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Derby Arena

Dave Brailsford called it a “statement of intent” and Derby Arena definitely has the appearance of one. Tom Walker takes a closer look at the UK’s newest velodrome and its innovative design

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 3
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The decision to build the cycling track above ground floor level allows unimpeded access to the multi-use infield and its 12 sports courts
The decision to build the cycling track above ground floor level allows unimpeded access to the multi-use infield and its 12 sports courts

Clad in gold, silver and bronze, Derby Arena has a slightly otherworldly look to it. With an emphasis on inclusive design and an innovative approach to sustainability, it has been described as a facility which pushes the boundaries of public sector building design in the UK. Located in Derby’s Pride Park next to the iPro Stadium, it’s one of the most significant 2012 Olympic legacy projects to be completed outside London.

Getting going
Derby Arena is the flagship project of Derby City Council’s (DCC) £50m leisure strategy, announced in 2010 and drawn up in order to upgrade the city’s leisure facilities. A feasibility study had suggested that the creation of a new, iconic, dry sports hub with an indoor 250m velodrome cycling track should be at the heart of the plans. The idea was to produce a world class venue with the capacity to host elite competitions, inspire people to take up sport and help Derby achieve its target of becoming the “most active city in England”.

When the tender was launched and the design bids came in, one – by architects FaulknerBrowns – stood out. It promised to provide a multi-use facility capable of catering for the local community’s needs as well as hosting high-profile, national events. FaulknerBrowns’ plans also included a radical solution – to build the cycle track above ground floor level and allow unimpeded access below to a central multi-use infield, providing a 12 badminton court hall space and extensive event overlay potential.

Michael Hall, FaulknerBrowns’ project partner, says the arena is not just a regional landmark but an example of how local authorities can up their game when it comes to providing leisure facilities for the future. “Derby Arena represents a new era and sets new standards in both multi-use velodrome and local authority community sports facility design,” Hall says.

“The arena is a striking, inviting and motivating place to participate in sport and also to visit as a spectator.”

Designed to impress
The budget for the building – £24m – was relatively modest, considering the scale and the complex geometry created by the cycle track. The layout and form of the arena wraps the track with four storeys of supporting services and amenities – on one side there is a café foyer, gym, multi-function spaces with a 200-seat balcony and plant room, while on the other sits the 1,500-capacity spectator grandstand.

A key requirement of DCC was to create a ‘wow factor’ on entering the building and arena space. “Architecturally we made a conscious decision that the building design should be bold, simple and dynamic reflecting the internal sporting function and a sense of movement,” says Hall.

“The ‘wow’ factor that DCC wanted was achieved by the axial route into the arena infield with the spectator seat backdrop.”

There were challenges too, as the site area for the venue was limited. “The site required the 250m cycle track and the arena had to be rotated 45 degrees to make the building fit within the site area width,” project architect Nigel Tye explains.

“The spaces around and beneath the raised cycle track also had to be carefully optimised – we had to keep the size of the building small enough to deliver the car parking requirements leased to Derby County FC on match days.”

For Tye, the overriding challenge however, was to create a facility which was sustainable in operation. “Velodromes are generally underused and expensive buildings to operate and construct,” he says. “The infield area within a 250m cycle track is 3,000sqm and in many facilities is underutilised. The day-to-day cyclists only require a small area to prepare for training, which is usually to one semi-circle end of the infield. There are many velodromes where the infield is used for other activities – Manchester Velodrome has a two-court sports hall space and the Apeldoorn velodrome in the Netherlands has a 200m running track – but access is usually only accessible by a bewildering route of ramps and unpleasant tunnels.

“At Derby, by raising the cycle track, we were able to provide flexibility and vastly increased accessibility of the infield which opened up the opportunity for the facility to deliver a vast range of events alongside the day-to-day sporting output.”

The lifted design of the track – alongside the integration of acoustics, catering and toilet facilities – has helped create a very flexible venue. As well as being able to hold 1,700 fans for cycling, the arena is able to host music and entertainment events for up to 5,000 people.

Sustainable solutions
While economic sustainability was a key priority, the arena also has impressive credentials when it comes to environmental sustainability and energy saving. A low energy displacement heating and ventilation system installed in the main arena space allows stratification of temperature, meaning that the sports in the middle will benefit from cooler air while a warmer temperature – preferred by cyclists – can be maintained on the track.

All energy and water systems are submetered and linked to a comprehensive building energy management system. Low energy LED technology has been used for all general lighting and the foyer is naturally ventilated.

The building’s form also helps with energy saving. The layout tightly wraps the internal facilities around the fixed form and dimensions of the cycle track to reduce the arena volume and its energy loads. Additionally, the building’s shape minimises surface areas and reduces embodied carbon within the substructure.

Savings are also made on lighting, as natural light floods in from three, large ‘eye-lid’ windows which permeate deep into the facility. While reducing the reliance on artificial lighting, the windows also allow a passive connection with the outside.

Tye says the building has been deliberately designed in a simple and robust manner to provide ease of use of environmental systems – as well as maintenance and operation. “The efficiencies of the compact design could set the future standards for sustainable, multi-use velodrome design.”

Multiple uses
The unique plans have delivered – Derby Arena is a truly multi-sport venue and had more than 13,000 visitors in its first month of operation. While the velodrome has been received enthusiastically by cyclists, the opening of the arena has also given a boost to DCC’s fitness memberships.

Spectator events are being lined up too. The arena recently hosted the Sky=sponsored national badminton competition and in August held cycling’s 2015-16 Revolution Series – featuring Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Jason Kenny and Laura Trott. And It’s not just sport that is benefitting from the The Arena. It has already hosted a diverse range of events including Derby University graduation, a BBC Symphony Orchestra concert and a Jimmy Carr comedy event. Not to mention the Aladdin Panto, scheduled for later in the year!

Sir Dave Brailsford, who was born in Derbyshire and lives on the outskirts of the city, is impressed. “When I heard they wanted to create this (the Arena) I thought they were taking the mick,” he said. “But they’ve done an absolutely fantastic job.

“This is a statement of intent from Derby and the city council to invest in the future. Now people have to use this facility and as long as the opportunities are there for people, they will take them.”

Derby Arena in short

Description: Only the fifth national standard 250m indoor cycling track in the UK. The infield is can host a variety of sports – badminton, basketball, netball, volleyball and martial arts (all which can be played by wheelchair users).

Cost: £24m building cost, with another £3.5m spent on external/enabling works. With support from Sport England’s Iconic Facilities Fund.

Internal floor area: 14,500sq m

Architect: FaulknerBrowns (Michael Hall and Nigel Tye)

Project manager: Mace

Engineers: Arup

Contractor: Bowmer & Kirkland


• 250m indoor cycling track
• Cycle hub with hire, repair & storage
• 140-station health club and gym supplied by Technogym
• Watt bike and exercise studios
• Sports infield the size of 12 badminton courts
• Fixed seating for 1,600 spectators
• Events and conferencing facilities
• Meeting and hospitality rooms
• Café and bar
• Fully accessible changing rooms

In the architect’s words:

Nigel Tye

The upper façade of the arena is expressed as a ribbon of material which wraps (or spins) around the building. The geometry created between the curving roof profile and the lifting of the building front and back has been deliberate to create a consistent height to the upper layer.

This consistency allows a horizontal strip cladding to be used akin to the boarding of the velodrome track. The aluminium shingles received a high quality anodised  finish in three colours reflecting sporting success as ‘gold, silver and bronze medals’. The soft metal cladding has a subtle distortion / rippling which create a shimmering surface appearance which adds to the feeling of movement.

The gold, silver and bronze exterior
The gold, silver and bronze exterior
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