SPORT ARCHITECTURE: 3 Masterpieces made of concrete

Concrete was one of the best  construction materials available in the 20th Century because of the incredible possibilities it offered to engineers and architects. Concrete can withstand multiple stresses and strains and, moreover, it can be prestressed with steel cables to grant even more resistance.

Since concrete is a material that lends itself to the most varied uses, it’s no surprise that architects all over the world used it to build structures in a relatively short period of time and without concern for embellishments. This has led to structures whose intrinsic beauty is to be found in the structure itself rather than in decorative elements.

There is not only one type of buildings made in concrete, on the contrary: nearly every building type has an example in concrete. This is true for churches, military buildings, schools, government buildings, post offices, factories, houses and sport facilities.

We will concentrate on sports facilities today, presenting some of them and showing how they are still, or could be, perfectly functioning and functional to their role.

Sala Sportunilor, Bacau (Romania)

Built in 1975, this sports pavilion is characterised by its unique, expressive concrete structure. Two exterior parallel catenary arches that stretch beyond the edges of the building – without touching it – are used to hang the structure of the pavilion’s roof. The roof takes the form of a folded plate of concrete, created by a series of prestressed elements that are hung with cables from the arches. Acknowledging the structural effort, the entire exterior image of the building is derived from this structure.

Remember when we talked about the intrinsic beauty of the structure? Well, in this case the two parallel catenary arches are the form of decoration and embellishment of the building. Unfortunately the building underwent a modernization of the windows in 2010 and this intervention has altered the building.

1CC-BY-SA-2.0 Felix O

Koncertų ir sporto rūmai, Vilnius (Lithuania)

The Vilnius Palace is a striking building from the 1970s and is perhaps the most emblematic building from the Soviet period in Lithuania. With a capacity for 4,000 spectators, its main use was for basketball and volleyball competitions, two very popular sports in the country. The building, made entirely of concrete, responds in its massing to the section determined by its use, taking advantage, for example, of the underside of the bleachers to generate a large glazed entrance hall. The shape of the roof, with its catenary section, allows for a lightweight suspended concrete ceiling, without the need for structural elements with large widths.

The building ceased its function officially as a sports hall in 2004, but the Lithuanian Government recognized its value as part of the country’s cultural heritage and as a reminder of the social past of Lithuania. It recently announced that it will restore the building and preserve it as it is.

Vilnius Palace
Credits: @Mike Turner

Palazzetto dello Sport, Rome (Italy)

The building was constructed as part of the installations required for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. This included the Stadio Flaminio and the Corso di Francia viaduct, in which Nervi also participated. The Palazetto dello Sport was built in just over a year in an area on the outskirts of Rome. With a circular floor plan, it is characterized by a dome-shaped roof with a diameter of 78 metres that rests on 36 inclined Y-shaped supports around the perimeter, leaving a central open space that measures 60 meters in diameter.

We already spoke about the relatively quick times for construction of concrete-based buildings, but Palazzetto dello Sport was different. Due to the short construction period and a certain scarcity of resources, the project immediately encountered many limitations and challenges. After studying different options in great detail, Nervi returned to the technology of prefabricated ferrocement elements that he had tested out in earlier projects, like the Turin exhibition hall.

Public Domain

These were just three of the many concrete buildings dedicated to sports around Europe. These facilities show how important concrete has been in the development of several countries. Their meaning goes beyond their functionality value, and links directly to the people’s heritage. A heritage passed from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. Places where sport was practiced within those concrete walls. Where victories were celebrated with shouts of joy, and defeats were suffered with groans of despair. These sounds still echo in the hallways, on the steps, and in every inch of these structures.

Are you curious to discover other concrete masterpieces used for sport activities? Visit the website the  100ofthe20th and tell us what do you think about it!

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