From the Design Quarterly: How do you future-proof a stadium in the digital age?
January 07, 2020
January 07, 2020
Ask an expert: Senior project engineer Liliana Mironov explains the importance of electrical design for the award-winning Optus Stadium
This article first appeared as “Ask an expert: How do you future proof a stadium in the digital age?” in the Stantec Design Quarterly, Issue 07.
Optus Stadium in Perth, Australia, won the Prix Versailles 2019 Sports Award and has been named the most beautiful stadium in the world. Liliana Mironov, principal electrical engineer, chatted with John Dugan, editor of the Stantec Design Quarterly, about the fan-first philosophy of the stadium and how electrical engineering played a key role in the project.
Liliana: I migrated from Europe and joined the firm in August 1994 as a graduate engineer with a passion for electrical systems, and since then I’ve worked on many inspirational projects. Now a senior project engineer and principal, my responsibilities have increased but the project experience is no less enjoyable to me. My latest project—the Optus Stadium in Perth—is one of the most interesting of my career.
Liliana: The Australian Football League is followed by everyone in Western Australia, but the old stadium in the heart of the city had capacity for just 40,000 people. Western Australia has boomed recently with a huge migration from eastern Australia and overseas. The government recognized that a bigger venue was a necessity, not just for sports, but to increase tourism and recreation in the area and to spur growth.
The new development is not just a 60,000-seat stadium, it’s part of a precinct with public spaces, restaurants, and playgrounds. It’s conveniently located close to a casino complex and tennis facilities, a golf course and more amenities along the banks of the beautiful Swan River. What’s more, a new train station and footbridge link directly to the business district.
The whole stadium was designed with one goal in mind—to bring community together to have a great time. It’s all about the “fan-first” experience.
Liliana: As a project engineer and internal services coordinator for Optus Stadium, I was responsible for the electrical services, mechanical engineering, fire, sustainability, vertical transport, security, and CCTV.
The project coordinator role offers the client and design team one point of contact, simplifying the communications through a single channel. We were thankful to be part of a fabulous team of people, working collaboratively with Brookfield Multiplex (construction) and Hassell, Cox and HKS (architecture), Arup (structural), Philips (lighting), and others. From the initial proposal submission, this was a five-year project, but three years of that was particularly intense.
Liliana: The site was once an Aboriginal campground, so reflecting the history and culture of the Aboriginal people within the stadium design was critical. The project intent was to enhance Perth’s culture and environment, creating an attractive place with easy transport links, while featuring the latest technology. The challenge was to design a rich fan-first experience for everyone. The resulting design is a comfortable space that doesn't look like a conventional stadium.
The aim is to get people off their couches and out in the community, meeting friends and family, being entertained—creating shared experiences. The stadium is a multifunctional space that supports cricket, rugby union, soccer, football, and has the flexibility to host concerts and other events. Inside, there are function rooms for entertainment. Flexibility was a key element throughout.
Liliana: The technology itself is convergent virtual network, which means easier operation. From a central control room, one can control the lighting, the power, the mechanicals, emergency, security, and CCTV. The stadium has 100% coverage for Wi-Fi and a distributed antenna system, providing mobile internet and communications for thousands of patrons.
Another fan-first element is the wide availability of screens so that visitors can visit food and beverage outlets and never miss a play. There are two large screens inside, another outside and over 1,000 small screens distributed throughout the building. Multifunctional, these screens display safety messages, provide information on food and beverage, deliver access and way-finding messages, player statistics, and event advertising.
That seamless sporting experience—uninterrupted, no disturbances—is important. Today, events go smoothly if your infrastructure—especially electrical—is designed with resilience in mind.
Liliana: With the scale of the building, it would be irresponsible to design without environmental impact in mind. Sustainability measures are a must. We designed the stadium with climate change, energy conservation, and recycling in mind.
It has great energy saving initiatives, with automated controls (the lighting control system has occupant sensors that switch lights on and off) with modular wiring, lots of areas of natural ventilation, some sun control, automated light controls, reusable materials like low-smoke zero halogen cabling, an energy-monitoring system, and converged network. This is the first Australian stadium with sports/event lighting that’s 100% LED-lit, so it’s highly energy efficient.
Liliana: The stadium is built for flexibility. It’s designed to handle multiple sports and multiple users with flexible interior spaces. It’s expandable to accommodate 70,000 fans. Lighting controls can be accessed via iPad or touch screens and can set scenes for diverse uses. The sports lighting itself has more than 30 preset scenes, from training to major sport.
From an engineering perspective, adaptability means enabling modification of space use without requiring major infrastructure changes. We built in pathways and cabling to allow for additional advertising, lighting, and screens over time. The plant areas and the electrical infrastructure like switchboards can be accessed easily, so a space can be retrofit from one use to another. A function room can be repurposed as an office with only minor alterations. In the electrical design, we used modular style systems and built in spare capacity. The modular wiring system allows for easy changes. The services are distributed within the stadium and divided in four cores, each with common risers and all the services locally.
Liliana: That seamless sporting experience—uninterrupted, no disturbances—is important. Today, events go smoothly if your infrastructure—especially electrical—is designed with resilience in mind. A total shutdown is unthinkable, from commercial and safety perspectives, but it was a possibility in the past.
And when we say electrical infrastructure, we are talking about a lot of services and wiring associated with that. How these myriad systems talk to each other—seamlessly, flexibly, and reliably—is complex.
Reliability is number one. We have dual power supplies that automatically switch on in case of failure. We have a substantial generator-backup system, designed not only for continuing power during the game in the case of a major power failure, but also to help with peak load demand and additional energy savings. Systems also back up of all the stadium’s IT and network.
Liliana: Events from the stadium are televised on a weekly basis in Australia. Because of the number of sports to be accommodated, we consulted widely on a variety of events to ascertain broadcast modes, along with radio and television needs for the Australian market and international standards. Services and connection points throughout the stadium are flexible and widely distributed so media can produce in any televised mode, partial or fully live.
Liliana: We had a short program to deliver the stadium in time for its opening date and a commitment to the Premier. To meet these targets, the team completed the design and construction stages concurrently. Elements requiring longer lead times for delivery, like structural steel for beams, had to be ordered early by the contractor to maintain timelines.
But to do so, they needed to know how our electrical services would run, or if any penetrations in the beams were required, all before the architects had finished the conceptual design. Now that is tricky!
We adopted a design methodology that was fully flexible and adaptable that could incorporate design changes throughout construction. Constant communication was crucial to our success.
Liliana: The most enjoyable thing was to work in part of this large team of very talented architects, designers, and engineers. It was exciting to bounce ideas of each other and explore new technologies together. That was the pleasure of it because it wasn’t just working in isolation but constantly coming up with ideas together to deliver an iconic building and a rich experience for fans and visitors for years to come. That’s a special opportunity.
Liliana: I have been to a couple. If I have tickets, I usually give them to my children, and I babysit the grandchildren. When they come back, they say, “Oh, Lily, it’s a fantastic place.” It makes you proud when your family gives you good feedback on how it feels to be at the venue.