Viewpoint: Jonathan Seebacher

September 1, 2018

Chris Dobson talks with Jonathan Seebacher, architectural director at Ryder Architecture, about the practice’s involvement in the sports sector, estimated to be worth over £20bn and supporting one millions jobs in the UK alone

Ryder’s goal is to improve the quality of the world around you and, in doing so, improve people’s lives. How does this translate into the design of sports facilities? 

Sport is big business, whether it be individual participation across a spectrum of sports or masterplanning for major global events. Sports facilities are an important part of our communities, cities and urban realm. At Ryder, we are involved in all aspects of the process. How best to demonstrate our skills is hard to say, but the delivery of St George’s Park – the training facilities for 24 of England’s national football teams – is a strong example. The £102m project received the best professional service in football award in 2014 and is located on a 330-acre site at Burton upon Trent in the heart of the English National Forest.

How does the design process begin?

It starts with the client brief, their aspirations and the context in which the project will sit. We invest a huge amount of time in stakeholder engagement, getting to know the client, the site and, of course, the rest of the design team. Through collaborative project working we get the team and client together in one space to ensure everyone examines the issues, finds outputs and solves problems. Using BIM (Building Information Modelling), we test ideas to destruction to find the optimum solution.

One of your most recent commissions was the £18m Newcastle University Sports Centre. Could you take me through the client’s aspirations for this and how you interpreted it?

It’s important to remember that the sports offer at a university can add real value to attract students in an increasingly competitive international market. In this case, we had the opportunity to create a transparent building which allows users, as well as passers-by, to visually and actively engage with academic and sporting facilities.
The project was built on an incredibly tight site which had way leaves and potential flooding issues. Part of the first floor was required to be cantilevered over a road. It has successfully delivered academic space for performance, physiology and analysis laboratories, as well as squash courts, multipurpose studios, a gym and an eight-court sports hall.

You have offices in Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Hong Kong and Vancouver. Are design expectations different in Vancouver, for example, compared with regional cities such as Newcastle upon Tyne?

Not necessarily. Delivering solutions is all about the client’s vision and, yes, local constraints such as planning. It’s about aspirations not geography.

Sport is about skill and physical activity, either as an individual pursuit or as a team effort, with first class entertainment often being a result. Does the broad range of sports present significant challenges for architects?

There are challenges which vary depending on the standards required. Different technical requirements are obviously required for each sport which can become hugely complicated within multipurpose spaces.

Sport can attract huge crowds and, as we know, there have been tragedies as a result. Do health and safety issues restrict the freedom of design?

Health and safety is a prerequisite rather than a restriction. We have a holistic approach to designing buildings which encompasses everything from building appearance to structure to health and safety and so on.

Do you have any current commissions in the North East?

The £18m Newcastle University sports hall is on site and we have planning permission to design a new stand for Newcastle Falcons’ ground, Kingston Park. We also completed the £16.5m Ashington Community and Leisure Centre, which provides an integrated community and leisure facility with a further commission to design Murray House for the Newcastle United Foundation.

Can we expect something different at Kingston Park?

Improvements off the pitch will match the improvements on the pitch. The changes involve the construction of a new North Stand which will add a further 1500 seats bringing capacity for the ground to 12,000.

The stand will match the height of the adjoining West Stand and will incorporate a fitness and conditioning centre, first team changing facilities, new corporate hospitality boxes, a new training pitch and a new community all weather pitch. It will be a credit to the club and the region overall.

Ryder Architecture

Scroll to next article
Go to

Keep the wheels turning