|Apart from the Aquatic Centre, no arena at Homebush Bay is as certain to generate year-round activities as the $35 million Sydney International Tennis Centre. High levels of use will be essential for the continuing life of this facility, which sits in an uninspiring streetscape on the precinct?s inland periphery. Access to the Tennis Centre is across Boundary Creek, a landscape detailed with urban furnishings and artworks emphasising the toxic history of the place. A less-patronised activity would wither in such a situation. The focus of the architecture is inward. The external facades of the Centre Court building, a monumental cup-shaped structure, are pragmatic rather than aesthetic compositions - tilting panels of scalloped concrete capped by a thin crown of masts. At the time of the commission, Lawrence Nield had already overseen the masterplan that set out the road patterns and land usage for Homebush Bay. This scheme was coloured with ritual references, balancing the dynamics of automotive culture with revived Classical ideals that underpin the Olympic movement. Nield was, therefore, well positioned to use the design as an urban gesture, closing Olympic Boulevard at its southern end.|
In this hemisphere, outdoor arenas are oriented in relation to the northern sky. Because of the linear movement of play, the privileged seats must be aligned north-south, rather than on the east-west axis required for the random patterns of team sports. The Centre Court design was resolved as a ring to accommodate this north-south orientation and the Boulevard axis.
The structure of the Centre Court developed from its geometry. The ring is segmented into 24 arcs, an arrangement devised by Tristram Carfrae of Ove Arup, a consultant on Renzo Piano’s football stadium in Bari for the 1995 World Cup. (That project was very different in scale and materials. Similar ring forms at Wimbledon and the Stade Roland Garros in Paris are twelve-sided.) Each arc of the Sydney International Tennis Centre provides a maximum span of 12 metres. This twenty-four part arrangement intensifies focus on the court. The principal structure is one of ring beams, almost completely suspended like skyhooks. Lighting is integrated into the roof canopy, resulting in an evenness that is unattainable with fixed lighting towers.
Spectators filter in through a series of recesses, passing through interstitial passages, to emerge
|Top to bottom. Centre Court, concourse level plan, seating bowl plan, roof plan. |
on the circular mid-level concourse. All seats are reached less than one and a half minutes after entry. The excavated centre brings the concourse into the middle of the building at ground level, allowing an intimate, panoramic vista of the court a mere 15 metres below and away. (Forty percent of the 11,000 spectators sit below the ground plane.) It is a theatrical moment; even when the arena is empty there is an air of drama. The Tennis Centre sightlines are superior to those of any other tennis facility. High visibility was a key requirement and had a significant impact on design decisions. The blue and grey seats are inconspicuous in a visual environment reduced to concrete, steel and sky. On average, 70% of the seats are shaded during the day and none are positioned in cross-aisles. The roof canopy is raised slightly to create a visual link to the landscape and to provide a more open atmosphere for spectators.