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17 of 2017's best leisure buildings

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As 2017 draws to an end, CLAD looks back at some of the most significant leisure buildings, both BIG and small, that have opened this year – from sports stadiums to museums, hotels, theatres and health clubs.

No such list can be truly comprehensive of course, so please let us know your own favourite leisure buildings of the year in the comments section below, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town by Heatherwick Studio

Zeitz Museum

It’s fair to say Thomas Heatherwick has had a year of ups and downs – with several high-profile projects commissioned or completed, others scrapped, and the controversy over his London Garden Bridge refusing to go away.

However, 2017 did see one of the most significant and ambitious Heatherwick Studio projects open to almost universal acclaim.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront welcomed its first visitors in September, in a space carved out of the city’s monumental historic Grain Silo Complex.

The galleries and the atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of 42 tubes, creating a sculptural, honeycomb-like effect.

Heatherwick, who has admitted the concept “was weird and compelling from the beginning” said the design and construction process “was as much about inventing new forms of surveying, structural support and sculpting, as it was about normal construction techniques”.

Lego House, Billund by Bjarke Ingels Group

Lego House

Have an architect and a project ever been better matched? Bjarke Ingels Group’s design for the Lego House in the toymaker’s Danish heartland is a typically lively celebration of creativity and imagination.

“If BIG had been founded for one single building, it would have been this one,” Ingels told CLAD earlier this year. “It’s such a joyful exploration of all of the different potential expressions of Lego.”

The visitor attraction, nicknamed the ‘Home of the Brick’, was designed to look like a giant stack of Lego blocks, with a huge 2x4 Lego piece placed on the top. It features four colour-coded play zones with a variety of different experiences, three restaurants, a conference centre, a Lego Museum and a Masterpiece Gallery showcasing fans’ personal Lego creations.

The three-dimensional village of interlocking buildings and spaces is topped by brightly coloured roof terraces that span the building and are accessible to the public.

Burgenstock Resort Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Burgenstock Resort

One of Europe’s most iconic resorts has just had a soft reopening following nine years of extensive construction work and renovation.

Sophia Loren lived for a time at the Bürgenstock Resort 500m (1,600ft) above Lake Lucerne, Audrey Hepburn was married in the local chapel, Charlie Chaplin was a regular visitor and Sean Connery’s James Bond dropped by in Goldfinger. No wonder developer Katara Hospitality described its CHF550m revamp as “the project of the century”.

In total, more than 30 buildings were built or renovated, including four hotels, 10 restaurants and bars, a museum, a cinema, a 10,000sq m (108,000sq ft) Alpine Spa and an infinity pool overlooking the lake.

A team of architects and designers, including MKV Design and Atelier Matteo Thun, worked on elements of the projects – which has been completed with style and ambition that matches the spectacular scenery.

Particularly noteworthy is the dramatic glass-fronted spa, which extends from the mountain to offer panoramic views of the alpine landscape and the lake far below.

U Arena, Paris by Christian de Portzamparc

U Arena

With a few notable exceptions, it's not often that a Pritzker Laureate turns their attention to designing an indoor sports stadium or a concert arena. However, this year Christian de Portzamparc completed both in one, with his flexible U Arena in Paris.

Architecturally, the venue is rather different from most. For one thing, it is shaped like a giant horseshoe. For another, its prefabricated concrete facade is covered by 592 giant aluminium and glass scales.

de Portzamparc’s team has created a 6,100-tonne fixed roof raised 40m (131ft) above the ground and inside, the seating configuration can be changed via a movable stand, adjusting the capacity to anything between 10,000 and 40,000.

The stadium will host home fixtures for rugby club Racing 92, as well as other sports, including Supercross motorbike racing. Some games will be played on a synthetic turf that can be covered with ‘showcase’ tiles in 11 hours to prepare the arena for concerts.

As stadiums go, the U Arena embodies the spirit of Rock and Roll – with 3,000 external LED strips casting it in over 16 million colours. Fittingly, the Rolling Stones opened it with three sold-out shows in November.

Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Marrakech by Studio KO

Yves Saint Laurent Museum

Back in October, French architects Studio KO completed a subtle and striking museum dedicated to the life and work of French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech – one of the designer’s favourite cities.

The 4,000sq m (43,000sq ft) terracotta brick building is inspired by Saint Laurent’s trademark delicate and bold forms and his use of curved and straight lines in combination. The façade appears as an intersection of cubes with a lace-like covering of bricks, evoking “the weft and warp of fabric”.

The interiors are designed to create a “velvety, smooth and radiant space, like the lining of a couture jacket", in order to complement the museum’s impressive collection of haute couture garments, sketches, collection boards, photographs and objects collected by Saint Laurent between 1962 and 2002.

Gahanga Cricket Stadium, Rwanda, Kigali by Light Earth Designs

Gahanga Cricket Stadium

Architecture practice Light Earth Designs – based in the UK and South Africa – spent five years designing Rwanda's first international cricket stadium, which was recently opened by president Paul Kagame.

Innovative both from the point of view of sport and architecture, the ground was built using local materials and construction techniques.

Three self-supporting structures with parabolic roofs – created using recycled ceramic tiling and compressed earth blocks – form a sweeping form inspired by a bouncing cricket ball and the country’s rolling hills.

The building grows out of the cut soil banking that was formed as the pitch was levelled – becoming part of the landscape and creating a natural amphitheatre with views to the main pitch and wetland valley beyond.

In the words of the architects, it is a project that “speaks of the natural, the hand-made and the human” and the opening caps what has been an inspiring year for small-scale sports architecture, from the beautiful bamboo sports hall at the Panyaden International School in Chiang Mai to HawkinsBrowns’ timber swimming hall for a school in Surrey.

The Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta by HOK

Mercedes Benz Stadium

A sports project that couldn’t be further from the Rwanda cricket ground in terms of scale, the new home of National Football League franchise Atlanta Falcons opened in August.

The Sports + Recreation + Entertainment arm of architecture firm HOK designed the stadium, taking inspiration from the humble Roman Pantheon. The ground features a 61,000sq ft (5,600sq m) fan plaza, a 360-degree halo video board and a retractable roof that opens and closes like a camera aperture.

Angular, wing-like exterior sections are covered by a semi-transparent EFTFE facade, with the same material used for the air-inflated pillows that clad the eight interlocking ‘petals’ of the roof. Each of these cantilevers approximately 200ft (60.9m) inwards towards the centre of the stadium.

The price? A cool US$1.5bn (€1.24bn, £1.16bn)

This isn’t the only mega-stadium to be introduced to the NFL this year. The Minnesota Vikings completed their own US$1bn home: the 70,000-capacity, 1.75m sq ft (162,600sq m) US Bank Stadium – which features a fixed-roof with the largest span of transparent ETFE material in the country and five vast glass pivoting doors.

The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and Charcoalblue

The Yard

2017 saw a host of boundary-pushing theatres open across the world. One of the most innovative was The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. Rather than construct a venue entirely from scratch, theatre design consultancy Charcoalblue and design firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture instead designed a fully enclosed, year-round chamber inside the vast existing tent on Chicago’s lakefront, with fewer than six inches of clearance at the narrowest point between the steel beams and the canopy.

Eighteen 95ft-long (29m) micropiles were driven into the bedrock below Navy Pier to support the weight of The Yard, and the 33,000sq ft (3,000sq m) site was connected to Chicago Shakespeare’s existing theatre via a new two-level mirrored glass lobby.

Inside, nine audience seating towers, each the size of a London double-decker bus, can be rearranged in 12 different configurations, with audience capacities ranging from 150 to 850.

The project is a thought-provoking example of reuse on a large-scale. The project was completed in just 18 months at a cost of only US$35m (€30m, £26m) – under half of what would have been required to build an entirely new venue.

Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Long-awaited and rapturously received – despite a human rights group saying the project is "tainted" by violations committed against migrant workers on the building site – Jean Nouvel’s dramatic dome-shaped art museum in Abu Dhabi will be talked about for years to come.

The building’s roof is an artwork itself, with eight layers of steel creating a ‘rain of light’ made up of 7,850 patterned perforations that use the sun to create an intricate and ever-changing pattern on the building’s interior.

Water is a key part of Nouvel's building, with a system based on ancient Arabic engineering being used to allow water to flow between the outer areas of the museum and to the galleries inside, making the building appear to float.

Portland’s Japanese Garden by Kengo Kuma

Japanese Garden

Kengo Kuma’s expansion of Portland’s Japanese Garden, celebrated as one of the most authentic of its kind outside Japan, opened in April.

The project, Kuma’s first public commission in the US, saw the creation of a Cultural Village that provides additional space to accommodate the attraction’s rapid visitor growth and immerses visitors in traditional Japanese arts and culture.

To honour the singular experience of each visitor “and ensure the serenity is protected for future generations”, Kuma followed his trademark design principles of continuity between nature, natural materials and Japanese tradition.

In collaboration with the Garden’s curator, third generation master garden craftsman Sadafumi Uchiyama, he reused and optimised existing land to add 3.4 acres of usable space to the 9.1-acre property.

The result is a graceful, peaceful attraction that has already proved a big hit with visitors.

The V&A's Exhibition Road Quarter, London by AL_A

Exhibition Road Quarter

The acclaimed Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is rapidly expanding, with a branch recently opening in Shenzhen, China, and outposts planned for Dundee in Scotland and in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

That’s not to say the museum’s home of 118 years has been ignored. In July, Amanda Levete and her firm AL_A completed a huge extension project comprising a porcelain courtyard, an underground exhibition gallery and a new entrance to the museum.

The design team sought to reframe the relationship between the adjacent street and the museum by “breaking down the barrier between the two” to create a democratic, accessible and public space.

Ingeniously, they opened up Sir Aston Webb’s original screens separating Exhibition Road from his V&A buildings, revealing new views of the historic structures and creating space for visitors to flow through the site.

“We have created a less formal, more public place that is as much of the street as it is of the museum,” said Levete.

Barr restaurant, Copenhagen by Snøhetta


Acclaimed chef Thorsten Schmidt joined forces with prolific architects Snøhetta to create a restaurant in the former home of the world-renowned Danish restaurant noma.

Located in the protected North Atlantic House on Copenhagen’s waterfront, Barr has been designed around the food and drink traditions found in the region along the North Sea. The name, which means ‘Barley’ in Old Norse, reflects Schmidt’s fascination with an eating culture encompassing meals such as frikadeller (Danish meatballs), schnitzel and hot-smoked salmon.

The design team looked to microscopic studies of foods and beer from the region, which influenced everything from the colour palette to the furniture. Even the relief patterns on the ceiling and wall panels are inspired by the microscopic view of barley, one of the three main ingredients in beer making.

Local touches are used throughout, with most of the oak used for furniture and interior harvested from trees grown less than 50km (31 miles) away, while raw materials such as wood, leather and wool evoke the restaurant’s Northern influence.

Trainyard Gym, Beijing by Stickman Design

Trainyard Gym

This 3,500sq m (37,600sq ft) health club for the new Hotel Jen Beijing was designed to “inject energy into the heart of Beijing’s central business district”.

Created by Stickman Design, the Trainyard Gym’s look is inspired by street art and the area’s industrial buildings. Graffiti artwork is spread across two floors, while several floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of Beijing, including Rem Koolhaas and OMA’s famous CCTV building. The aim was to create a space that will become “the city’s go-to spot for fitness, recreation and nutrition”.

Facilities include 11 dedicated work-out zones, a Mixed Martial Arts area with a boxing ring; a 25m heated lap swimming pool with skylight; a sauna, steam room and whirlpools; a juice bar; and studio spaces – including a 30-bike spinning studio and a Pilates room.

Alila Yangshuo resort, Guilin by Vector Architects

Alila Yangshuo

In this beautifully-realised project, Dong Gong of Vector Architects and Ju Bin of Horizontal Space Design transformed a historic sugar mill into a 117-bedroom “modern retro” resort for hospitality group Alila

Elements of the 1960s complex have been retained alongside contemporary design features, and the design team produced more than 60,000 hollow bricks for the resort's exterior walls – inspired by the sugar blocks first produced in the 1920s.

The region is famous for its limestone hills, tunnels and caves, and the design reflects this with passageways that rise and fall in surprising ways and some corridors that lead to nowhere. A spa is housed in an underground location with walls and floors made from volcanic rocks.

Describing his design approach, Dong said: “When you're on site, you see with your heart and invoke the energy of the place to define the form and meaning for your architecture.”

Seoullo 7017, Seoul by MVRDV

Seoullo 7017

It's been a busy year for Dutch architects MVRDV – whose typically creative projects included the Tianjin Binhai Library dominated by a luminous spherical auditorium and giant central ‘eye’.

One of their biggest completions was a 983m long botanical “floating walkway” built along one of Seoul’s disused elevated highways. Nicknamed the Skygarden, the linear park features 24,000 plants, trees, shrubs and flowers from 200 local species – creating “a walkable plant library” for residents and visitors to the city.

Inspired in part by New York’s High Line, the project was conceived to make the city, and especially the central station district, greener, friendlier and more attractive, while connecting all patches of green in the wider area. New bridges and stairs connect the overpass with hotels, shops and gardens – integrating the scheme with the communities it passes over.

2017 also saw the opening of a 7.6km (4.7 miles) elevated bicycle route in the Chinese city Xiamen – billed as the longest in the world – designed by Danish architects Dissing+Weitling in order to decrease traffic congestion and promote greener and more sustainable forms of transportation.

The Experimentarium, Hellerup by CEBRA

The Experimentarium

Architects CEBRA had fun with this project: a home for a museum celebrating creativity and experimentation.

They were originally commissioned to expand the museum’s existing home, but this was destroyed in a 2015 fire. Instead, they created something more striking than originally planned.

The building is formed of stacked boxes, using some of the wall structures and foundations from the city’s old Tuborg beer bottling plant. Perforated ‘beer can’ aluminium panels clad the lightweight façade – creating a pattern that illustrates how the flow of air and fluid changes when it meets resistance.

The most dramatic element can be found inside, however: a 100m (328ft) long twisting copper staircase that dominated the entrance.

Explaining the concept, museum director Kim Gladstone Herlev said: “We want to light a spark in children and young people, inspiring them to explore and understand our wonderful world.”

La Seine Musicale, Paris by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines

La Seine Musicale

Home to both a 6,000-capacity great hall for rock and pop concerts and a 1,150-seat classical music auditorium, the 36,500sq m (393,000sq ft) La Seine Musicale is a striking addition to Paris’ L'île Seguin island – once an industrial heartland.

Conceived as a cultural symbol for the French capital, the building features a large egg-shaped glass volume sat atop a concrete ship-like structure, seemingly anchored in the river.

Shigeru Ban’s domed roof is distinguished by a 45m (147.6ft) high solar sail, covered in 470 photovoltaic panels, which is mounted on rails that follow the course of the sun, from east to west, throughout the day – shading the building and creating a changing display of shadows.

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As 2017 draws to an end, CLAD looks back at some of the most significant leisure buildings, both big and small, that have opened this year – from sports stadiums to museums, hotels, theatres and health clubs.

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