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How Peddle Thorp designed the openable roof at Melbourne Park Tennis Centre

RodLaver Elevations

When Roger Federer finished his marathon tennis match against Nadal at the Australian Open, the tennis centre provided a fantastic backdrop to their sporting excellence.

The success of the centre is due to thinking outside the square for the design firm.

The brief from the National Tennis Centre Trust was to provide the State of Victoria with a world-class complex that could operate as a Grand Slam tennis venue and a multi-use entertainment centre. Peddle Thorp was engaged to design a multi-purpose venue according to the National Tennis Centre Trust's requirements for both tennis and mass entertainment. Architect Peter Brook was also commissioned to help with the design and project management.

Mr Brook said in designing the tennis centre, through intensive discussions with management, the firm came up with the idea of a retractable roof.

“It was not contained in a brief and it was not featured anywhere else in the world.”

The original designs by Peddle Thorp in 1982 were discarded because of prohibitive costs.

Again it was thinking outside the square that rescued the project.

It came back to life when it became more than a tennis centre, as the addition of an entertainment centre meant it could now feature major concerts throughout the year.

“This allowed the centre to be economically sustainable,” he said.

From this basis as a sports and entertainment centre, a garden square and a function centre was added in 1990.

For the accompanying Hisense Arena, in the same sports precinct, the central idea of the raiseable seating to allow it become a velodrome was developed in an early morning discussion with Graeme Samuels and Peddle Thorp.

“After suggesting the idea of the raiseable seats for the Velodrome, we were given five weeks to make it work,” he said.

Built at a cost of $65 million, the multipurpose arena was completed in 2000.

The design of Hisense Arena extended Melbourne Park and its capacity to handle ever increasing tennis crowds, while also satisfying demand for another flexible multipurpose venue, and helped create the success of the precinct.

This state of the art indoor or outdoor facility can host a variety of sports, including basketball, tennis, boxing, gymnastics, dance sports and cycling in its own velodrome.

The venue would eventually feature:

  • fully retractable roof taking 10 minutes to close;
  • dynamic seating configurations that are raiseable, retractable, and removable;
  • a larger floor area than Rod Laver Arena; and
  • corporate suites and function rooms

The National Tennis Centre was officially opened in 1988, with the first tennis ball hit in January 1988 at the first Australian Open to be held at the venue. Steffi Graf and Mats Wilander became the inaugural singles champions, at a tournament witnessed by 266,436 fans - double the previous year's attendance at Kooyong. The Wilander / Pat Cash final was an epic encounter, still rated as one of the greatest Australian Open finals to date.

Following the tennis, the first concert was performed by AC/DC on 4 February 1988.

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