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City of Manchester Stadium

The new RIBA Inclusive Design Award 2004, sponsored by CAE and Allgood, celebrates inclusivity in building design, and demonstrates that good design results in environments that are safe, convenient and enjoyable to use by people, regardless of disability, age or gender. The City of Manchester Stadium, designed by Arup Associates and commissioned by Manchester City Council, has won the first award. In this building study, the client, architect and access consultant discuss the Stadium project and Nigel Baguley offers an individual appraisal.

Client’s account

by Rosie Bass, PR Executive, Manchester City Football Club

The City of Manchester Stadium is the home of Manchester City Football Club (MCFC), a member of the English Premier League. A club with an illustrious past and a promising future, the Blues, as they are known, moved to the Stadium in the summer of 2003 and play all of their home League and Cup matches at the venue.

Funded by Manchester City Council and Sport England, the Stadium was built on the site of a former gasworks in a deprived area of East Manchester, and is the jewel in the crown of the Sportcity complex – the complex includes an indoor tennis centre, an outdoor athletics arena and the Manchester Velodrome. The Stadium was initially designed to be the host venue for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and was subsequently consigned to the football club to ensure a lasting use for the service. Throughout the entire design process, from concept to the final modifications, the Stadium architects, Council and MCFC have worked in consultation with the access consultants, Access All Areas. The aim was to create the most accessible multipurpose leisure and community facility in the country, catering for all sections of society.

Alongside its day-to-day use as the home of MCFC, the Stadium is committed to extensive community use and has successfully hosted a number of events including pop concerts, the Football Association (FA) International Summer Tournament and a Tri-Nations Rugby League international. The Stadium's original incarnation for the Commonwealth Games was somewhat different to its present form. To accommodate the length of the athletics track, the North Stand was a temporary structure throughout the Games' two-week tenure and was subsequently rebuilt in the year leading up to the club's arrival. The running track was dug up and relaid at venues around the country and the floor of the Stadium was removed to a depth of 8m below ground level to accommodate an additional tier of seating. The finished Stadium comprises two tiers in the North and South Stands and three tiers in the East and West, giving the City of Manchester Stadium a final capacity of 47,800.

Match day access

MCFC is renowned as being a club which shares an excellent relationship with its fans. The comfort, wellbeing and safety of the supporters remains of paramount importance. The club moved to the city of Manchester Stadium from Maine Road, in Moss Side, which had been MCFC's home for 80 years. While areas of that ground had been rebuilt and modernised, the accessibility of the Stadium, particularly for wheelchair users, was dismal in comparison with modern venues – something that the club and supporters were keen to rectify in the new stadium.

The move from Maine Road to Sportcity provided a significant increase in spectator capacity and allowed the club to increase the number of season card holders to 36,000. Included in this figure are over 200 wheelchair users and people with mobility impairments, and each can be accompanied on a match day by a companion or carer. The Stadium makes excellent provision for disabled supporters, boasting a total of 206 wheelchair spaces on all levels and 281 seats for people with mobility impairments and people with visual impairments. On every level, the seats are integrated so that wheelchair users remain a part of the crowd rather than separated from the atmosphere, as is usually the case in sporting arenas.

Photograph of the spacious accessible seating areas at the Stadium

At the Stadium there is ample space and choice of seating for everyone

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There are four main entrances to the Stadium on Level One (ground level), each equipped with an 18-person lift for easy access to each of the three tiers. The lifts provide access to the mezzanine and basement levels, allowing all visitors to access the pitch side and service-tunnel areas of the Stadium. As warehouse, retail, maintenance, catering and cleaning staff are all based in these areas, the accessibility of these floors is vital to a club which is a strong believer in equal employment opportunities. The eight spiral towers, through which the majority of fans access the Stadium, are designed with an appropriate gradient and width to allow wheelchair users the opportunity to enter all seating levels without the use of the lifts. To allow for the vast numbers exiting the Stadium at the end of a match, all the turnstiles at ground level are opened up.

The club has long recognised the need for a service for both home and away fans with visual impairments and provides a free match-day commentary service. A hearing loop is installed in two ground-level seating areas, one in the home section and one in the away, as well as in hospitality suites. These can be accessed via a headset on a pre-arranged basis.

The Sportcity complex also includes ReebokCity, a separate building on the site incorporating the club superstore, City Social Café and the Manchester City Experience, the club's interactive museum and ground tour. The two-storey building and its interactive displays are designed to be fully accessible for wheelchair users.

Architect’s account

by Dipesh Patel, Project Architect, Arup Associates

The City of Manchester Stadium is the largest and most advanced stadium built in this country during the last 50 years. In 2002, the Stadium formed the centrepiece of the most successful Commonwealth Games ever. More recently, the new long-term tenants, MCFC, played their first game here, creating a sustainable legacy for the site. While the building sets new standards in stadium design, it is also an icon of regeneration in East Manchester.

A central feature of the Stadium is its distinctive, dynamic form. This is a function of both the seating bias and the urban context. The high sides provide more seats in the most popular locations, and also concentrate the tallest parts of the building towards the centre of the site. Towards the north and the south, the toroidal form sweeps downwards to create a more humane scale appropriate to the adjacent housing and canal park. Twelve masts crown the main roof form. Coupled with the ‘cable net’, these masts are the primary support system. The combination of the innovative structural approach and the unique ‘dig-down’ pitch provides the Stadium with a unique flexibility. Initially, the Stadium was able to perform as a successful athletics facility. Later, the flexible design approach facilitated conversion into a football stadium, with seats close to the pitch.

A number of other design ‘firsts’ contributed to the team's ambition to create a world-class facility that is comfortable and exciting for spectators, athletes and players alike. For example, continuous concourses, together with ramps, provide safe and efficient circulation. A combination of large adjustable louvres, a transparent roof edge and under-pitch heating ensure that the grass has enough light and air to maintain an excellent playing surface. Within the seating bowl, recessed treads provide good views for all spectators. Equally important, the Stadium is designed to be accessed and enjoyed by all. It is one of the finest venues in the country for disabled spectators – recognised by receipt of the 2004 RIBA Inclusive Design Award. Significantly, the award also coincided with the introduction of the final Part 3 duties of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The City of Manchester Stadium was designed to exceed best practice in relation to these duties as early as 1998.

Historically, stadia have been particularly inhospitable places for older and disabled spectators and children. Arup Associates set out to design an environment that encouraged all sectors of the community to enjoy and participate in sporting events.

User consultation

As part of the design process a series of seminars were held with disabled athletes and the Manchester City Football Club Disabled Supporters Association, to ensure proposals were relevant to all needs. The 2002 Commonwealth Games was the first games where athletes with disabilities were integrated into the main competition. Attention was equally focused on the experience for spectators, to ensure that arrival, departure and half-time refreshment is pleasant for all. As a result, for example, physical impairment does not prevent a spectator from choosing his or her preferred seat, and wheelchair spaces are located at all levels and price bands throughout the Stadium. These spaces are also integrated into the main body of the seating allowing parties with wheelchair users and non-wheelchair spectators to sit together. Further, designated areas for wheelchair users have an elevated position, to provide users with a view generally comparable to that of non-wheelchair user spectators. Ingress and egress are also equal for all – eight spiral ramps provide safe vertical circulation at a range of gradients, and lift facilities are comprehensive.

All facilities for disabled people are provided in accordance with the latest editions of the Building Regulations and British Standards, together with the Football Stadia Advisory Design Council and Football Task Force Design guidance. Construction of the Stadium began in January 2000, with an immovable completion date set by the Commonwealth Games. A close working relationship between client, design team, main contractor and key subcontractors ensured that the design was achievable and cost effective – and that it could be completed in time to meet the two deadlines, initially for the Games, and later, for the football season.

Construction management was the chosen procurement route. This allowed quality to be achieved without excessive expenditure on risk. The main contractor was brought on board one year prior to construction. Shortly after, the steel, concrete and cladding subcontractors were also integrated into the team to apply their specialist knowledge to the key construction elements. This route enabled innovation without the generation of cost or delays.

Urban regeneration

In the context of East Manchester the Stadium is more than just a venue for sport. The site is partof what was once the industrial heartland of Manchester, and previously accommodated coal mining, textile, steelwork and a number of other secondary industries. The area had been in decay for many years, and suffered from the social and economic problems spawned by industrial decline. The City of Manchester Stadium has visibly changed this spiral. Now complete, the Stadium is the anchor of a new urban quarter that creates much-needed focus to the area. A plaza surrounds the Stadium and provides new civic space for East Manchester. A mix of uses creates weeklong activity. For example, sporting facilities include a Sport Academy with an international standard track for use by all, a tennis centre, and the existing velodrome. A range of housing, retail and leisure facilities augments the sporting activities, to create a true mixed-use environment that catalyses regeneration of the wider area.

In summary, we believe that the ongoing popularity of the City of Manchester Stadium with all of the fans of MCFC illustrates the success of this building as a truly inclusive venue. The Stadium is a symbol of the nation's ability to deliver a world-class sporting and cultural event. It equally demonstrates how inclusive design can contribute to the physical and social wellbeing of a place, and a city.

Access consultant’s account

by Mark Todd, Senior Access Consultant, Access All Areas

Mancunians love Manchester – and its easy to understand why. The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and then a decaying post-industrial sprawl is now England's capital of hip culture and the most modern of cities. Fabulous new buildings adorn the skyline and the city centre population is growing rapidly. This remarkable turnaround was achieved not by hand-outs from others but because Manchester transformed itself. No wallowing in victim status here, instead there is civic pride, innovation and belief in our city.

Hosting the Commonwealth Games

In 2002, Manchester had the opportunity to showcase its renaissance when the City hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games. The largest multi-sport event ever held in the UK was beamed around the world as the city welcomed athletes from 72 nations. Most significantly, it was the first time anywhere that Elite Athletes with a Disability (EADs) competed alongside their able-bodied counterparts in such an event. The first ever Inclusive Games included ten events for EADs and the medals won counted in the medal table for each country.

Photograph of the Stadium during the 2002 Commonwealth Games

The Stadium during the 2002 Commonwealth Games

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From the beginning, the city was determined that the centrepiece venue for the Inclusive Games would provide a fully accessible and enjoyable experience for disabled spectators, disabled athletes, disabled journalists and disabled VIPs. I was leading the access advice on all the City's major projects and City leaders asked me to be involved with the City of Manchester Stadium from the beginning. From the beginning, the plan was to develop a first-class athletics venue for the Commonwealth Games, which could then be transformed into a Premier League football stadium for the only football team to come from Manchester – Manchester City FC. Arup Associates developed the idea that in athletics mode the stadium would accommodate 35,000 spectators, consist of three permanent stands and one temporary structure. This was necessary because athletics requires a much larger field of play than the football which was to follow it.

Upon completion of the Commonwealth Games, the athletics field of play would be excavated down approximately 11m to reveal an extra tier of seating and a football pitch introduced. In addition, the temporary stand used during the Games was to be replaced by a permanentstructure. The aim was to design a football stadium that could house 48,000 spectators, offer great sight lines and provide the most modern facilities.

Disabled sports fans, and disabled football fans in particular, had grown used to poor facilities. At most football grounds disabled spectators are confined to a small segregated area, usually offering a terrible view and an inadequate number of wheelchair spaces – but enough about Old Trafford! I wanted The City of Manchester Stadium to have lots of wheelchair spaces, bags full of easy-access seats for ambulant disabled sports fans and commentary for all visually impaired fans who need it. Most importantly of all, however, I wanted too make sure that these spaces were evenly distributed throughout the Stadium, offering an integrated experience and a choice of locations in all tiers of each stand.

The design process

The first task was to convince everybody involved in the design process that this project was different. I was determined that this landmark national project and symbol of the Manchester renaissance would discard minimum standards and approach inclusive design with optimism and, above all else ambition.

Photograph showing ramped access to the stands

Ramped access to the stands

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Arup’s design already rovided access to all levels of the Stadium via eight circular ramps, which are a striking feature of the design. If these were supplemented by lifts there was no reason why disabled fans could not reach the top tier of each stand. The difficulty we faced was to provide wheelchair spaces in these locations while not facing a considerable reduction in overall capacity. As stadium designers never tire of saying, ‘every extra wheelchair space reduces capacity by at least 12 seats’. As ever, it was the trickiest of balancing acts and the entire design team were under pressure to produce a 48,000-seater stadium, with the best possible sight lines which included all the facilities as promised.

I see my task as being the champion of disabled people while still being committed to the overall success of the whole project. It is no good insisting on incredible facilities for disabled users if in doing so it ruins the rest of the scheme. Eventually, it was agreed that the finished City of Manchester Stadium would accommodate over 250 wheelchair users and that each space would be positioned at least 600mm above the seat in front. This would ensure that even when irate fellow spectators jumped to their feet to protest against the latest unjust penalty decision, disabled fans could still see the ensuing melee in the centre of the pitch! In addition, the Stadium would provide 280 easy-access seats for ambulant disabled spectators and a commentary service to any visually impaired spectators who required it.

In the lower tier, the wheelchair spaces were to be located along the back row. As the football pitch is approximately 11m below street level, this allows disabled spectators to access spaces at the back of the stand, so affording an excellent view of the game. At the upper levels, platforms located in the middle of each tier accommodate disabled fans and are accessed directly from the nearby concourse, where all refreshments kiosks have a low counter and adjacent accessible toilets.

Our inclusive approach stretched to all areas of the building. There are wheelchair spaces in the directors’ box, in every single executive box, press areas and even the Royal box during the Games. In other areas of the Stadium, the signage offers sharp colour contrasts, and all hospitality areas have induction loops and low bar counters. There are plentiful unisex accessible toilets throughout for spectators, and even in the players’ lounge and the referees’ room! Above all, the City of Manchester Stadium proves that buildings can be accessible, beautiful, magnificent and inclusive. Professionally, I am immensely proud to have been associated with the City of Manchester Stadium. The Stadium looks fantastic and perfectly reflects the ideals and aspirations of New Manchester – modern, hip and above all inclusive.

Individual appraisal

by Nigel Baguley, Secretary, MCFC Disabled Supporters Association

The City of Manchester Stadium, is in my opinion, the way all future stadiums should be constructed, in catering for the needs of the disabled supporters. I have been a Manchester City supporter for 40 years, and having encountered prehistoric amenities at some grounds, it is a real pleasure going to matches at this stadium.

The ground has 55 numbered perimeter car parking spaces, reserved for disabled season-ticket holders (of which we have 250). These carspaces are just a few yards from the entrances into the Stadium. Due to demand, another 50 places have been made available this season, and these are just at the side of the souvenir shop, and again, only a short way from the entrances into the Stadium.

Photograph of Mark Todd, Nigel Baguley and Paul Highman at the City of Manchester Stadium

Mark Todd, Nigel Baguley and Paul Highman at the City of Manchester Stadium

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On going into the Stadium, which has easy to access entrances, we just have our swipe cards
checked, before going to our places to watch the game. A lift is available to take the supporters who sit on the upper levels. The unusual thing that makes this ground ahead of all others, is that the Stadium does not have just one or two designated areas for disabled supporters; it has numerous, which are situated on all sides of the Stadium, and on all levels.

My place, like all the wheelchair spaces, is situated on a raised platform, just behind the able-bodied supporters, but because we are sat slightly higher than they are, our view is not obscured, when they stand up, and because we are not in a ‘segregated area’ I feel much more a part of the crowd, and the atmosphere. For supporters who are blind, or have a visual impairment, the club provide headphones, with full match commentary.

Internal facilities

Once inside the Stadium, if I feel hungry or thirsty, and decide to use one of the numerous snack bars, this is no problem either, as the counters are all low enough to provide wheelchair users with easy access. The Stadium also has more than the usual number of accessible toilets. Supporters need a key to be able to use these, but stewards are always available to provide the key to supporters who do not have their own.

It is not only inside the Stadium that the disabled supporter’s needs have been considered. I have lost count of the number of times I have been to ticket offices at various grounds, and encountered the ‘windows’ being much to, high up for a person in a wheelchair to be able to use. This is not the case at this stadium. All the windows are at a height where a wheelchair user can gain easy access to talk to the staff, which is very important in my case, as I regularly go down there to buy Cup tickets, or find out details and tickets for away matches.

The superstore and beyond

The MCFC superstore, which sells the club’s merchandise, poses no problems either. It is easy to get into, with no steps, and there is ample room between the aisles for a disabled person to get through, without knocking all the stock flying everywhere. This too, has payment counters low enough for a wheelchair user to have no difficulty.

The final amenity the ground has is the social club. Although this is upstairs, it has a lift, so again wheelchair users have easy access. The MCFC Disabled Supporters Association, have just started using this amenity for our meetings, and, as Secretary, I must say we have been made very welcome. The social club has an extra feature. This is a brief history of the club, with many famous articles and pictures on view. There are also audio commentaries on several matches, and it is well worth visiting. Going to watch a match at this ground is so much easier and enjoyable, because it is ‘disabled friendly’.