen. We design many sports venues in urban areas, but integrating the design with a park landscape has been a rare opportunity.

London Olympic Park

During the 2012 Games, so many visitors commented on how pretty the park was – it completely changed expectations on the setting for sports events, and people could already see how the new communities would start to merge with the retained sports venues and public amenities. London is a city of parks and green spaces, and we’re fortunate to have been a part of this newest landscape development.

What has been the most challenging aspect of working in sports architecture?

One of the hardest aspects of the projects that we work on is confidentiality – sports and entertainment venues are high profile and complex, and quite often we can’t tell anyone what we’re doing or how the designs are developing for several years. We know how keen sports fans and supporters are for the latest information on new developments, but it all has to stay under wraps until the time is right. Taxi drivers are terrible – when you go to a client’s office carrying a stack of presentation drawings they know something is in the pipeline and you get a stream of questions on the journey!

How did you overcome those challenges?

You do need a certain amount of patience to work on sports projects; the large scale and complexity means that they take several years to develop through the design process before getting anywhere close to construction. That said, we don’t get bored, there’s always something new to consider in each project.

What is your favourite part of working in sports architecture?

I think my favourite part of the design process is either the first stages of developing a concept, or the opening event. For concept you are trying to establish the ‘feel’ of the venue, and think about what experience people might have as they arrive, what enlivens the journey as they move around pre- and post-match, and the atmosphere as they watch the game. At the opening event we try to take as many of the design team along as possible, to see if people are exploring the building as we thought they would, and if the design enhances the match experience and the locality. We can’t control team success on the pitch, but we try to create an environment that balances easy navigation in a new environment with entertainment opportunities, and the highest quality setting for the sport and spectators.

How different is working in sports architecture compared to other sectors?

Having spent so much time working on sports projects, I’m not sure that I can really make an informed comparison on other design sectors. However, one of the advantages of working in sports architecture is that you can take friends to the venue when the project is completed, and whether they are interested in architecture or not, chances are they will enjoy the event!

Congratulations to Megan, a fantastic colleague, on a wonderful achievement.

Meet the author

Megan Ashfield

Principal / London

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