Bates Smart celebrates the completion of the new Club Stand for the Victorian Racing Club

Bates Smart celebrates the completion of the new Club Stand for the Victorian Racing Club
Bates Smart celebrates the completion of the new Club Stand for the Victorian Racing Club

The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) and its project partners have achieved a significant milestone with practical completion of its new $128 million Club Stand at Flemington Racecourse.

The eye catching five-level Club Stand designed by Bates Smart represents the 10th grandstand to be built at Flemington since 1865 and was completed by Multiplex on schedule, in time for this year's Melbourne Cup Carnival.

The ‘petal’ projections which form the perimeter of the Club Stand at each floor are the defining feature of Bates Smart's design and were constructed using 90 precast panels each weighing up to 30 tonnes.

Bates Smart also completed the interiors of each of the 17 spaces within the Club Stand with a timeless palette applied to offer the venues a unique and diverse personality for all Members’ to enjoy while respecting the heritage and the spirit of the famed race track and its festivities during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

The completion of The Club Stand marks one of the most exciting times in the VRC’s history and we look forward to officially opening it to VRC Members and their guests in full for the first time on AAMI Victoria Derby Day.

We congratulate Multiplex on its success in bringing Bates Smart’s vision for The Club Stand to life. The Club Stand is a statement venue that will change event experiences forever and become the setting for the next generation of racegoers to enjoy racing differently.

- Amanda Elliott, VRC Chairman

Bates Smart celebrates the completion of the new Club Stand for the Victorian Racing Club
The VRC's new Club Stand has achieved practical completion. Image: Pat Scala spoke to Bates Smart's Kristen Whittle and Jeff Copolov on the various aspects of the design and some of the key driver which have influenced the final outcome. What was the brief from the VRC for the design of the new Club Stand?

Kristen Whittle: Before it became a detailed brief, the fundamental brief was to create a new type of grand stand for the VRC which would greatly enhance the hospitality offer at Flemington but also to provide a flagship building that would celebrate both the heritage and beauty of Flemington and create an icon for the VRC. 

U: Good quality architecture often draws on its context to produce a site specific response. The new VRC Club Stand achieves this by drawing inspiration from Flemington's rose garden beds. How do you take a simple idea and produce an architectural response that has an elegant quality without the novelty or kitsch-ness?

KW: The thoughtful and elegant design takes inspiration from Flemington’s iconic rose garden beds creating a very strong sense of place and one which is very particular to the gardens. When you see the Spring Racing Carnival it's the people that make the place, so the gardens provide the frame within which the people move.

We studied people movement, membership movement, back-of-house, front-of-house movement to understand how it all works. What became immediately obvious through that analysis was that people at the Spring Racing Carnival are so resplendent that they deserve to have a place to frame themselves and so they became the exhibit and are almost as important as the horses when it comes to defining the event both nationally and globally. 

We wanted the grandstand to celebrate the movement, the promenading of the people during the course of the day - the horse racing itself only accounts for a small percentage of time - so we analysed what people do before and after, and the (food and beverage offering) and outside activities are very important in creating pockets of space where people can congregate, intermingle and celebrate the races.

So the grandstand brief that eventuated out of the analysis was for a far greater amount of indoor space. The indoor space should open out to all the outdoor space and interact with it. There should be flexibility in the seating, so we chose bench seating as opposed to single seating, and from within the stand there should be an ability to stand up and see the race unfold in front of you.

As a result, the cross-section of the stadium became fundamentally important so that the indoor venues were higher than the outdoor seating. Each bar and restaurant has an outdoor deck which is very particular to those venues, and the building slopes inwards like a hill in cross-section so that each tier as you move up the building, becomes more prestigious. This is then finished off with a roof deck which is serviced by two outdoor bars and two kitchens which will provide outdoor food and beverage opportunities. In the middle of all that there is a large scale indoor-outdoor exhibition-esque flexible restaurant which means that it can be used throughout the year not just on racing day. 

What is also pertinent as to why we have shaped the building in the way that we have is it forms a front door entry statement and is in your line of sight as you're coming in from the train station, so it really forms the centrepiece for the whole track.

U: The new Club Stand is both impressive in its architectural expression, and provides a contrast to the existing stand yet is still in many ways very restrained and has a timeless quality about it. Does this type architectural approach ensure that the building doesn't date and will still be very much relevant 20-30 years from now? 

KW: That's a good question and an important question which is very central to our thinking, that we needed to have a building that functionally speaking was flexible and moving forward was adaptable and provided an armature or structure that allowed for any change in circumstance. 

The 10 metre column grid set in from the outdoor glazing was critical to providing sight lines and also produces a very horizontal expression to the building. The white horizontal bands which sit below the glazing are the areas which accommodate the services, and the large scale shades also project from there.

The idea of the white was to contrast against the gardens. White architecture works very well against a garden backdrop and we always wanted to bring the garden up into the grandstand and so what you have on the ground and first floors is the gardens literally wrap up and around the building. 

We saw the building as a future heritage building rather than just a mere piece of architecture, and we acknowledged that we were demolishing a nationally heritage listed building and so the big argument we put to the Heritage Council was that we were producing a future heritage and so the building needed to be strong, appropriate and of a high quality. Rather than stylistically overtly denoting today's style or fashion.

I think what distinguishes it is the function of the building, the heightened functionality of the building that generated the form as opposed to being an artificial gesture. It is very much the result of a functionally driven form making exercise.

U: The new club stand has a very light and transparent quality about it, but how do you balance the need for natural daylight and ensuring maximum outlook while also balancing the needs of sustainable design?

KW: It's a very environmentally conscious building and we used the horizontal sun shades to be able to employ very clear glazing - which is a triple laminated glazing which means that it's very transparent and open in its appearance and provides very clear colour rendition of the horses out on the track. 

The challenge technically speaking is that you have a very tall floor to floor in the grandstand and it's very difficult to get long pieces of glass which are triple laminated without having what's called 'rollaway' which occurs when the glass itself warps through the cooling process. So we had to ensure the manufacturing process removed all from the glass and more particularly the edges of the glass which are prone to wobbling. The last thing you want is to be looking out towards the finishing line and all of a sudden the horse disappears due to rollaway. 

U: Are there any particular aspects of the design or spaces which really excite you or have a special quality?

KW: There's two things which I think will really shout out to people. The first is the rooftop experience and the fact that there's not really many places in Australia where you can be right at the top of a building for a sporting event, which is really driven by hospitality and customer experience. I think the roof top garden will become very precious in the same way that the member's lawn has become arguably the most precious element of the current members' experience.

The other one is and I think everyone would understand that during the Spring Racing Carnival, the importance of the Melbourne Cup means there's often an aerial shot of the VRC and Flemington in relation to the Melbourne skyline. And I think what people are going to see in the future is a very strong and interesting shapely building with a big VRC logo ontop of the canvas roof which will form a new iconic statement.  

The new Club Stand, Victoria Racing Club from Bates Smart on Vimeo. The success of a building's interior relies heavily on a well designed shell, particularly when discussing the longevity of a building. A good shell generally remains largely unchanged while the interiors often tend to change in response to trends over time. What consideration was given to the idea of longevity in the interior design of the spaces and choice of materials? 

Jeff Copolov: That's a really good question because it was very much the defining starting point - the strategic approach to how you dealt with what is primarily a series of food and beverage offerings, and as we know food and beverage trends change, the Club's needs change and we're hoping the Club Stand is around for another 100 years and so we were very mindful of allowing elements to change over time.

Our approach was to ensure the architectural language of the exterior was very clearly defined and so internally the approach was to treat the fit out or the elements within those fit outs almost like a stage set that could be inserted into the preceding shell - if you think about a theatre within the shell - and therefore they had some significant rules about that.

The principle ceilings which are the curved white ceiling planes that flow from the outside in, needed to be retained and needed to be totally legible. Any decorative elements that were unique to any specific interior needed to float or be disengaged from those ceilings .

All of the perimeter columns were always to be left white and never treated in a different finish and if they were incorporated into any of the food and beverage elements, their legibility needed to remain intact. Sometimes we wrapped seating around them but the columns still remained white. 

We very much created a shell that was legible and that the base building materials were consistent across all levels such as lift lobbies, toilets, core linings, escalator linings and all had a simple and unique palette.  

So common areas were clearly defined as one unique palette, base building shell was another and then our interior fit out could have a range of quirky and unique personalities which is what the client's response was.

U: Light is often spoken about in the design of interior spaces as a material in and of itself. How important was natural daylight in the design of the spaces and how did it inform the design?

JC: First and foremost the spaces are there on race day and unlike a lot of food and beverage outlets where you design predominantly for day and night, that was equally important but even moreso daylight was fundamental because  race days at Flemington are day time events, but we were conscious that one day there might be night racing but we ensured that day light  was the principle driver for selecting colour and that we used warm light for our artificial lighting.

Because of the very nature of maximising views and due to our floor to ceiling full height glazing and the panorama and outlook across the track that it provides, we knew we were going to have an enormous amount of daylight and that our interiors would be formed by that bright light quality and there are no window coverings. In most food and beverage outlets you would need to be very conscious of that, so although it provided us with some beautiful ambience it also created some technical requirements with sun shading, window shading, fade resistance and all of those issues.   

U: The views from within the Club Stand are one of its greatest assets. How did the idea of views manifest in terms of the internal planning of program and the design of the spaces themselves?

JC: If you take a typical cross-section and let's say the glass is on the left and the core is on the right, we transition from floor to ceiling glass with limited amount of built environment up against the glass so that if people are standing up against the glass at the most exciting part of the race, they'll be drawn towards that, so we needed to ensure that lines of sight are retained.

Often we would place low lounge seating in corners where the diagonal view, because if you're looking at the track the horses come from the left and move to the right - we race in an anti-clockwise direction here in Victoria - so the finishing post is always on the right of the venue as you face out. We made sure that our seating to the right hand side was kept generally low - so that if you were within the food and beverage portion of the restaurant, the lower dining tables would be to the right and the higher bar seating would be located to the left side. 

In the case of the members dining area, where we have a large number of people to seat, we used the extra ceiling height to in fact ramp up a portion of the dining room, so that if you were further to the back, you were sitting the equivalent of two steps higher than the immediately adjacent dining area.

We created deliberate tiering and in Kristen's design of the architecture of the building, the interior is always a good height above its corresponding external circulation and seating. So that even if you had people seated inside and then outside on the bleachers, you're actually looking out over people's heads. 

U: And finally, are there any particular aspects of the design or spaces which really excite you? 

JC: I think the biggest challenge for us was the demolition of what was a much loved stand, that served the club well for nearly 100 years and in doing so, we're mindful of the destruction of some of the history of that club.  

At the same time, the club and ourselves wanted a very contemporary building that was forward looking and would take the club forward for the next 100 years but without losing some of the qualities.  

The challenge then became how do you maintain and ensure the history of a club that is founded on a rich tradition isn't lost while creating new built form? The memories of members are associated largely with the old stand and I thought we had a responsibility to craft a new memory, but take along some of the aspects of the past without it being cheesy, but was also contemporary. And I think we achieved that.  

The new Club Stand, Victoria Racing Club from Bates Smart on Vimeo.

Lead image credit: Pat Scala. (L-R) Graham Cottam (Multiplex), Kristen Whittle (Bates Smart), Amanda Elliott (VRC Chariman), Jeff Copolov (Bates Smart)

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

Bates Smart Victorian Racing Club Multiplex Flemington Racecourse


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