An arena with a difference

An impressive multi-purpose sporting venue in Derby leaves its regional rivals standing because it has something they don’t – an indoor cycle racing track. Ray Philpott reports

There’s something mesmerising about Derby Arena. With its skin of gently curving, multi-coloured metal cladding and large eye-like window glazing, it’s a striking building from any angle.

Sitting in the city’s Pride Park mixed-use commercial area, bordered by the Derby County football ground and a nature reserve, it seems to have arrived from a different world. Indeed, with its curved undersides uplit at night, from certain angles it almost appears to be hovering above the ground.

Its interesting and dynamic shape owes much to the fact that it contains a 250 metre, heavily banked indoor cycle-racing track with 1,500 spectator seats – the only velodrome in the Midlands. This cleverly designed, four-storey arena by FaulknerBrowns Architects, also boasts an impressive range of facilities in addition to the cycle track. These include:

  • a large reception foyer with a cafe-restaurant at the entrance
  • a series of studios and fitness suites on two floors
  • general purpose rooms that can also act as hospitality suites
  • multi-use of the ‘infield’ area on the ground floor for sports activities and events, which can also provide for up to 2,500 seats or 3,500 standing

In conventional velodromes the infield – the area in the middle of the track – is generally unutilised space when it’s not being used by people taking part in cycling events.

FaulknerBrowns’ big, innovative idea was to lift the cycle track to the first floor level, allowing full unimpeded access to the infield from the ground floor and entrance, thus opening up this huge area of space to easy access and flexible use.

Original vision

Originally though, the velodrome concept was not part of the original vision for the project, as FaulknerBrowns’ Director Nigel Tye explains:

“In 2011 we were asked to carry out a feasibility study by Derby City Council to inform their £50 million leisure strategy. As initially envisaged, this consisted of a ‘wet aquatics hub’, satellite pools and a ‘dry’ sports hub for activities like badminton, netball, volleyball and basketball.

“As the study evolved, we demonstrated how it might be possible, with clever design, to incorporate a cycle track cost-effectively into the dry hub, in addition to the planned facilities. The idea quickly moved from being an aspiration to a firm part of the concept as the council saw this as a major draw for Derby. There’s a lot of rivalry between the region’s cities and this was seen as a key attraction others did not have.”

Tye adds:

“Additionally, once you include a large track with seating in the design you effectively create an arena. So the project evolved from providing a quality sports facility to an arena concept that could be used not only for sports competition, but also commercial entertainment and public events.

“Another key part of the design concept was the idea that, as you walk in through the foyer a clear view of the cycle track and the massive arena space opens-up in front of you, creating a real ‘wow factor’.”

There was just one snag. All these great ideas needed to be achieved within the same, relatively modest, £27.5 million construction budget they had started with.

Shaping the vision

The shape of the symmetrical cycle track – which is about 65 metres wide and 100 metres long – naturally dictated the shape of the arena. Tye says:

“We needed to keep the building area and volume as tight as possible in order to stay on budget and keep operational costs down. We started with a square building with four curved corners, and kept bringing the corners in until we met the criteria.”

The studios, gym and multi-function rooms sit opposite the track-side spectator area on the second and third story levels, with plant on the fourth storey. At one end of the track is the D-shaped cyclists’ area, used for warm-ups, warm downs, team-talks and so on. Access to the trackside seating is via a series of vomitories off a sweeping, open concourse that wraps around the track. The wide central vomitory has access to a bar directly underneath the seating, so people can enjoy a drink without losing the atmosphere.

Tye continues:

“The track is supported on a ‘doughnut-shaped’ concrete table sitting on a series of steel beams. The roof is supported by a series of simple five metre-deep steel trusses.

“The external envelope should be thought of as a constant-height ribbon, the bottom of which is curved up at two corners to accommodate the glazed entrance area and louvred service access. The cladding ebbs and flows around the building, gradually reaching the ground again at the side corners of the building.”

Additional natural light is provided through a long ‘downward-looking eye’ of glazing to the fitness gym and to the infield area. On either end of the cycle track – are two more long, ‘upward looking’, sections of eye-shaped glazing placed nearer the top of the building and almost acting as roof lights. The slashes of glazing certainly add to the building’s distinctive character.

“It creates some interesting spaces and lighting effects inside,” says Tye,

He adds: “Externally we wanted to reflect the internal activities – which meant creating a sense of movement and echoing the form and linear nature of the cycle track surface. To achieve that, we used long, single-sheet aluminium shingle cladding in three colours – representing gold, silver and bronze – interlocked and fitted to an insulated plywood skin fixed to a structural deck.

“The panels, gently undulate up and down and have an anodised finish that gives the colours a lustre and depth, reflecting light and sunlight in different ways, depending on the weather and time of day. The curving form of the building and the colour separation helps to create an ever changing appearance and hues – the effects can be very dramatic.”

The roof, says Tye, is a simple arch with a crest running from front to back, and clad in an aluminium standing-seam system. The 21 metre-high building, completed earlier this year, can be seen from the River Derwent or the railway line and cannot be missed by anyone entering Pride Park. Construction challenges The architects extensively modelled the building in 3D.

“This was really helpful in terms of co-ordinating the geometry – we were able to check things carefully,” explains Tye.

“Our architectural model plus the structural and services engineers’ models were merged in a fully collaborative Building Information Management (BIM) process.”

However, the building’s geometry initially proved a challenge for the architects’ modelling systems, but FaulknerBrowns worked with the providers to enhance the software coding to achieve the geometry. There were logistical issues to overcome, too, because the site was a tight space to build on. When construction began in 2013, part of the workspace was on an adjacent car park leased by Derby County FC that had to be completely emptied and meticulously cleaned every match day.

Tye points out:

“The project included significant enabling works before construction could start, to free up the footprint of the building. Even then, the main contractors, Bowmer and Kirkland, had a restricted working area, generally limited to the building footprint. However, an arena has a big central space to store materials, so once the frame was erected, they worked very effectively from inside-out, completing three months early.

“For us, a key challenge was to keep the building within the specified budget while meeting the client’s key drivers and aspirations. For example, if that meant having to use less expensive but bulkier steel roof structure so we could spend more money on enhancing operational features, then that’s something we had to consider. Getting that balance right was key for all involved and decisions were made on a ‘best value’ basis throughout.”

Atmosphere and ambience Heating, lighting and ventilation are important factors in the cost of running such a large building, and also impact on its sustainability. Artificial lighting throughout the building is largely LED while a diffused vent system uses natural heat stratification to deliver temperature control to the levels of within the arena. Low-velocity air comes in at the infield level at around 17°C and takes on heat as it rises through the building, reaching 20°C at track level, a comfortable temperature for cyclists. It rises slightly by the time it reaches the spectator area where people obviously need to be a little warmer. These features have seen the building achieve a BREEAM Very Good rating. A more subjective measure of the building’s success is the public perception of its overall atmosphere and ambience.

Tye says:

“Cyclists tell us they like cycling here because they enjoy being part of an active space with the adjacent infield and fitness areas giving the arena a real sense of atmosphere and social inclusivity. We think that’s a great endorsement of the design.

“Ultimately, our client’s aspiration was for us to create an iconic, ‘wow-factor’ building that offers the maximum sporting output with as much flexibility as possible.

“It was no walk in the park, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve delivered.”