Arthur Ashe Stadium Retractable Roof – ROSSETTI & WSP
- Written by: Molly Shaw
- Produced by: Holland Wegner
- Estimated reading time: 8 mins
Every year the US Open draws more than 700,000 tennis fans to Queens, New York. In August, a city within a city forms as a flood of fans flock to Flushing Meadows in Queens. The 900-acre complex quickly transforms into a world-class stage and this year that stage will be elevated to the next level.
The United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Arthur Ashe Stadium is already the world’s largest tennis stadium and will soon be the largest of its kind to have a fully retractable, state-of-the-art polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane roofing system. The site holds historic significance, having hosted events such as the World’s Fair, and now modern marvels such as the annual US Open. Every year, Arthur Ashe Stadium opens its gates to some of the sport’s most elite athletes, massive crowds of fans and premier industry sponsors.
The original stadium opened in 1997 and is part of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The stadium features the latest in broadcast and audio systems, 90 luxury viewing suites, five restaurants, two-level players’ lounge and individual seating for more than 23,500 fans.
The addition of the retractable roof, designed by ROSSETTI and fabricated and installed by Birdair Inc., is part of a five year transformation of the USTA National Tennis Center. Ongoing projects include a new grandstand stadium and Armstrong Stadium, both of which are currently in the works. The series of enhancements is set to be completed by 2018 and will add to the overall competition experience for both players and loyal fans.
A tenured team leads to joint success
WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff (WSP), a global leader in planning, engineering and construction management, has made its name known by designing iconic transportation and high-rise structures around the world such as One World Trade Center, the Hearst Tower and the 432 Park Avenue residential tower in New York City, The Shard Tower in London, Torre Mayor in Mexico and major sports venues such as the Citi Field baseball stadium for the Mets, among many others. The firm has also been a fixture at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for decades.
“WSP was the structural engineer contracted for the original stadium project in the ‘80s and ‘90s and we have a long relationship with the USTA,” says Ahmad Rahimian, the USA director of building structures for WSP.
The original $200 million, 23,500-seat stadium was WSP’s brainchild as the project’s structural engineer. ROSSETTI served as the architect-design lead. The original stadium is comprised of a concrete-topped composite steel structure combined with precast hollow core slabs at the superstructure level, a castin-place slab at court level and steel frames spaced radially around the stadium.
WSP also has a long-running relationship with ROSSETTI, a Detroit-based architectural firm specializing in all things world-class sport and competition stadiums. ROSSETTI is the lead architect on the new Arthur Ashe Stadium roof project, as well as the new Armstrong Stadium and grandstand project on the campus.
“We’re heavily involved with USTA,” says Sande Frisen, AIA, an associate at ROSSETTI. “We were the architect for the original Ashe Stadium in the late ‘90s. This was helpful because many ROSSETTI team members who are still here worked on the original stadium and had that previous knowledge we could leverage.”
ROSSETTI’s core focus of design is sporting facilities and the company has completed a long roster of prestigious venues, including Daytona International Speedway in Florida and the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility in California, as well as the Green Bay Packers Titletown District, Michigan State University’s Breslin Center Renovation and Club Bell at the Canadian Tire Center.
In 1969, the firm was established by Gino Rossetti. In the ‘80s, ROSSETTI changed the game when it designed an arena for the Detroit Pistons that incorporated suites into the lower and mid bowl. This created a new source of revenue that changed the economics of the sports industry.
That first venue innovation fueled a spirit of adventurous thinking and a culture of investigation, research and development, critical analysis and strategic solution-oriented design. In 1999, under the helm of Matt Rossetti, the firm founded Return on Design, a new model for design that focuses on delivering the client’s vision and value proposition. The approach leverages the venue design to make a positive impact on the client’s business.
Piecing together an engineering puzzle
To tackle the design-engineering conundrum of supporting 48 panels of fixed roof and 16 panels of retractable roof sections, ROSSETTI and WSP combined experience and expertise to form a solution that satisfied both the structural requirements and USTA’s budget.
For several years, hopes of the project actually coming to life were slim because site challenges and constraints presented what seemed to be an insoluble problem. Years before the stadium construction, the 46-acre site hosted multiple World’s Fair exhibits and was originally an old New York City coal-ash infill dump.
The swamp-like soil underneath the stadium was a challenge when it came to adding the additional weight of the roof system. Over the last decade, USTA cast multiple studies, turning to many well-known and well-respected consulting firms in an effort to find a roof plan that was functional, financially feasible, aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound.
After turning to many architects across North America, USTA finally selected the joint design proposed by ROSSETTI and WSP in 2011. “USTA was interested in a retractable roof project for a while, but the existing site soil conditions lacking stability and the structural capability of the existing building made it a challenge capacity and code wise,” explains Frisen. “For many years it was just a potential project, but the ROSSETTI -WSP team took it upon ourselves to find a new solution that could work for USTA.”
“The design is a collaborative process, developed over time, under various constraints, budgets and the client’s needs and wants — through this determined effort the design and construction teams have developed an iconic structure that meets all these requirements ,” explains Yoram Eilon, senior vice president of WSP. “The need and interest for a retractable roof was always there, but USTA was waiting for the right idea within their budget and on their terms. Together, with ROSSETTI, we brought them this solution.”
The game plan
The solution, crafted by ROSSETTI and WSP, calls for the entire 236,000-squarefoot roof structure — made with over 5,000 tons of steel and resting on more than 1,700 self-supported structural beams — to stand without touching the current stadium. Supports come in the shape of eight tree branch-like assemblies, each composed of three structural steel mega members positioned outside the stadium’s footprint, holding the fixed roof trusses and the two moving roof panels.
To work around the soil conditions, these eight assemblies sit on massive concrete bases, each of which will be supported by over 24 piles driven 150 to 200 feet into the ground. “We met with the geotechnical consultants, Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers (MRCE), to do a site-specific evaluation of the soil conditions in order to develop a more economical and efficient structure,” says Eilon.
This came down to not relying on support of the existing structure at all. “The roof doesn’t touch the existing building; it all comes down on these eight assemblies,” says Frisen. “We essentially built an umbrella over the top without touching the building, but we had to be conscious of the design to ensure it blended nicely with the aesthetics of the existing stadium. It all came together to make this an interesting and unique project that took a lot of creative design, engineering and collaboration.”
The four major box trusses — two running in each direction — span the stadium and weigh over 1 million pounds at 520 feet long apiece. They rise 200-plus feet off the ground. When the roof is open, the fixed-steel roof will have the world’s largest tennis stadium opening at more than 62,500 square feet.
“Between the poor soil and many underground utilities surrounding the stadium, there were many challenges to work around,” says Rahimian “The biggest question for us was how to provide lateral stability for the standalone roof given the challenging site conditions. The eight assemblies that rise from the foundation support were the most efficient way to do this and minimize the impact on existing utilities and infrastructure.”
Setting the stage for 2016
Hunt Construction has served as the general contractor and Hardesty & Hanover (H&H) is the mechanization engineering firm. The $100 million lightweight PTFE fiberglass membrane roof, designed and installed by Birdair, will close from two sides on rolling bogeys, opening in just five to seven minutes. Birdair was selected by Hunt early on in the design and development phase to fabricate and eventually install 64 roof panels.
“The roof is essentially comprised of two parts; the fixed roof with the opening in the center and the retractable panels,” says Eilon. “As of now, the fixed roof construction is complete and so is one retractable panel. The second panel construction is in progress. Once this is complete the fabric membrane will be installed by Birdair.”
Made of PTFE, or polytetrafluoroethylene, the Teflon-coated woven fiberglass membrane is extremely durable and weather resistant. The PTFE fiberglass membrane roof will provide fans with much-needed protection from the elements and allow daylight to reach the stadium’s tennis courts.
“We contacted Birdair early on to bring them into the design coordination and to have them help us make key decisions about geometry and design components,” explains Frisen. “Birdair was eventually hired on by Hunt in the construction phase to procure and install the product. The installation is currently in the works and some 64 panels are going into the entire membrane system.”
Ongoing site challenges from project crews include operating on a tight site. “Between the existing buildings, there isn’t a lot of room to get materials, people and major equipment like cranes in and out,” says Frisen.
The project has been broken up into three phases and the roof is set to be up and operational by early August 2016, just in time for the US Open. “This year, project crews are adding the retractable panels and fabric, the duct work and air handling units, roof drains, connecting the electrical components and winches — basically the things that make the roof move,” says Frisen. “There’s a lot of housekeeping that needs to be done to get the roof functional.”
Other projects on the USTA campus will also be up and running throughout 2016, but the retractable roof feature stands out as the pièce de résistance. “The really unique aspect of this project is how our project team came together to make the building do something it wasn’t initially designed to do,” adds Frisen.
Once completed the retractable roof at the Arthur Ashe Stadium will be one of the final steps in USTA’s strategic transformation to welcome athletes and fans with a state-of-the-art facility set to host world-class events. “No question, this will be a vastly enhanced,” says Danny Zausner, chief operating officer of the USTA National Tennis Center.
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