The Aviva Stadium

The Aviva Stadium provides the world’s oldest international rugby venue with a state-of-the-art facility. CIAN MOLLOY reports on the construction of a new home for Irish rugby and soccer at Lansdowne Road.

The €410m Aviva Stadium, with its eye-catching curvilinear design and its glazed 50m tall facade, not only provides Irish rugby and soccer with one of the world’s most modern sporting venues, capable of holding 50,000 spectators in four tiers of seating, it’s modern glazed curvilinear design also provides Dublin with an iconic new landmark.  The lead architects were Populous, formerly known as HOK Sport, who previously designed Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Wembley Stadium and Stadium Australia in the Sydney Olympic Park. Interior design is by the Irish firm of Scott Tallon Walker.

Built in the space of three years, the 48m tall stadium which is also a shining example of both teamwork and technical know-how in the Irish construction industry, with three of Ireland’s largest construction firms involved in the project. Before appointing Sisk as main contractor, the Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company (LRSDC) engaged McNamara to demolish the old stadium and to isolate the Iarnród Éireann rail line that passes alongside the Western perimeter of the site. Ascon (now BAM ) were  appointed as subcontractors  to undertake foundations preparation and substructure.

“We appointed McNamara before we had obtained planning permission, which was a  risk,” said LRSDC project director Michael Greene. “But that meant we were ready to start working on site as soon as we had the planning permission obtained, it meant we had a real run at the work. We also appointed the major subcontractors under Sisk control for Foundations (BAM), Structural Steel (a SIAC/Cimolae joint venture), Mechanical (Mercury), Electrical (Kentz), Roofing and Cladding (Williaam Cox) and Pitch (Clive Richardson). After selection they were then appointed as domestic subcontractors to Sisk. If they had been appointed as sub-contractors by Sisk that would have added another year to the schedule.”

As main contractor, Sisk employed more than 90 sub-contractors on the project. Following completion of the demolition in October 2007 Sisk commenced on site and completed all the work up to and including handover to the Stadium Operator on time at 30 April 2010.

Another factor that assisted the smooth, speedy and safe construction of the facility was the early appointment of project managers to oversee the entire process. PM Group’s Pat Molloy said: “One of the things that worked really well was that we were appointed at the same time as the design team, which meant that we were able to be involved in design development right from the start. This allowed us to do constructability reviews as the design developed. The poly-carbonate cladding is a good example of this where, working with the designers, a scheme was developed that maximised the use of off-site technology and resulted in minimal construction effort on site. Other examples of our input include the extensive use of precast concrete to replace in-situ concrete and the use of bolted connections on the roof steelwork rather than site welding.

“It was clear at a very early stage in the design that the use of off-site manufacture would be a key element in the successful delivery of the project. Virtually the entire footprint of the site is built upon, so space for materials was always going to be a premium. Off-site manufacture, combined with a just-in-time delivery strategy greatly reduced the materials storage requirements on site. The extensive use of precast concrete elements had the additional benefit of providing a cleaner, whiter finish.

To ensure that the planning process ran as smoothly as possible LRSDC were also assisted by Tom Phillips and Associates, the largest consultancy in Ireland specialising solely in planning matters. Phillips told Irish Building: “The public consultation exercise carried out in advance of seeking planning permission was the most extensive and best that I have ever been involved in, and it paid dividends. Dublin City Council did not give us an easy run, but they were very positive and hugely helpful because they saw the benefits to Dublin of this project. Many of the conditions involved in the planning permission were suggested by us and were chiefly aimed at reducing the project’s impact on the receiving environment.”

On a practical level, one of the biggest improvements to the sports ground is that the busy DART line can now be crossed via overpasses and underpasses incorporated in the new stadium’s design. These crossings mean that the gates at the Lansdowne Road DART station can remain permanently closed on match days – allowing for more efficient use of public transport and ensuring that no crush develops at the level crossing gates when fans are leaving the stadium at the end of a fixture.

“Planning work on the rail corridor and the safe demolition of the West Stand was a big issue and involved numerous meetings between ourselves, PM Group, McNamara and Iarnród Eireann,” says Greene. “The rail line was shut down on the August bank holiday of 2007 and we took down the West Stand. The railway was shut down again on the following October bank holiday and work completed that weekend had us effectively separated from the rail line.”

Separation from the rail line was largely achieved by McNamara installing a 3,500 tonne precast concrete structure over 150m of the line. McNamara constructed the new pedestrian underpass, a monolithic concrete tunnel box structure, using an incremental tunnel box jacking system and they also installed sheet piling to allow deep excavations to be carried out only 2m away from the live rail line. “Stringent monitoring of the water table was required so that the draw down did not exceed Iarnród Éireann’s requirements,” said McNamara’s chief operations officer Luke Gibbons.

In all, McNamara removed some 2,000 tonnes of stand and another 2,000 of terracing in the process of demolishing the West Stand, a process made potentially hazardous because of the presence of asbestos in the old building. Gibbons said: “Special safety measures had to be adhered to, including completely sealing up all openings to the work area to ensure that no asbestos could pass to other areas, all employees working in the area had to wear specialist clothing and use specialist breathing equipment and once they left the working area there was a strict de-contamination process. The asbestos removed had to be double-bagged and disposed of offsite by an approved asbestos disposal contractor.”

The demolition of the old west stand reinforced concrete structure that spanned the Dart line was achieved in a 72 hour window over the Bank Holiday weekend with work including the re-instatement of the overhead line to allow Dart services resume on the Tuesday morning. This was was a significant engineering achievement and was a key milestone to ensure the overall stadium project progressed on schedule.

All concrete from the demolished buildings was crushed onsite and used as hardcore, one of the key sustainability features of the construction, which used low carbon concrete for environmental reasons and for the better finish provided by GGBS cement. The new stadium includes a rain water collection system with water stored in underground tanks built beneath the East Stand by BAM.

In addition to constructing piles and carrying out deep excavations adjacent to the DART line, one of the biggest challenges for BAM was the realigning of various culverts crossing the site, which include the River Swan and the Rathmines and Pembroke Sewer, with the sewer remaining ‘live’ thoughout the construction process. “We did all the site set up and enabling works, including site strip and excavation, disposal of unsuitable material and re-use of material where possible in capping and stoning works,” said BAM Construction’s Perry Haughton. “We were working 8m below ground level, so to cope with water table issues we used sheet piling. For the enabling works, we had about 1,600 bored piles designed and constructed – the whole building sits on these piles, which are like stilts bored 8-10m into the ground rock.”

Beneath the East Stand, BAM have constructed a triple level basement, comprising some 3,000m2 of space, housing rainwater harvesting tanks, sprinkler tanks, fire main tanks and mains water tanks. BAM also constructed a new 8,000m2 single-level underground basement car park and a double-level basement plant room, immediately adjacent to the re-aligned Rathmines & Pembroke Sewer. Houghton said: “These works were constructed using a perimeter sheet pile wall, anti-floatation piles and waterproof concrete and they required the installation of a full-time dewatering system, with all temporary works designed by BAM.

“We also designed the new Swan culvert and its outfall into the River Dodder – this work required the construction of a re-aligned river swale to maintain flows during construction and also required a cofferdam of sheet piles in the Dodder.  We also installed new flood defences along the Dodder from London Bridge to Bath Avenue Bridge.”

Before BAM had finished building the substructure, Sisk were working on the site on the second stage of the construction programme, the construction of the concrete frame. This was done ahead of schedule which opened up the building for the Mechanical/Electrical and finishing trades. This also allowed us to proceed with  the installation of the roof structure, which is a polycarbonate clear roof on structural steel. “The steel roof structure is very complex and is what gives the building its fantastic shape,” said Sisk’s project director Michael Barnwell. “Installing the steel was a logistical challenge. It came in six ship-loads from the Cimolai fabrication plant in Italy. Stored in Dublin Port it was brought to the site overnight, as required, and once on-site it was assembled on the pitch area into large components of the roof structure and then lifted into position like a Meccano set. The heavy roof structural steel installation took place from December 2008 to October 2009. A total of 5,000 tonnes of roof steel were employed in the construction of the stadium and, to install the roof structure, we used a 750-tonne crane and several 500-tonne mobile tracked cranes.”

To facilitate speedy construction, the roof steelwork is bolted together rather than welded, said Molloy of the PM Group. “It was clear at a very early stage that the use of off-site manufacture would be a key element in the successful delivery of the project. Off site manufacture of as many elements as possible, combined with a just-in-time delivery strategy, greatly reduced the materials storage requirements on site. The extensive use of precast concrete elements had the additional benefit of generating time savings because manufacture could commence earlier than in-situ works. Off-site manufacture also reduced the number of truck movements required, which was particularly beneficial given the site location and the constraints caused by the DART, low-level bridges and residential areas.”

Previously, Sisk had worked on the redevelopment of Croke Park, but as Barnwell points out: “That was really four jobs over 12 years, the Aviva Stadium is unique because we delivered the full 50,000 capacity facility in one go and Sisk also delivered the full fit out of the stadium in one go. “There is 800,000ft2 of fitting-out in the building. The stadium includes highly-finished catering areas that can seat up to 3,000 people the value of the catering installations alone exceeds €20m. We have 75 different catering areas, along with toilet and welfare facilities, players’ areas and changing rooms. There are 36 corporate boxes and 11,000 seats at premium level. There is also an extensive provision for the media – two TV studios, a press conference area and a photographers’ room.”

One early decision made at the start of the design process paid dividends at the fit-out stage two years later, says Greene. “We were advised by the architects to bring the catering company on board as early as possible and we did that. We had the kitchens and concessionary areas already designed, but the caterers, Compass, changed nearly everything! They had a different view of their world and how it was organised. Getting their input early, saved what would have been a lot of wasted time and expense.”

Greene also points out that a lot of thought has been put into the IT infrastructure in the building. “In addition to being a sporting venue, the stadium is also designed to be a major conference venue, which is why the interiors are of a five-star hotel standard, with a substantial IT backbone to ensure that conference delegates have easy broadband connectivity, access to television and anything else that they might wish.”

While the fit out was being completed, the stadium’s spectacular glazed facade was erected by Williaam Cox, a firm specialising in glazing and curtain walling, who designed, supplied and installed the complete glazing facade, comprising the full building envelope, the glazing support structure and the internal glazed screens. Williaam Cox specialises in glazing projects worth in excess of €10m, but the scale of materials involved in creating the Aviva Stadium’s facade and roof was unprecedented; with some 19,000m2 of polycarbonate sheeting used on the roof and more than 17,000m2 of polycarbonate used on the facade, which consists of 4,500 louvres set of differing angles, the contract was worth €30m to the Dublin-based company. Thousands of individual bespoke components were designed and manufactured at Williaam Cox’s plant in Clondalkin plant. “We manufactured 4,500 individual lengths of mullion, each of them, with the exception of about a dozen with its own individual specification. Over the course of the manufacturing process we made five errors in the entire job, which is a fantastic engineering performance,” said the company’s operations director Bob Collins, who said that one of the most challenging aspects of the job was the actual construction methodology. “Our installation team used a walk-on net system, in conjunction with a team of abseilers, to install the roof panels. The geometry of the building meant that the installers were working on near vertical gradients.”

Jointly owned by Sicon (the Sisk Group holding company) and CRH, Williaam Cox targets the overseas stadium construction market with its expertise in fabricating 53,000 – 87,000 seater stadiums to date.

The construction of the new stadium at Lansdowne Road was fascinating, says Barnwell, because of the way ‘older skills, such as concrete construction and steel erection, were combined with the modern sophistication of high-tech building’. He added: “Projects such as the Aviva Stadium remind people that, as a country, we have the ability to deliver large-scale projects in the public interest, safely, on budget and on time. We achieved 1.5 million hours of work without an accident.

“The finished stadium is a great visual addition to the city skyline. It’s wonderful how it pops up dramatically in the most unexpected places, like when travelling over Ringsend Bridge or when driving over the canal at Grand Canal Street.”

“Everyone is impressed by the building’s exterior,” said Michael Greene. “But it is not until they go inside and see the interior that they are really blown away. It has a real ‘wow’ factor!”