Interview with Samantha Cotterell

Interview with Samantha Cotterell

Doha based company Design Sport  is a design consultancy specializing in sport overlay design and major event infrastructure. Coliseum spoke to General Manager Samantha Cotterell.
link to coliseum

Coliseum: “Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an expert in sports event planning and design?”

Samantha Cotterell:  “I began my career as an architect in big architectural offices in Milan working on large scale projects such as museums, art galleries, World Expo etc.. It was during my years in Milan that I would travel to the Greek islands for the summer and it was there that I met some people who were putting together a bid to carry out all the design + delivery of the Overlays for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games they suggested I contribute my CV which I did flippantly. It wasn’t until 6 months later that I got a call to say they had won the bid + “when was I moving to Athens?”. I had to make some very serious decisions regarding my personal life but in hindsight I made the right ones when I joined the Olympic Organizing Committee as a senior architect working on the main Olympic Park. I spent four years in Athens and carried out various roles in support of the Games: firstly 2 years inside the Organizing Committee, then 2 years with a Sport Architecture firm, Decathlon, which became the main consultant to the Contractor for all the Category A venues.  My passion for sport events started there in Greece after experiencing a most formative + rewarding 4 years. Professionally, I felt event architecture was akin to the work  I was doing for museums and exhibition centres but had the added excitement and dynamism of the competition + efforts of human spirit – I felt privileged to be involved in the preparation of arenas that contribute to great historical moments.”

Coliseum: “Interesting. But it is a long way from Greece to Qatar, isn’t it?”

Samantha Cotterelll: “Not really! Not culturally! Not geographically!  During the Athens Games the organisers of the next Asian Games came to Athens recruiting. I was not one of the recruits, but a friend and ex-colleague of mine had moved to Doha to take the big job in Overlay Development. She needed someone she could trust to head the design team for 39 sport venues and I was the lucky person she approached! Thus it was that I moved myself and my children to Doha. That was 5 years ago now. Following the experience with the Asian Games I began to build DESIGNSPORT as there were many opportunities and no local expertise. I chose to stay in Doha because its location is geographically favourable, and the connections I had made during my employment as Head of Overlay Design in the Doha 2006 Asian Games Organizing Committee were providing me with opportunities to grow the business. Doha is a growing city with great opportunities and the people make the experience very special – we very much enjoy and are grateful for our life in Qatar..”

Coliseum: “You have moved around a bit. Do you prefer a particular region to work in?”

Samantha Cotterell: “I adore working across cultures. I have lived  abroad most of my life and cannot conceive of a life without some degree of cultural adaptation. I love to travel, learn languages, enriching and sharing my knowledge and expertise while I learn from people + experiences. So, no, I do not prefer any particular region. I have recently worked in Dubai on Dubai Sport City and for the FINA 2013 World Swimming Championships bid, I am now working in India for the next Commonwealth Games, and quite recently we got the contract for the next Asian Football Cup 2011 in Qatar. Additionally, part of the business is based in Rome and part in Athens. My work keeps me on the move + I always look forward to the next adventure!.”

Coliseum: “What exactly are you doing for the Asian Football Cup?”

Samantha Cotterell: “For the Asian Football Cup existing venues will be used yet some degree of upgrade is required in addition to the overlay planning.  We are carrying out the operational planning and overlay design and development for all Competition and NonCompetition venues for this tournament.”

Coliseum: “There are a lot of architectural firms who are working in the venue design field. Where do you find your niche in between all these giants of sports venue designers?

”Samantha Cotterell: “Our work is specifically related to events. The architectural offices to which you refer carry out venue design as a building specialty yet few understand the operational requirements of the event that any given stadium will host. The DESIGNSPORT team is made up of exorganizing committee professionals who have gained their expertise from the client’s perspective – we understand what it takes to host the event from inception to delivery and have working knowledge of all major stakeholders – broadcast, sporting federations, media, sponsors, athletes, etc. –  this is our niche, our competitive edge as sport designers. ”

Coliseum: “This means you can also have influence in master plans and other areas of event hosting, if they do not meet the needs of the event.”

Samantha Cotterell: “DESIGNSPORT is a multidisciplinary and multicultural team. We have sport advisors, ex-athletes, film  makers, architects, graphic artists. We interject where the Clients most requires our expertise and tailor solutions covering a broad range of services: bid file compilation, venue + masterplan appraisals, overlay design, base venue design, promotional video, logo animation, sport marketing, Look of the Games, and other. We often partner with other leading specilaist to deliver the best possible result. ”

Coliseum: “Let’s talk about Doha. A lot of things are going on regarding new sports venues and events being held in the city. In the World Cup bid, nine new venues are planned. There are also large and small stadiums already in the city. Isn’t it a plan which is a little bit out of control?”

Samantha Cotterell: “Well, Doha has a greater plan, a greater programme. The Olympic Committee itself, which acts also as a Ministery of Sport, has launched it’s ‘Sport for Life’ campaign to create awareness of sport, from the community level to regional and elite athlete level. Many are critical of Qatar and its ambition as such a small country, but that undermines the extraordinary progress + growth it has had under the current Emir. Doha is on the map now thanks also to sporting events. Sport has the opportunity to raise the profile of the country while contributing to the health + wealth of its people.”

Coliseum: “Let’s talk a little about your work in India.”

Samantha Cotterell: “In Delhi we have built a team of seventeen architects who work inside the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee. We have been appointed as expert overlay design  advisors and we are developing and delivering the overlay for 17 competition venues and six non competition venues which has been a challenge given the timeframe avaiable to us. We were brought in very late but have managed to be efficient and solution driven thanks only to our expertise + previous experience .”

Coliseum: “There is a lot more to do in India, isn’t there?”

Samantha Cotterell: “Yes there are a lot ofopportunities. India intends to bid for Asian Games and no doubt Olympics too. Much will, however, depend  on the success of these Commonwealth Games.  India is a  fantastically exciting place at this moment in time. I was in India twenty years ago as an architecture student and traveller, when I came back I could not believe the change. It is a thrill to be invited by the Indian Governement to work on one of their most prestigious projects and witness the phenomenon that is this leap into the 21st century, a transition pregnant with complexities and contradictions..”

Coliseum: “What we have learned about you is that you have two major hubs you are working in: one is Doha and the other is Delhi. What about Italy? Are you looking to go back there? A lot of work in terms of venue design seems to be coming up there in the near future.”

Samantha Cotterell: “Yes, we would welcome, and will indeed pursue, work in Italy. I was brought up in Italy and am bilingual – It would be a home coming and an honour to be able to take my experience back ‘home’’.”

Coliseum: “How could you help a big architectural office which is working, for example, in Italy?”

Samantha Cotterell: “When we work with large architecture firms we usually  act as event consultants bringing event operations and sport specific knowhow to inform the architect’s designs.”

Coliseum: “How you would describe the future trend of your work, sporting event design?”

Samantha Cotterell: “The profession has a very long way to go! There are so many unexplored areas and so much room for improvement. I do not want to give away any secrets – but DS has a plan!”

Coliseum: “Samantha, thanks a lot for the interview and good luck to DS!.”




Re-inventing the city through Sport

Sport as a major cultural force and a catalyst for urban and social development.

Throughout time, sport has played a vital role in the development of mankind and our environment. The concept of sport as we know it today, has its origins in Ancient Olympia where the first principles of ‘Olympism’ were devised. ‘Olympism’ was a philosophy encouraging the harmonious development of physical, moral, intellectual, cultural and artistic qualities of man. ‘Olympism’ was achieved by taking part in a combination of sport, art, educational and cultural activities. It was celebrated through the Olympic Games – a festival involving athletes, scholars and artists from a varied cultural fields.

Since then, sport has travelled far across time and cultures. From the quiet hills of Ancient Olympia to the state-of-the-art facilities in the centres of major urban developments, sport continues to change our internal and external landscape, affecting the ways in which our bodies and minds develop, and altering the spaces we inhabit.

So what role does sport play today in the ever-changing landscape of human activity?

Today, in a fragile global economy, sport is the one industry which continues to grow exponentially. Major events for the first time in history are being held in developing countries; emerging economies are reshaping their cities using sport as a catalyst for change and established urban environments are using sport to regenerate redundant areas of their ever changing habitats.

DesignSport offers a glimpse at the extraordinary phenomenon that is sport in the development of urban environments through examples of its work in Arabia, India and Europe.

Samantha Cotterell

The exibition material also featured two Filmsport videos

“Bringing Qatar to life!”

“Bringing Qatar to life!”

This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue

For the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, Filmsport produced the bid video and Designsport is designing the overlay. Together, they talk to Host City.

Designsport is a specialist overlay design firm set up by the Australian architect Samantha Cotterell. With headquarters in Qatar and Australia, the company works on the world’s biggest events.

The next sporting event to capture the world’s attention will be the Doha 2011 AFC Asian Cup in January, which Designsport has been involved in from the bid stage when Samantha Cotterell was approached by the Qatar Football Association to be the bid architect, art director and to produce a video for the bid.

The new company that resulted from the contract, Filmsport, is operated from Italy by the film producer and director Marcus Cotterell. He says: “Filmsport and Designsport’s work consists essentially in turning ideas into reality. Filmsport in some way embodies the Designsport philosophy of ‘every dream has a design’ for it is an in-house project and therefore one of our own creative dreams. Filmsport is also the marketing and communication department of Designsport.”

“There are a lot of similarities between sport and art, such as dreams, discipline, motivation and determination; and individual and collective performance, which are spectacular, theatrical, full of drama and pathos that accompany the rise and fall of legends and nations. Filmsport offers the original perspective of ‘sport as an art form’.”

Video is a powerful communication tool that has become an important focus of major event bids. Bid videos target a very specific audience of decision makers. Through the use of powerful imagery and sound, a video offers the all-stimulating ‘wow’ effect to showcase their cause, to reveal how the nation feels: how important is that event to them?”

Winning the Asian Football Cup

Filmsport’s bid video helped the Qatar Football Association to win the right to host the 2011 Asian Football Cup in Doha. Although this is the second biggest football event in the world, there was not a huge budget for the bid video. Marcus Cotterell says: “Sporting authorities are not necessarily accustomed to the ins and outs of communication technology or video production, and therefore their bid file budgets may not reflect the true costs of major audio/visual production.”

However, today’s technology makes it possible to produce spectacular first class results. Filmsport was responsible for the entire concept and production of the video. “They wanted to put together the elements of the tradition of the country with the fact that they are a very powerful, modern and fast moving nation. So I invented this little story between the two generations, a grandfather that takes a little boy to train. It’s all based on one single moment of the penalty.”

The main pressure on the project was time. “To develop seconds sometimes takes two or three weeks. I had 11 days to post-produce that video. It’s a huge amount of work to do in such a short time – the music, the editing, the 3D and the special effects.”

After the success of the bid video, Filmsport was asked to produce a promotional video and logo animation for the 2011 Asian Football Cup. “They called us to do the 3D logo animation and just recently we were called back to do the final draw event. It’s an ongoing relationship and that’s the most satisfying part.”

Designsport is providing overlay for the 2011 Asian Football Cup. An exciting feature of this project is the fan zone, parts of which will be activated during the 2010 World Cup. Samantha Cotterell says: “There will be an exciting programme for the community and sports lovers alike to join in the flavour of the sport and Asian cultures. The programme is of course a secret. Nothing like that has been done in the Arab region before.”

As with the bid video, the biggest pressure on the overlay project is time. “The organising committee did not bring in overlay early enough. The only saving element in this is that we know all the venues because we’ve done events in them before and I have a good overlay team who have also worked on these stadia with me before,” she says.

Aiming for the World Cup

The month before the Asian Football Cup, FIFA will make its decision on whether to award Qatar the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup. Samantha says: “FIFA will be watching the organisation of our Asian Cup very closely. We are not designing just for the event itself; we are conscious that what we are designing is part of Qatar’s opportunities to showcase its abilities to successfully host major events.”

As the rest of the world struggles to recover from financial meltdown, Qatar is looking like an attractive host. “Suddenly, major international sporting bodies are looking towards Qatar and its die-hard ambition to become the sporting nation of the Middle East, as it has the resources few other countries now have. It looks as if the wave may be rolling in for Qatar and that it will finally be offered the attention it deserves,” she says.

Another strength is Qatar’s self belief. Marcus says: “You breathe a very different feeling there, a national sense of pride. There’s a huge unity and they all work towards this, they believe in it and they know they are going to get there. They are feeling ready to invite the world and they want to put Qatar on the map. That’s the key – how badly do you want it? From Qatar’s point of view, they are incredibly determined and they focus a lot on giving a vision to this determination.”

Another strong contender for the 2022 and 2018 World Cups is the Cotterell’s home nation. Marcus sees similarities in Australia’s bid to Qatar’s. He says: “They are both countries that put a lot of emphasis on their infrastructure, in which they are world leaders. They are very strong candidates because they invest heavily in sport; they are safe countries and they can offer a vision for the future.”

Samantha Cotterell thinks it is time Australia hosted another megaevent. “Australia would just be a fantastic place to have a World Cup. Australia is a great sporting nation and football has become a very popular sport, bringing it from being the ‘immigrant’s sport’ to now a reason for national pride. Australia, with its natural beauty and safe environs, would provide the perfect stage for a great personal and sporting experience for the global football community. We did the Sydney Olympics so well that the World Cup would be in very good hands.”

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