The evolution of sports and stadia design


In the last 30 years, the requirements of sports facilities have changed dramatically. In the 1990s, venue operators typically focused on capacity, helping to boost tickets sales, build atmosphere and increase a team’s supporter base. Stadiums such as Murrayfield – the iconic home of Scottish rugby, which opened its doors nearly 100 years ago – is set up to host spectators at sporting occasions with limited internal hospitality. By comparison to current stadiums, its design was relatively simple with the surrounding parklands allowing for future expansion.

However, as sports became increasingly commercialized, with the advent of the Premier League and professionalization of the Rugby Football Union in 1995, clubs and operators quickly realized they needed additional facilities, such as corporate hospitality and expansion opportunities, if they were to achieve their commercial potential. The increased cash flow this brought about helped fund projects to increase capacity and take professional sports to the next level.

As we moved into the new millennia, the 2010s brought some of the world’s biggest sporting events to the UK, with the London 2012 Summer Olympics, 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2020 European Championships (the latter two both hosted by Glasgow) requiring huge investment in stadiums across the country. With the world watching, expectations and ambitions were amplified as the sporting community descended into Britain, and architecture had a pivotal role to play to help form the stages for these historical events.

Architectural trends during this decade shifted from the more traditional approach to stadia to a more modern approach to creating flexible, multi-use venues with striking designs. We were fortunate to be involved as external technical reviewers for some of the most memorable venues at the London Olympics; including the velodrome and The Copper Box and we saw first-hand the emergence of one of the finest sports campuses of our time. We also completed the conversion of Hampden Park from a football arena to an athletics venue for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, breathing new life into the site which was originally opened at the turn of the 19th century.

Fast forward to today and stadiums and sports facilities have evolved to become important parts of local communities, as well as helping to nurture the next generation of talent. As we look ahead to the next decade, we’re working on two projects which highlight the future direction of stadia and sports facilities evolution.

Realizing the potential of Esports in the UK

An artist’s impression of the proposed £60m “state-of-the-art” gaming arena in Dundee ©Holmes Miller

Esports is a form of competitive video gaming and is one of the fastest-growing global industries, with over 222.9 million supporters worldwide and current predictions estimating it will be worth more than US$3.5 billion by 2025.

Holmes Miller has been working with a forward-thinking client to create and build Europe’s first truly digital enabled arena space. Based in Dundee, which has become renowned for video game development, the 4,000-seater venue will host global competitions and be home to a dedicated esports academy for further and higher education.

Harnessing the important community element of the esports industry, by bringing people together, the design includes lounge areas, a café and breakout spaces, which will also be open to the public. The space has been designed so that it can be used for music events and conferences, promoting its multi-use credentials and helping to generate additional revenue opportunities.

With technology at the core of Esports, additional spaces have had to be incorporated into the designs to house the powerful software, servers and connectivity equipment needed for a quality gaming experience and interactive environment.

The practice is paving the way in the UK’s esports arena landscape. Working with colleagues based in China, which is the leading Esports market in the globe, the team was able to use their market knowledge and insight to understand the user experience and inform design. Combining this modern and innovative way of watching and interacting with sports with 30 years of stadium experience, perfectly blends the old with the new – ensuring an excellent spectator experience, both in-person and for those streaming events at home.

Creating a world-class family-led sporting venue – MOTUS

The £350 million purpose-built destination will become a mega hub for junior and young adults taking part in competitive sports. Covering 270 acres of land in New Jersey, USA, MOTUS will become the go-to location for competitions and tournaments, with competitors and their families traveling from across the US and Canada to take part and support.

The hub has state-of-the-art facilities including;

  • 73 full-size pitches
  • An on-site hotel
  • Food and beverage outlets
  • Retail stores
  • An esports arena
  • Entertainment venues
  • Training and education zones
  • A 4,000 space on-site car park

This is a unique project in terms of scale, development mix and flexibility. The design of the MOTUS has evolved over the years to meet the client’s vision whilst adding new elements to benefit its users. Advancements of architectural trends and methods have been applied to the design, with the creation of a central ring-shaped hall that segments out each facility. This development combines the commercial ambitions of the client with bringing the communities of sport together under one hub.

In a nod to its design roots, the project will be home to two commissioned cheetah sculptures, designed by Scottish artist Andy Scott to pay homage to its sporting stars.

The future of stadium design

The past 30 years have seen a huge amount of change in the field of sports and stadium design, with boundaries being pushed more than ever. The next three decades, however, will see just as much change, with technology, sustainability and commercial opportunities all set to play a key role in influencing best-in-class design and helping more people enjoy the benefits of world-class stadiums in their local area.


Holmes Miller has worked on some of the most pivotal stadium projects, including modernizing two of the UK’s top five stadiums by capacity – Old Trafford and Murrayfield – as well as designing internationally recognized projects such as the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad, India, and the Kia Oval in London.

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