Arenas Cariocas by WilkinsonEyre

published in sb 5/2016

Three arenas within one building

Arenas Cariocas offer light design and flexibility


WilkinsonEyre designed the Arenas Cariocas in Rio with functionality and adaptability in mind. Much like their final design for the Basketball Arena at the 2012 London Olympics Games, the challenge was to create a temporary building that would be both simple to erect and sustainable in terms of its legacy.

The Arenas Cariocas is the largest venue within the Barra Olympic Park and will significantly contribute to the legacy of the 2016 Olympic Games. Formed as three arenas under one roof, the 400m long structure provided seating for 36,000 spectators and hosted various Olympic competitions including basketball, judo, wrest­ling, taekwondo and fencing.

Design from the inside out

A transitional building was demanded that can morph after the Games into a different typology with zero impact on the fabric of the built form. Aesthetically, the Arenas Cariocas differs from other stadium designs as the architects were asked to deliver three arenas in one footprint. From the outside, one can glimpse the singular form housing the three venues, operating simultaneously, and yet from within, spectators were fully immersed in the drama of each individual sport. The Arenas Carioca have been developed ‘from the inside out’, from the functional requirements of the following main elements:

Bowl configuration and back-of-house accommodation

The bowl configurations achieve the brief requirements in terms of maximising spectator, athlete and press experience. Because the site boundary was so tight, and because of the constraints of the temporary bowl construction, the public concourses to the bowls overlap. This was aided by the fact that all the bowls needed to be different in capacity and in design. The Basketball Hall (Arena 1) is accessed from a mid-level concourse. The Judo/Wrestling Hall (Arena 2) from a ground-level concourse and the Fencing/Taekwondo Hall (Arena 3) from a combination of ground and raised concourses.

The optimum seating bowl design dictated the parameters for the building volume and footprint, coupled with the realisation that the temporary seating bowls meant that all supporting accommodation in Games mode was best placed separate from this construction. This design direction placed nearly all the back-of-house accommodation and point-of-sales positions outside of the body of the venue envelope as single-storey units in the landscape.

The back-of-house-accommodation within the building was designed around the ‘permanent’ elements needed for legacy use; the plan set out around the requirement for changing rooms to be ‘in-board’ and for the Games-mode-only accommodation to be placed outside the venue in the overlay zone. This included warm-up courts, press facilities and Olympic Family rooms.

Sectional arrangements

The three seating bowls differ in their sectional design, stepping down from the south to the north. Arena 1 is approximately 20m high (to underside of grid), Arena 2 is 16m high and Arena 3 is 12m high. The roofs of the buildings step down, overlapping each other. In cross section the external envelope line (the weathered line) also differs; to Arena 1 a semi-open public concourse; mainly because this remains a public concourse in the legacy condition. In Arenas 2 and 3 the external envelope line is set at approximately the line of the roof. Even if the site is over 400m long, the architects designed one continuous flat floor across all the venues, ensuring the legacy venue can operate as ‘one’.

Legacy considerations

Built on Rio de Janeiro’s old Formula One circuit, the Arenas Cariocas will be transformed into an Elite Athlete Training Centre after the Games, leaving behind a defining legacy. The reconfigured building will provide the necessary infrastructure for the training and development of top athletes and will allow Rio de Janeiro to continue hosting important international sports events for many years to come.

Whilst there is an approximate match between the Games and legacy brief footprints, there are obvious elements not required in legacy mode. 30,000 seats, all public toilets and concessions, all press-related facilities, and all Games-only mechanical and electrical installations will need to be removed. These are all elements with precise requirements that could not be compromised to accommodate a future legacy venue.

Arena 1 is simply reconfigured from the 16,000 seats to a 7,500 seat arena. A permanent upper bowl completely in the round (10 rows) may be expanded with a temporary scaffold seat structure (a further 15 rows). The lower bowl (6,000 seats) is made up nearly entirely of retractable seats. This is a fully functioning arena, with all the elements to be found in comparative models.

The temporary seating bowls in Arenas 2 and 3 are completely removed. The legacy requirements and the necessity to place toilets and plant within the building led to a design with two parallel blocks of permanent structure. The zone between them becomes one contiguous space in legacy mode (55m wide).

As each of the three halls needs to operate independently, their spaces are partitioned both acoustically and in terms of fire rating. These wall structures are significant elements that remain in legacy mode.