With fan allegiances, taxpayer money and price tags that can surpass $1 billion, both architects and contractors face immense pressure to get it right on major sports arena projects.
But when architects bring contractors into the design process and they can work together harmoniously, processes can run much smoother and the results can be outstanding. PCL Construction has a long track record of working in tandem with architects, listening to what's important and sharing its construction knowledge and preconstruction services to help make lasting positive impacts on communities through sports facilities.
“Most professional franchise owners only develop one stadium or arena in their careers or lifetimes,” says Dale Koger, vice president of PCL’s sports division. “It's not their expertise, so they typically hire a representative to be their eyes and ears, but they do see the advantages of having the design entity and the construction entity side by side, really from day one.”
“It’s great to have a contractor as a strategic partner next to you for the design process,” adds Ron Turner, Principal at global architecture firm Gensler, with whom PCL has partnered on numerous arena and stadium projects across North America. “It gives them insight early on as to what’s important to the owner, so when we’re putting budgets and estimates together, they understand firsthand what’s important to the owner and have the history in that direction.”
Designing a stadium is as much about building relationships as drawing construction documents, and Gensler looks for projects that “make a difference.” Ron points to BMO Stadium, home to Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club and a partnership with PCL, as an example.
“That project set a new standard for stadia design in the league; Major League Soccer still uses BMO as a benchmark when looking to design new stadia,” Ron says.
Ultimately, success on an arena project boils down to trust — between the construction company, the architects, the owner and all the stakeholders. PCL is known for building that trust by being an open book.
“I think having a reputation and creating a sense of trust is extremely important in any development project,” Dale adds. “PCL is an industry leader at maintaining stellar relationships and in creating trust, partnerships and collaboration between ourselves and the client, as well as the design team, trade partners and vendors.”
When designing a building, there are multiple interests to balance, including those of athletes, media and even musicians who use these venues for concerts when sports teams aren’t playing home games. But above all else is the fan experience, which Ron says has changed dramatically over his 30 years in the industry.
“No one wants to sit in their seat for the whole game anymore. They want to move around in the stadium,” Ron says. “They want to text their friends and say, ‘I’m going to meet you over in the southwest corner at a really cool bar.’ They can hang out and watch a quarter there, and then move to another part of the stadium.”
“For us, it’s really fun,” he adds. “We get to think about doing what we’ve never done before. We’re getting into immersive experiences, both outside and inside the arena.”
Recently, premium seating has become more and more important. And it’s not just about suites. Ron notes that there are 16 different kinds of premium seating in an arena he recently designed.
“That’s what has to happen now in these buildings,” he says. “You have to break premium offerings into different products that people want to buy and at the scale they want to buy it.”
While that’s a lot to keep track of, there is an array of technology — from drones and laser scanning to three-dimensional modeling — informing PCL as it collaborates. These tools have been game changers when it comes to budget estimates and communicating scopes of work to all project personnel.
“The data generated from applied technology takes out a lot of the guesswork and rework,” says Gary Birdsall, vice president of preconstruction in PCL’s sports division. “It de-risks the job for all the stakeholders involved.”
“Today, technology is being applied not only by designers and contractors, but also by trade partners and vendors,” Dale adds. “We have a virtual design and construction specialist on-site on our major projects. We bring in the major trade partners and have a weekly meeting where we share models and other collected data so everyone gets the exact same information.”
While new arenas are nice, many owners and municipalities are renovating existing stadiums. But renovations pose their own set of challenges.
“A renovation can be much trickier than a new build,” Ron says. “Honestly, you need a contractor there, because there are systems you might not be aware of. In partnership with the contractor, you can have a more holistic look at the building and provide a more comprehensive evaluation of all the different systems before you even begin reimagining it.”
Understanding an arena inside and out is key to a successful renovation. That’s the kind of the knowledge PCL brings to the current phased renovations to Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles — a building PCL initially built in the early 2000s, when it was known as Staples Center.
“It’s like a three-dimensional chess game that you have to play in order to make sure all the pieces and all the parts are there,” Gary says. “In a two-dimensional situation like drawings, you don't see everything in the building. You have to think in 3D to put all the chess pieces together in order. And the only way to do that is having the whole team together early on.”
Capacity for future renovations is something Gensler tries to build in to every project it designs. “There are some buildings that haven’t made it past 15 or 20 years because they didn’t have flexibility built into the design, such as structural capacity, flexible bay widths, forward-thinking power requirements and technology providing for the future changes that must happen in the building. Thinking about adapting the building initially will save money down the road,” Ron adds.
Whether it’s a new arena or a renovation, more and more owners are demanding projects that have less impact on the environment, both in construction and day-to-day operation. Gensler is committed to carbon neutrality on every building they design by 2040 and works with its clients for LEED Gold or Platinum certification on each project.
“We’re proud of that, and we’ve done that with PCL. You can’t do that just with architecture,” Ron says. “You have to have a partner contractor and owner that’s willing to achieve that as well, and PCL has always been very supportive. It’s one of the most paramount things any architect and any contractor can think about today.”
Gary and Dale say that sustainability is part of PCL’s standard construction methodology these days, partly because of changes to building codes over the years, but mostly because PCL actively looks for ways to decrease a project’s carbon footprint wherever it can.
“We certainly have an influence on materials and, if we’re brought on early as we almost always are, we have a chance to collaborate with the design team to evaluate that,” Dale says. “We can even provide input via our trade contractors and vendors. There are new products coming out all the time, so we have an opportunity to provide input and influence that.”
“To gain that trust with the owner and the design team, we’ve embraced the open book environment, showing them all the data, the information we’re getting out of the market,” Gary says. “The design team buys into it and can work with the data we give them. And the owner can make an informed decision about how they want to spend their money, which creates that collaborative environment that feeds back into trust into the entire team.”