Stadiums can be contractor busters

03 April 2023
Construction companies often take on too much risk with complex and iconic sporting projects


Large-scale sports stadiums may be iconic buildings, but like the sporting events they host, the construction can result in winners and losers if risks are not managed correctly.

Managing these risks was discussed at HKA’s “An Inside Look at the Sources of Stadia Disputes” event in Doha on 28 February.

“Stadiums can be contractor busters. Some well-known examples worldwide have brought down big construction firms,” says Kourosh Kayvani, partner at HKA (pictured).

Kayvani has played key roles in designing and delivering many vast, sophisticated sports stadia. He was a senior design engineer for the roof structures over a number of sports facilities for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, including the Sydney Showground Stadium, International Hockey Centre and International Aquatic Centre Olympic Extension and Legacy.

He was also involved in a number of stadia used for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, including the Marvel Stadium, Melbourne Cricket Ground and Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

Kayvani was the lead designer and project leader of the iconic arch and roof of Wembley Stadium in London.

Several contributing factors make stadiums challenging construction projects. “Stadiums are large and complex. They are big capital expenditures, and a $1bn stadium is not extreme anymore,” says Kayvani.

“Then there is the sheer complexity of the buildings in terms of their function and what it needs to do, which requires several disciplines. You need all the specialist skills in a complex building, such as structures, MEP, civil works and façade.

“You also have other disciplines, such as sports lighting. With that, you need to think about outside broadcasting, Wi-Fi access and enabling people to interact with sporting events,” he adds.

Iconic designs

The structures themselves also create unique challenges. “As well as packages of interconnected works, the building is layered, which means you build from the bottom up. Unlike a typical multi-storey building that is repetitive, it varies as you go up.

“Added to that, some of the elements installed last are long lead items that need to be procured early, such as the big steelwork elements. They need to be temporarily supported while the rest of the facility is being built,” says Kayvani.

The complexities that make stadium projects challenging may only sometimes be realised by the people building them.

“There are risks associated with the construction of stadiums that might not be factored for during the bidding process, particularly if there are bidders that have not done a project like this before,” says Kayvani.

“They might be optimistic about their prospects and regard the project as another building. Not understanding the importance of the specialist expertise and going for the cheapest option will not give the best value in the long run.”

Timing is also essential, as many stadium projects are built to support specific events. “The timing and the need to meet a certain deadline is another major pressure if the stadium is needed for an event like a World Cup or an Olympics,” he says.

Project teams must plan and decide how projects will be delivered to prevent disputes. “You need to think about the delivery model. Build-only is not common nowadays; it is mostly design and construct (D&C). The owner wants to pass on all the risk to the D&C contractor, and the contractor passes on to all of its subcontractors and designers, and then designers have to manage risks that they are not fully in control of,” says Kayvani.

“Often contractors have bought too much risk without being able to manage it.”

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