Wimbledon’s over and done with but later this month the eyes of tennis fans will turn to the 136th US Open tennis tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York.
And of the dozens of courts within the complex, the centre court of the Arthur Ashe Stadium will command the attention not just of sports fans, but of architects, construction geeks and anyone interested in innovative technology.
As usual, the court will be open to the elements, but this year, for the first time, it can also be closed to them if necessary, thanks to its brand new, $150m (£114m) retractable roof.
It’s part of a nine-year, $550m plan to completely revamp the complex but the new roof is the jewel in the crown. With 24,000 seats Arthur Ashe is the world’s biggest tennis-specific venue (by capacity) and the roof covers all the spectator seats surrounding the grandstand – not just the playing area.
The US Tennis Association called in Detroit firm Rossetti Architects, which built the original Arthur Ashe Stadium, completed in 1997. The project was complicated by the watery, swamp-like soil beneath the stadium, which was considered incapable of supporting an additional roof structure, which hadn’t been considered in the original designs.
The soil problem was addressed by building eight tree-branch-style columns onto huge concrete bases, each of which are supported by 20 piles driven between 150 and 200 feet deep. These should keep the structure firm enough to support the relatively lightweight PTFE roof surface and steel braces.
It’s not the only tennis roof in the world, Wimbledon has one after all, as does the Australian Open venue. But it’s the biggest, and it’s the quickest acting – the two giant retractable panels take between five and seven minutes to go from fully open to fully closed, which should keep any interruptions to an absolute minimum.
Of course, the ideal scenario will be that the roof doesn’t have to be used at all, and if it does, only when absolutely necessary. The venue will be employing a specialist meteorological team which reckons it can predict rain about 30 minutes ahead of it actually arriving. Organisers in London and Melbourne have also been consulted on when it’s best to close up.
Rain is the main reason why the roof is likely to be used, though it’s also possible that it may be deployed in the case of high winds, which have been a source of complaint in the past. But it’s unlikely to be used like the Australian version, which also closes in cases of extreme heat.