Green Sports Venues

The Flexible-Use Stadium: Sustainable with Great Sight Lines


If you’re an American about 40 to 60 years old, you grew up in the age of the multi-use or multi-purpose stadium. Meaning the stadia were built to accommodate football and baseball. Since the geometry of the two games are very different, the sight lines for both sports were generally awful.

That led to the great baseball-only, retro-ballpark movement, starting with Baltimore’s Camden Yards in 1992, and rectangular football-only palaces (every NFL stadium). But, sustainability concerns have led to a new type of design, the flexible-use stadium.


Don’t worry.

We are not going back to the drab, Soviet-bloc style sameness of the cold, bland, multi-use stadia of the 60s-80s. Circular in shape to fit both baseball and football, these bland concrete edifices had all of the charm of…a bland concrete edifice.
Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium (MLB Phillies and NFL Eagles) looked and felt the same as its cross-Pennsylvania counterpart, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium (Pirates and Steelers), which looked and felt the same as Cinergy Field (aka Riverfront Stadium) in Cincinnati (Reds and Bengals). Etc., etc. Bleccchhhh!

No one shed a tear when most of them were replaced by architecturally advanced, charming single-sports stadia with spectacular sight lines. Except, perhaps, for the folks in Philly who were nostalgic for the makeshift hoosegow in the bowels of “The Vet” for Eagles fans who went a bit over the edge (remember, they booed Santa Claus.)


Three Rivers

Aerial view of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, an example of the circular, multi-use stadia that were in vogue in the 1960s-1980s. Sight lines were horrible for both baseball and football. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


But those charmless structures had one thing going for them: Sustainability.

Just by the fact that one stadium was home to two teams meant less concrete, less land used for parking, etc. But, from a sports fan experience point-of-view, baseball and football only venues are infinitely better. Plus, back in the 70s, climate change was barely on the radar and sustainability was not a term associated with the environment. Yes, there were the gas lines of the late 70s but I don’t remember a linkage being made between high oil prices and a need to have one stadium instead of two.

Things are, of course, much different now. GreenSportsBlog’s very existence is testament to the fact that sustainability is now the rule rather than the exception when stadia and arenas are planned and designed (Atlanta Braves, you are a sad exception.) In fact, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, the only NFL teams still playing in multi-use stadia, are in cahoots on a move to Los Angeles and to share a stadium there.

While baseball and football teams will not play in the same stadium anytime soon (thank goodness!), multi-use is making a return of sorts. Or, rather, I should say flexible-use.

In “What Makes A Stadium Sustainable” in the February 25 issue of Sourceable, an Australian/Canadian architecture and construction trade journal, Justin McGar shows that stadia are increasingly being designed to be flexible in size (i.e. can grow or shrink) and in terms of the constituencies/stakeholders who use them.

He cites several examples, including three stadia designed by the sports architecture firm Populous:


INCHEON STADIUM (Incheon, South Korea)

Incheon Stadium was designed to hold 60,000 people for the 2014 Asian Games and is now being reduced to a single-sided, permanent grandstand (cap. 30,000) to be “used as a People’s Park for the city of Incheon.” Sustainability and legacy, including the ability of the people of Incheon to actually play in the stadium, were the driving factors in the stadium’s design. Per Populous Senior Principal Andrew James:

“Rather than considering how we could shrink a 60,000 seat stadium, we turned the idea on its head and thought let’s build a 30,000 seat stadium and add 30,000 temporary seats…This approach provided multiple advantages. Financially it reduced the building by two thirds meaning there are substantial savings in operational and maintenance costs (Ed. Note: As well as a reduction in the carbon footprint)…But the biggest advantage in the design is the freedom it provided in terms of legacy. The plans were always based on a community park, which after the Games, will replace the Eastern stand, forming a traditional stadium hill, with plazas on the north and south ends, providing atmospheric spectator viewing during a match, and a green space for the public to enjoy at all other times.” This means that local and school soccer and rugby clubs will play matches there as well as the professionals.


Incheon Large

BEFORE: 60,000 seat Incheon Stadium, South Korea, during the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Asian Games. (Photo credit: Daily News Korea)



But, wait, there’s more: The roof of the temporary stand will become the canopy roof of a new post-games shopping mall. And the shell that housed the broadcast hub, hospitality and site management of the Asian Games is being replaced by commercial space.

Incheon Small

AFTER: Artists’ rendering Incheon Stadium after it is converted to 30,000 seat People’s Park. It will be able to host larger (i.e. K-League soccer) events (fans can sit on the grassy hill) and smaller, local matches. (Photo credit:



Incheon Stadium/People’s Park was not Populous’ first foray into flexible-use stadium design.

Their work on London’s New Wembley Stadium and its 2012 Olympic Stadium demonstrated how flexible-use was the most sustainable approach, in terms of material use and operational efficiency, as well as the way to offer the best sight lines possible for any sport.

t Wembley, the seats at the historic “Old” incarnation, which opened in 1923, were set back far from the pitch for football as it was built to also accommodate track and field. The new version, which opened in 2007, also fits both sports, but with great sight lines for both. That seems to defy physics, no? No! By use of platforms to raise the pitch (field) for track (cool!), the 90,000 seat soccer stadium, with the front row just several yards from the pitch, becomes a 67,000 seat track and field venue, again with the front row close to the action.

Olympic Stadium, which housed 80,000 fans during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, is now in the finishing stages of its transformation into a 54,000 seat football (soccer) and rugby venue, with great sight lines for both. It will be the home ground of Barclay’s Premier League’s side West Ham United starting with the 2016-2017 campaign as well as the site for international rugby matches.

In addition to flexible size, multiple sports uses and great sight lines, the flexible-use structures highlighted here have one more important thing in common: Fewer stadia were ultimately built (there was no need for a national Track and Field stadium in London, a smaller football/rugby stadium was not needed in Incheon.) One stadium is always more sustainable than two. Especially when it has great sight lines.


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