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Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia

Top venue gets dramatic new identity

published in sb 5/2020


Rod Laver Arena, originally designed in 1988 by COX, is one of the top entertainment venues in the world by ticket sales and attendance levels, averaging more than 200 event days annually. 32 years later, for the redevelopment, COX considered important the design of the new public spaces and striking Eastern Annex, working to enhance the arena‘s identity and image, providing new entry points and access to the expanded concourse, retail offerings and amenities. The introduction of a retractable rail system increased seating capacity while allowing greater stage width, flexibility and configuration. The rigging structure is capable of supporting 100 tonnes.

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photo: Peter Clarke Photography

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photo: Peter Clarke Photography

The redevelopment applied four key design principles. The first embeds the arena within the precinct, opening connections to the ­wider ground plane and surrounding parkland and open ­spaces. The second elevates the back-of-house areas in a way that maintains and improves capacity in an ever-evolving major event landscape. The third introduces the idea of new town squares, adding to public engagement and establishing the arena as a true place for the people. The final principle ensures a contextual echoing of the original design, with curves begetting curves, ensuring that new built elements enhance and uplift existing structures.

The project can be understood in two elements, the first an upgrade to existing arena facilities – the “apparatus” of the place, and the second encompassing public realm and new built additions.


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photo: Peter Clarke Photography

Melbourne, Australia

Major Projects Victoria

COX Architecture
AU - 3000 Melbourne, VIC

COX Architecture

Peter Clarke Photography

Official opening

Construction costs
AUD 338 million
(EUR 206.5 million)

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Australian Open 2020 welcomed a record-breaking 812,174 people

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photo: Peter Clarke Photography

The seating bowl at the arena’s heart has been improved and enhanced, its capacity maximised and accessibility increased, which also allows greater stage width and flexibility. Increasing the roof rigging load to 100 tonnes by utilising a new permanent truss vastly reduces time, cost and visual impact on sightlines.

Extensive back-of-house modifications extended the loading dock to accommodate up to 21 semi-trailers simultaneously, ensuring the arena’s ability to attract the world’s biggest touring acts to Australia.

Plug-in pods

Designed to float above the pedestrian concourse, the new Eastern Annex delivers a dramatic new identity. A sculpted, human-scaled pod links a new public entry and retail frontages to the perimeter of the existing building. Above, the curved form constructed from steel frame, concrete and glass façade cladding contains new player/patron dining and lounge facilities. Touching the existing structure lightly, its sculpted form is connected by bridges to the arena via a light-filled atrium space, allowing vertical circulation and natural light.

To create a continuous and appropriate architectural language across all built additions and achieve harmony with the original architecture, the idea of contemporary pod additions that “plug“ into the existing structure were incorporated. The design of the pod and pavilion façades is distinctive, incorporating elements representing themes of context, climate and configurability. With a high-performance stretched, clear double-glazed skin, the buildings are conceived as extruded prisms enveloped by a tautly stretched surface.

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photo: Peter Clarke Photography

LEED Gold® Certification

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The certification recognises the design measures taken to support the arena’s commitment to environmental responsibility. These measures included macro site-planning initiatives such as ensuring excellent connectivity to public transport and the incorporation of innovative wastewater technologies, to more technical elements such as the selection of roof materials that reflect heat rather than absorbing and re-radiating it, therefore reducing the urban heat island effect.

The team embedded Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) principles throughout the design of the upgrade from its inception, ensuring that sustainability was prioritised within a context of existing thirty-year-old building fabric, dated services, and a vast internal volume.

The venue is also committed to improving guest experience through environmental stewardship using LEED and achieved certification by implementing ­specific ini­tiatives and sustainability metrics. These include 26.9 % total energy cost saving, 17.7 % reduction in gas usage and 20 % reduction in water usage, including an 81.83 % reduction in potable water usage.