This week, we find out how to specify gyms and nightclubs without breaking into a sweat, showcase all the latest products for your facilities and provide our always-essential suppliers list. But first, the British architect designing a breezy field of dreams in sweltering Abu Dhabi …

Keeping football fans cool while they watch their teams is not a prime concern for the architects of British football stadiums – but in the United Arab Emirates, it’s a key part of the brief. Shading and comfort cooling are integral to stadium design in the region, where temperatures nudge 50°C.

John Roberts is sports director at architect AFL, which has just won an international competition to design a 40,000-seat stadium for Al Jazira Football Club in Abu Dhabi. The practice beat entrants from Germany, the USA, France and Canada thanks to a brilliantly simple idea to protect fans from the worst of the desert heat.

The solution came to Roberts when he was inspecting the club’s current stadium on a scorching hot day. “As it was so hot I went to stand in the shaded area and felt a breeze,” he recalls. “It was a still day but the change in temperature between the shaded area I was standing in and the space exposed to direct sunlight created a pleasant breeze.”

Roberts realised he had stumbled on a cost-efficient method of keeping supporters cool. “We have tried to use passive ventilation,” says Roberts. “We will be encouraging airflow through the stands by designing in openings at the top of the stairs and in the roof. The idea is to draw air through the building.”

This stack effect occurs when warm air rises through a confined space like a chimney. The vents in the stand at the stadium will create a continuous flow of air.

At the two-tier Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium the vent openings will be at the back of the stands, at the stairwells. Grilles in the stadium roof will also create a breeze. If there’s any breeze across the roof it will suck out the hot air (see diagram, above).

Woven mesh panels on the facade will reduce solar gain but allow air to pass through concourses, and the roof size has been maximised to give the players as much protection from the sun as possible. The design is also aided by the fact that matches are played in the evening when the sun is lower in the sky.

AFL’s stadium has other features that made its entry stand out from the competition. The supporters will be very close to the pitch, unlike most other stadiums in the region where fans are separated from the playing surface by a running track. Roberts said the client had experienced the atmosphere of tight stadiums such as Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, and decided it wanted an “English-style” ground.

To generate this atmosphere, AFL kept the stands close to the pitch and angled the roof to reflect the crowd noise. As well as increasing the volume of the Al Jazira chants, this will minimise the effect of noise on the surrounding area.

The stadium, which is set for completion in December 2006, is being built using English standards of stadium design and specification (see “Match tactics”, below). “They are quite happy to let us use British guidance as they don’t have any of their own,” says Roberts.

With all the talent and money coming into the game from abroad – including a £100m cheque from Emirates as sponsor of the new Arsenal stadium – it’s nice to see at least one British player enjoying a bit of success away from home.

Match tactics

Sport England distributes guidance on stadiums produced by the Football Stadia Design Committee. The following reports are available from Sport England (

  • Designing for Spectators with Disabilities
    Looks at the new Section M of the Building Regulations on disabled access and at the implications for stadium design.

  • Stadium Control Rooms: Planning, Personnel, Design and Equipment
    Advises on the design, staffing and use of facilities used to monitor and ensure safety at matches.

  • Stadium Roofs
    Covers design and construction.

  • Stadium Public Address Systems
    Advises on the standards and legislation relating to stadium PA systems.

  • Toilet Facilities at Stadia,
    A guide to legislative guidelines on lavatory provision, design, location and accessibility.

Sport and leisure