Design Architects von Gerkan, Marg and Partners and schlaich bergermann partner
gmp Prof. Volkwin Marg and Hubert Nienhoff with Martin Glass and Nikolai Reich
sbp Knut Stockhusen and Knut Göppert with Daniel Gebreiter and Chih-Bin Tseng
Client Municipality of Verona Piazza Bra’ 1
The architects von Gerkan, Marg and Partners (gmp) and the engineers schlaich bergermann partner (sbp) have won the international ideas competition for a roof over Verona’s historic arena. The jointly developed design was the winning entry of over 80 competing submissions, and continues the many years of cooperation between the two practices. Following the Borgo Trento hospital and the new trade exhibition halls, this could become the architects’ third project in Verona.
The arena in Verona is one of the largest and best preserved amphitheaters dating from Roman times. The city’s arena is nearly 2,000 years old and is an important landmark and tourist attraction with the status of a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. The arena, which was built in 30 AD under Emperor Tiberius, is nowadays used for the performance of operas and concerts. The competition brief was to design a retractable and reversible roof structure which – on the one hand – makes it possible to use the arena during bad weather and protects it against adverse environmental effects, and – on the other hand – respects the historic monument as best possible and interferes as little as possible with the structure and appearance of the amphitheater. The ideas competition was open to entries from all over the world, and the concept produced by gmp and schlaich bergermann partner was successful in securing first place.
Now another chapter can be added to the 20-year success story of the architects von Gerkan, Marg and Partners in Italy, which includes projects such as the trade exhibition and new congress centers in Rimini, Arezzo and Verona, the airport in Ancona, the Tecnopolo science park in Bologna and the Borgo Trento hospital in Verona.
The winning design includes a compression ring which is clearly raised above the arena and holds the retractable membrane construction. The new structure covers the entire area of the amphitheater in the shape of an ellipse and creates space for additional lighting and state-of-the-art stage technology. An intelligent mechanism, involving a fan-shaped movable cable network and the roofing membrane, protects the entire arena against bad weather, but can also be fully retracted into the compression ring when the weather is more favorable. The roof is closed in a two-step process in which the cables are moved out from their home position in the compression ring and then the membrane is extended along these cables. The designers explained this fascinating retractable construction: this configuration of a retraction mechanism is completely unique and has never been built before. Nevertheless, there are many elements of tried-and-tested retraction mechanisms in completed projects, such as the stadium in Frankfurt and the national stadiums in Warsaw and Bucharest, which can be re-applied and developed in this new configuration for Verona. Winches are used to move the cables from their parking positions to their extended positions along the oval compression ring. Once they are firmly attached in their final position, the cables are hydraulically pre-tensioned in the mechanical part of the parking area. Now the membrane parked in that area can be extended outwards in the shape of a star using radially acting cable winches. A few inches before the end position, hydraulic tensioners engage with the front moving trolleys and apply the required pre-tension to the membrane.
In this way the view of the open sky is unrestricted when the roof is open, preserving the open-air atmosphere. From the outside, the structure is barely visible, which means that the historic character of the Roman arena is retained. From a bird’s eye view, the closed roof appears like a protective scallop shell that gently covers the historic building.
gmp and sbp – a success story
In the process of cooperating on many joint projects, gmp and sbp have gained extensive experience with large retractable structures with the aim of producing designs that are respectful of historic buildings. One of the numerous stadiums for UEFA and FIFA championships is the Berlin Olympic Stadium, for which a new roof was designed in a successful cooperation between the two practices. This was another project where the designers have created a symbiosis of innovative new elements with existing foundations – whilst preserving much of the original building. The stadiums in Warsaw, Bucharest and Frankfurt are further proof of the competence of gmp and sbp in creating and implementing complex designs for retractable roofs. The cooperation between the two practices has produced light-weight structures for roofs with large spans that are suitable for arenas and stadiums and are a prerequisite for completely new space models and user scenarios.