Concrete blockwork delivers a surprisingly subtle form to the Anna Meares Velodrome, debuting at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Anna Meares is a six-time Olympic medallist, an Australian and sporting icon, who carried the national flag at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It is fitting, then, that the Queensland-born cyclist is the namesake of the state’s newest premium indoor velodrome carrying her name: The Anna Meares Velodrome.
Designed by Cox Architecture, following an invited design competition in 2013, it is located in bushland in the Sleeman Sports Complex, purpose-built for the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games. The built form is, to use cycling parlance, the domestique (servant) to the track – an international competition standard 250-metre cycling track, formed from Siberian spruce in six-metre straight sections curved by hand – and was fast-tracked to be the home of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Track Cycling competition.
On approach, the eye is immediately drawn to the saddle-shaped roof form; a typical solution to contemporary stadia that minimises weight. The highly crafted steel superstructure is wrapped with a combination of opaque and translucent tensioned polytetrafluoroethylene (orPTFE) fabric – its skin – and is an engineering feat where slender steel members function without becoming an overbearing element. The stark white membrane skin conceals the skeletal framework and acts as a canvas for the surrounding eucalypt vegetation, again becoming the domestique as the trees cast ever-changing shadows across the facade.
The velodrome is embedded into a sloping site, making good use of the grade change to enable an external amphitheatre for an adjacent BMX track. The gradation created by submerging the building into the land allows for stepped seating on the building’s southern aspect, away from the sun’s glare. It also provides a grand stair entrance for public access from the car park, which announces the building as a significant addition to the landscape. At the building's perimeter, additional revenue streams are provided through the inclusion of a commercial gymnasium, administrative offices, and high performance facility; while internally, the infield is configured for court sports to extend the function of the facility beyond Games mode.
Legacy is an undoubted concern for Olympic and Commonwealth Games stadia, hence organisers and designers build-in flexibility to ensure revenue flows continue once events conclude. The velodrome currently accommodates 1500 seats, with expansion to 4000 seats possible in event mode along the western concourse. This area is designated for corporate events, informal gatherings, or fitness classes to ensure the building’s financial viability in the long term.
The roof is a grand, sculptural gesture but the project can also be understood at a much smaller scale – through the lens of the humble concrete block. The traditional hollow-core masonry unit is usually found in the less glamorous parts of buildings, or in projects constrained by tight budgets. It is an effective barrier for insulation or weather protection, but not necessarily seen as a design feature. Yet, in the velodrome the concrete block is used almost ornamentally – the building’s curved form is underpinned by layers of staggered and protruding concrete block providing a bas relief. The blocks were halved on site by the builder, with each off-cut reused. This concrete block usage is indicative of the design approach to the project as a whole, which is characterised by the use of simple, cost-effective materials in a manner that blends both intuition and careful calculation.
Cox Architecture’s Richard Coulson notes that the blockwork’s patterning went through various incarnations to test how light casts different shadows throughout the day, suggesting it was a metaphorical nod to the cogs of a bicycle. While this implies a mechanical referent, the project more wholly represents a combination of craft and mechanics: the steel roof system, the carefully arranged blockwork, and the handmade timber track.>
Much as the roof membrane is a layer applied to conceal the velodrome’s steel structure, the blockwork conceals and protects the structural columns behind it. It is an effective barrier, a skin, but in its application at the base of the velodrome it channels a duality as an efficient, functional solution as well as a human-scaled, expressive detail on an otherwise industrial scale building. The velodrome is sparse in its requirements (it is, essentially, a shed over a track) and externally the opportunity for design is equally minimal. It is through tweaking and turning, rotating and reversing the blocks that wrap the building’s base that Cox has both crafted a project of notable architectural merit and delivered a velodrome functionally primed for the Games.
This article was written by Michael Holt, which first appeared in Folio, a print magazine by Brickworks. Be sure to grab your free copy.