SBJ/January 12 - 18, 2004/Facilities

HOK has already worked 3 years on roof

The “fabric” roof would still allow the grass on Wimbledon’s Centre Court to grow.

HOK Sport is designing for Wimbledon's Centre Court what is thought to be the world's first "foldable fabric" roof at a sports venue, powered by hydraulics to protect competitors from inclement weather, said London-based senior principal Rod Sheard.

"We've been working for three years, mostly in secret, trying to demonstrate and prove that you could build a moving roof of this nature," Sheard said. "Technologically, it's one of the most challenging jobs we've taken on."

The movable roof would be built by 2009 after Centre Court offices and a fixed roof that covers the spectators are replaced. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which operates Wimbledon, also plans to add 1,200 seats to Centre Court to bring capacity to 15,000.The cost of all capital improvements is reportedly more than $228 million. The project must be approved by public officials in London, a decision that may not be known until after this year's tournament, June 21-July 4, said Sheard.

Protecting the entire Centre Court facility will save Wimbledon the money it spends on rain insurance and eliminate television networks' losses when bad weather forces delays or cancellation of matches, according to Sheard.

"Most important are the broadcasts to 163 countries," he said. "There are 5,700 hours of TV with 1.6 billion people watching."

The movable roof cover is made of Teflon-coated fiberglass, similar to the translucent material used for the retractable model at Reliant Stadium in Houston, another HOK design. When the roof is closed, its transparent qualities would also allow growth of Wimbledon's natural grass playing surface.

"The key is to put a roof up, close it and still allow the grass to be playable. It's complicated," Sheard said. "It all comes from allowing the grass to grow."

HOK could not use previous retractable roof technology to design the movable roof because of the tight space it had to work in at Wimbledon's showcase facility, he said.

"We couldn't use fixed panels and move them to one side, because of overshadowing the adjacent courts. Effectively, this roof collapses on itself because of the much smaller area," Sheard said. "There has never been one like this one. We have had fabric roofs on a few smaller projects for canopies, but they weren't folded."

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