The $1.5bn project is the initial seed of urban development. In addition to five major sports venues, the complex includes a 30-story, 440-room, 5-star Kempinski hotel and conference centre, a 40,500sqm athletes training facility and offices for coaches.

China introduces massive sports centre

Nadel Architects designed the new, world-class Dalian Sports Centre, which is a phenomenal 203-acre sports and entertainment complex located in the Chinese city of Dalian, on the Liaodong Peninsula, adjacent to Korea.

The $1.5bn project is the initial seed of urban development in the area. In addition to five major sports venues, the complex includes a 30-storey, 440-room, 5-star Kempinski hotel and conference centre, a 40,500sqm athletes’ training facility, and offices for coaches.

The sports complex, which hosted the China National Games upon completion of construction in September 2013, is designed to meet Olympic standards and is one of only a handful of sporting facilities in the world where venues of this scale are all incorporated on one site.

Venues include a 61,000-seat soccer stadium, an 18,000-seat indoor arena managed by AEG, a 9,600-seat tennis stadium, a 5,000-seat natatorium, a 3,000-seat baseball stadium, a comprehensive training and sports research facility, as well as living quarters to accommodate athletes.

Designed to accommodate numerous music concerts, sporting events, cultural and family events year-round, the new facility will not only serve as a regional sports centre – propelling Dalian’s world famous athletes to the forefront of training and international competition – but will also serve as an international tourist destination, entertainment venue and spiritually meaningful place to exercise, meditate and enjoy nature.

Reinforcing the cohesiveness of the city’s masterplan, the team, directed by Michael Hwa, planned the new year-round sports complex to connect residential neighbourhoods with entertainment, retail and office space. The Dalian Sports Centre creates a link through the heart of the city’s newest development zone, becoming an anchor for the community and catapulting the city into a modern and connected city of the future.

Conceived as a “sports artery”, the Centre incorporates an ‘S’-shaped pathway as the main link between facilities during competition events. The pathway acts as a gently curving spine, crossing the site and connecting all the major venues like tendons connecting the muscles of the athletes. Creatively blending landscape and the human form, the design effectively connects each of the sporting venues not only to each other, but also to the city’s transportation infrastructure and to the community as a whole.

The largest structure within the complex is the elliptical-shaped, 61,000-seat outdoor stadium, designed to accommodate soccer matches and other international sports competitions. Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) – a transparent polymer popularized by Beijing’s Water Cube in the 2008 Summer Olympics – was used for the ‘skin’ of the outdoor stadium due to its versatility. The sophisticated material is lighter weight, transmits more light, insulates better and has a lower installation cost than glass or plastic. The stadium’s ETFE cushions, which are shades of white, grey and blue during the day, are illuminated with LED lights at night, displaying custom colour patterns to represent the competing teams or to symbolize a particular event.

During winter, Dalian faces challenging weather and snow, requiring great ingenuity on the part of Nadel’s project team in the stadium’s design and materials used. To tackle this challenge, Nadel used Building Information Modeling (BIM) software to innovatively design, research and test the stadium exterior’s steel frame with a custom drainage system covered with a membrane of 2,745 ETFE cushions.

Adjacent to the outdoor stadium along the ‘S’ pathway is the 18,000-seat indoor arena, whose exterior features supple arching lines, representing an athlete’s muscles wrapping around a strong core. Managed by AEG, the indoor arena is used for an array of entertainment and sporting events, including basketball, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, fencing, gymnastics, weight lifting, wrestling and martial arts, as well as a variety of music concerts.

The design of the natatorium was inspired by the waves of the sea. The natatorium boasts 5,000 spectator seats; a 10-lane, 50m pool for swimming, synchronized swimming and water polo competitions; a diving pool with 0.6, 2.6, 5.0, 7.5 and 10m diving platforms; an 8-lane, 50m warm up pool; and men’s and women’s locker rooms.

The 9,600-seat tennis stadium was designed to be both large and intimate, with every seat close to the action providing an unobstructed view of each event. The seating bowl of the arena sits within a live landscaped trellis structure, which embraces the spectators in field of green and light mirroring traditional European tennis venues and complementing the year-round landscaping of the ‘S’ shaped pathway.

Nadel’s design team worked on a fast-track schedule to complete the sports centre in time for the 2013 China National Games. Nadel’s unique approach to the design and construction process allowed the entire project team to work together and develop an efficient timetable. The result is a facility that was completed under a tight deadline, without sacrificing the integrity of the design.

Joining Nadel on the project was Andrew Wolff, AIA, LEED® AP, senior designer; John Yang, project manager; and Michael Hwa, project director as well as a large team of designers and production staff.