The new Louis Armstrong Stadium opened its doors for the start of the 2018 US Open on August 27, marking the end of a decade-long project to transform the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (NTC) in New York into an entertainment ‘spectacle’ on a par with the Olympic Games.

The phased vision plan has seen 85 per cent of the NTC redesigned, through 10 projects ranging from macro to micro, at a total cost of $600m (£464.2m/€512m). Following master planning and regulatory work, phase one of the scheme ran from 2011 to 2013 and included the development of the 2,800-seat Court 17.

Phase two swung into action between 2014 and 2016, headlined by the introduction of a retractable roof as part of a renovation project for Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 23,770-seat centrepiece of the tennis grand slam. A new 8,125-seat Grandstand Stadium was also rehoused away from its former location in the footprint of Armstrong Stadium, while 13 new tournament courts and five practice courts were developed as part of the New South Plaza.

Louis Armstrong Stadium made up the third, and final phase, with design work on the new 14,069-seat venue having commenced in October 2014. The development features an innovative design making it the world’s first naturally ventilated tennis stadium with a retractable roof.

TheStadiumBusiness spoke to Jon Disbrow, director of architecture for Rossetti and the design lead on Louis Armstrong Stadium, about the final piece of a 10-year partnership between the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Detroit-headquartered architecture firm to re-imagine the NTC campus.

Aside from Rossetti, the team behind the project consisted of consultants Geiger Engineers, WSP Flack & Kurtz, de Bruin Engineering, RGR Landscape, AVVIT Consulting and FP&C Consultants.

TheStadiumBusiness: What was the overriding vision behind the project and what key goals did it have to achieve?

Jon Disbrow: “We had just finished the design of the Ashe roof project when we began work on Armstrong and from the inception it was decided that we were going to design a stadium with a retractable roof which was naturally ventilated.

“The reason I mention the Ashe roof project was that when we were looking at the feasibility of putting a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium we began assessing with our consulting engineers to see how that would impact the interior environment. We discovered some really interesting things such as if we had a wind speed that was in excess of 7mph the stadium wouldn’t require supplemental HVAC systems to help with spectator comfort or condensation.

“That wasn’t something we could control in an existing stadium we were putting a roof over, but for a new stadium we were able to take what we’d learned and design around the things that optimised our ability to allow the prevailing winds to pass through the building and key this into a solution that wouldn’t require air conditioning.

“The natural ventilation saved a lot of money through not needing air conditioning or heating systems in the stadium. There were also secondary influences such as the way the stadium ties into other buildings on campus and what we were trying to achieve from an experiential perspective.”

TSB: Did the USTA have any specific requests for the stadium that you had to incorporate?

JD: “The site of the new stadium is the site for the old one so we had a fairly constrained boundary we had to work within. The old stadium was smaller, seating 10,000, while the Grandstand Stadium on the site, which we built a replacement for a few years back, seated around 5,000.

“We had a site that was very narrow in the north-south direction and longer in the east-west which ultimately led us to the solution of overhangs on the east and west side, and then the louvered walls on the north and south side as a means of allowing airflow through the building and keeping rain out.

“The USTA needed something that could be done economically, had a retractable roof and would seat 14,000 people. Those were the three main directives.”

TSB: What would you pick out as the main design features of the new Armstrong Stadium?

JD: “We’ve done a number of things to encourage airflow through the building. In the east-west direction we have overhangs and have terraced the concourse levels so the upper one sits behind the main concourse level, which is one level above the courts at grade level.

“We have bridges from the upper concourse to the seating bowl and large openings around that upper concourse to the bowl. That’s designed to allow airflow through the building, so you have airflow that’s directed down underneath the stadium and then allowed to pass through the bowl. The stadium acts as a collector, funnelling breezes into the bowl.

“In the east-west direction we have a series of overhangs with the louvers. We had an early design rationale for that which we continually tested through CFD and bulk airflow analysis, and then ultimately wind tunnel and physical testing so we could understand how water would react as it was being blown through the louver and dripping off it.

“We continued to work with our environmental consultant, WSP, and RWDI, our testing consultant, to really understand what the shape and spacing of the louver needed to be. That led to us coming up with a custom-shaped louver blade which has a drip stop notch in it to keep water from blowing back into the stadium.

“In addition, we needed to get air into the lower bowl because there was some stagnation for those seats closest to the court. What we ended up doing was opening up the slot in the riser for the lower seats and then used the underground air chamber to allow air to pass through those areas and into the lower bowl.”

TSB: What was Rossetti’s thought process when it came to the design of the roof for the stadium?

JD: “When it came to the roof we decided we wanted it to be an umbrella. With an umbrella, the rain is kept off your head but you still feel the ambient temperature around you. Tennis is an outdoor sport and it should feel like you’re outdoors when the roof is open so we tried to make that roof opening (38,160 square feet) as large as we could. But when it closes it really does feel akin to standing under an umbrella.”

TSB: How did you seek to respect the history of the old Armstrong stadium, and other venues on the site, through the choice of materials used?

 JD: “Historically most of the buildings on campus used a terracotta-faced material. When we were revisiting the masterplan for the campus a few years ago we wanted to make sure that any of these major projects implemented some of the same material.

“Rather than just building a brick building we wanted to use the material in another way. So, the decision to use terracotta louvers was something that created a contextual connection to the existing architecture.

“The rainscreen cladding on the rest of the building, rather than being brick on the public-facing side, is actually a custom-made fibre cement product, creating some differentiation across the facades.”


TSB: What were the main challenges and problems encountered during the project and how were they overcome?

 JD: “The site is a very challenging one to build on. Prior to the 1939 World’s Fair and the creation of Flushing Meadows Park it was the ash dump for the City of New York and was known as Corona Ash Dump.

“On average the soils are subsiding at a rate of around half an inch per year across the site. It was referred to as the ‘valley of ashes’ in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There’s 100 feet of organic material, debris and ash that you’re trying to build on top of. Ultimately, we created a very lightweight building supported on a series of 170-foot long piles that extend through that ash to get to something that was suitable to build on.

“Another big challenge was building a 14,000-seat stadium on a site that’s quite small. Internationally, I believe the US Open is the largest annual sporting event in the world, with about 800,000 visitors per year. We had a limited construction window of 10 months each year before having to put the whole site back together for the 2017 and 2018 US Open.

“We were looking at quite condensed construction periods where we would stop, have a grand slam tennis tournament, and then the next day resume construction again. This is not normal for a typical construction project. You don’t typically transform a site where you have heavy cranes erecting steel one day into a place where 800,000 spectators are watching a world-class sporting event.”

TSB: Looking forward, what are your hopes for the future of the new Armstrong Stadium?

JD: “I think one of the most interesting experiences of being in Armstrong Stadium will be your proximity to players and the court. To me, what I’m most looking forward to is that people just love being in that stadium to watch a tennis match.

“What’s key for us is the experience and that idea of creating a spectacular place to watch a tennis match. We’ve created a number of places within the stadium which are fairly unique experiences for gathering and watching tennis.”

TSB: How will the completed NTC benefit both the US Open and USTA, as well as the experience for fans?

JD: “Some of the pieces that were implemented earlier were amongst the key moves to really increase the public space and heighten the experience for spectators at the US Open. What we’ve been able to do over the last seven to eight years is to create better flow through the stadium for spectators and make the experience of watching tennis really amazing.

“So, we have a number of tournament locations where you can watch multiple matches simultaneously through use of overlooks and spaces. We’ve also expanded the boundary of the National Tennis Center. This allowed us to create these pedestrian throughways and also include in the spaces under the stadia areas that would help from a sponsorship perspective such as the Heineken Pavilion and the Mercedes-Benz Pavilion.

“There’s better public space. The experience for people moving through the campus is much nicer than it used to be, with more amenities on offer. We really tried to take the campus from this idea of ‘Tennis in the Park’ to ‘Tennis as Spectacle’. This is New York City and our intention in the masterplan was that we wanted this to be the most spectacular sporting event in the world.”

Images: Rossetti