The Power of Virtual Design and Construction in Sports Projects
Mortenson team member using VDC technology

The construction of Walt Disney Concert Hall, started in 1999 was the first project where Mortenson used 3D and 4D Building Information (BIM) modeling to help subcontractors and the customer visualize what would happen during each phase of a construction project. Using that technology to model everything from rigging access points for job site safety to the concert hall’s exterior helped improve communication, set realistic expectations, and reduce costs.

The experience on this project resulted in Mortenson, together with Stanford University and Walt Disney Imagineering, developing the first commercially available 4D modeling tool.

Virtual Design and Construction (VDC)— 3D and 4D Building Information Modeling (BIM), and Virtual Reality (VR)— does what physical plans can’t by providing a more realistic, accurate, and informative view into sports venue construction. When used throughout various stages of a sports construction project, VDC can help prevent miscommunications, identify design changes early, aid in planning, and even help market venues and amenities. 

“This technology makes sports venue design more tangible than a stack of printed drawings,” says Augi Helling, design phase manager. “It helps people see the live, video game-like design of their project before a shovel hits the ground. They get to see how everything will look and work and can get excited about it.”

VDC bridges the gap by giving owners and their end users a clear vision and understanding of what a future space will look like. The technology provides benefits through every stage of the project, from the initial design concept to finalizing finishes, marketing the venue, and completing the construction. 

Bring Sports Construction Project Drawings to Life

Designers and construction project teams create and work from 2D drawings every day, but for anyone with an untrained eye, it's easy to miss critical details and hard to visualize the intent of the 2D drawing.

“Most people can’t intuitively look at a set of plans and grasp what it’s going to feel like in that space,” says Logan Gerken, vice president, general manager. “Renderings help, but they can also distort the spatial relation of things. Virtual reality removes those filters and exposes everything for what it is. Fundamentally, the best thing VDC does is make designs more accessible and understandable for people.”

Introducing models and VR during the design phase makes it easier to get everyone on the same page with design to identify and resolve any conflicts or issues before construction begins. These proactive measures can result in significant cost savings, which is what happened with one of the Atlanta Braves Truist Park stadium suites. Even though the countertop was depicted in drawings, it wasn’t until VR was introduced that the owners got a real feel for the design. The original suite drawings showed an L-shaped countertop with a bar. However, once owners experienced a virtual walkthrough, they were concerned the design would disrupt the space’s flow. It was decided that a rectangular counter would work better in the space and provide the look and feel they wanted for fans.

“Introducing a detailed virtual model early on helped us address the design change before anything was ordered and installed,” says Michal Wojtak, integrated construction director-VDC. “If we hadn't done that, it could have cost $1.7 million dollars to remove the countertops, rework plumbing, and install refabricated countertops. We prevented wasting a lot of time and money and they got a space that best served their customer.” 

Plan, Review, and Monitor Construction Progress

A lot of things happen simultaneously during a build or renovation, and they all affect the project timeline. VDC and 4D modeling give everyone real-time visibility into the project, making communication and collaboration easier, and helping to ensure everything stays on track. 

Years ago, you had rooms filled with construction documents, and people spent hours each day marking and updating plans. It took longer to make and communicate updates, and there was an increased potential for inaccuracies or miscommunication. Now, you can click on an area of a plan and see a photo-like visual of that exact location. 

“It saves a lot of time on projects because we can share virtual mockups during a meeting and review details together,” explains Michal. “We can track materials and installation progress and give timeline updates to customers. There’s better communication and fewer surprises because of this technology.”

Even better, VDC can be an invaluable tool in helping owners maximize revenue — something that is a major concern with any major sports project.

U.S. Bank Stadium sits on the same lot as Minnesota’s former football stadium, the Metrodome. Initially, it was thought that construction of the new stadium couldn’t commence until the demolition was complete. However, a 4D model comparing two construction schedule approaches identified a window to continue using the Metrodome longer than expected. Michal says, “This was a big deal because it allowed the owners to host more events at the Metrodome allowing them to generate additional revenue.”

Visualize Suites and See What Your Ticketholders Will Experience

Outside of managing construction and reviewing drawings, VDC has proven beneficial in promoting and marketing venues. Sports venues are, essentially, a product to sell. Owners want to get fans excited about a new space by showing them all the designs as early as possible. It is a tremendous help in early sales for season tickets, premium seating options, and even sponsorships. Showing 3D realistic, virtual, and even augmented reality experiences to buyers gives them the confidence (and excitement) necessary to pay top dollar for the new products.

Mortenson’s project team leverages VDC to help owners visualize clubs, bars, and suites, and show club spaces to potential members and media partners. “We’ve experienced great success when using these tools,” says Michal. “Teams sell a lot of memberships using virtual experiences, and everyone who participates enjoys the experience.”

Climate Pledge Arena leveraged VR during its renovation to sell club memberships with a view of the Space Needle. Instead of using renderings or trying to explain the view, potential ticketholders could experience what it would be like to walk throughout the club while enjoying Seattle’s most iconic landmark. 

A Tool for Collegiate Projects and Recruiting

Pro sports teams aren’t the only ones who can use VDC technology for planning and marketing. The competitive world of collegiate sports has a long history of leveraging this technology to bring their facility designs to life.

Universities face fierce competition in recruiting student athletes and coaches. With sports facilities being a major recruiting tool, renderings aren’t always enough to get athletes or donors excited about what’s to come. People need to experience a place and envision what it will look like during an active game filled with fans.

Most recently, Arizona State University’s (ASU) Mullet Arena used VR during the design phase to “walk” recruits through the new home of ASU hockey and show them what it would feel like to play in the area. Potential ticket holders and club members also had the opportunity to experience the clubs and suites virtually. Additionally, VR helped ASU visualize cost savings options and gain a clear understanding of how the finished project would look should they elect to select the options. Watch the VR experience.

In 2016, Kansas State (KSU) used VDC and VR to redesign a locker room that came in over budget. The tools helped reassure KSU that the changes proposed by architects did not compromise the integrity of the overall design intent. After the design was finalized, they used VR to show athletes how it would feel to walk through the locker room and the tunnel leading out to the field.

Back in 2013, Penn State University used the real-world experience of augmented reality (AR) while building Pegula Ice Arena. Construction was planned at the same time they were starting a Division 1 hockey program. AR helped athletes and coaches visualize the space through immersive CAVE rooms with floor-to-ceiling projection screens and 3D glasses. “At this stage, the venue was just a hole in the ground,” says Michal. “With the CAVE, we were able to immerse people in the space and give them the experience of what it would be like walking through the finished facility.”

Outside of recruiting and fundraising for athletics, universities often worry about how construction affects their campuses. “Graduation season and big events are always a concern at universities,” explains Augi. “4D modeling is useful in these instances because we can present visuals for how the campus will look during various stages of construction, and the university can plan around it.”

“Everyone benefits from VDC technology,” says Logan. “It not only creates a better design experience but leads to greater certainty of outcomes, higher construction quality, and safer project delivery. We use it on every sports construction facility because it helps people visualize the final product and contributes to the overall project success.”

The Future of VDC In Sports Construction

Building models are increasingly becoming the communication vehicle for design and construction. The industry continues to evolve and is revolutionizing design and construction in sports. “We’re still heavily reliant on paper plans but that is quickly changing,” explains Logan. “And even though we still have a long way to go, eventually integrated models will be the single source of truth; they will be the contract deliverable.”

In the meantime, other types of technology are making their way into the design and construction process. Construction teams currently use robots in the field to scan and print floor layouts—a process more efficient than laying and marking out walls manually and that eliminates the potential for human error. During the pandemic, this technology was used to print wall layouts at Climate Pledge Arena when construction crews experienced worker shortages. As robots become smarter, Michal says they could eventually be used for simple tasks like removing debris before pouring concrete or cleaning up nails and screws from a job site.

Panoramic (360°) photography is another piece of ever-evolving technology that’s changing construction. “We used to have to put six GoPros together to manually create a continuous shot,” explains Michal. “But now we have cameras giving us a 360° view of the venue space. We can continuously track construction progress anytime and have much more visibility into a project. And the technology just keeps getting better.”

Augmented reality is an interactive experience like VR where someone can view a virtual model rendered as an overlay using their phone’s camera. All they need to do is hold their phone up at a project site, open up their camera, and scan a QR code to see the future facility directly on their device.

And of course, AI technology is evolving at lightning speed. AI is already used in comparative models but continues to shape the software and tools used to design and build sports facilities.

The possibilities are truly limitless and it’s exciting to think about what the future holds for VDC and sports facility construction.

Your Vision is Just the Starting Line

Mortenson’s Sports + Entertainment group has decades of experience on sports venues across the U.S. With a strong reputation and track record of success in handling complex projects, we are a proven partner.