“Delhi’s Debut: Exceeding all expectations”

“Delhi’s Debut: Exceeding all expectations”

HOST CITY speaks to the overlay experts that helped carry Delhi over the finish line to successfully make its debut on the stage of world class multi-sport events by hosting the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games

Of all the fierce competitions that caught the world’s attention during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the one that will surely be remembered most in years to come is the one in which the organisers overcame major obstacles, heavy criticism and negative perceptions in the final sprint to prepare infrastructure for the event.

For foreign companies and experts involved in the planning and delivery of the event, the project was a great adventure. Samantha Cotterell of Designsport was the expert overlay advisor appointed to the organising committee. “Designsport’s experience was very ‘invigorating’,” says Cotterell with a sense of humour, “And reaching the finish line in such splendour made the whole experience extremely rewarding.” “These will be the best Games ever,” organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi could be heard saying. This is a cliché that requires context, as every Games delivers its own standard, which indeed is what Delhi did. Against all odds it delivered a moving and rewarding debut on the stage of multisport events, catapulting India into a new historical moment and offering the Commonwealth Games Federation a product that few of its member countries will be able to match.

A pantheon of Hindu Gods on their side

“In the corridors of the organizing committee one could often hear the expression ‘Luckily India has many gods!’ Of course, for much of the time leading up to the event we needed all the godly assistance we could get,” says Cotterell.

According to Designsport, during the years of preparation for the Games the major challenge was the Indian bureaucracy and the lack of a streamlined structure in place to implement and monitor the delivery process. This meant that potential problems were unforeseen and everything took much longer to achieve. But the gods indeed must have been overseeing the process for, despite the many challenges, the project was a great success.

In the last couple of months before the opening ceremony, Delhi was hit by the heaviest monsoons in decades. This further delayed construction works, brought some projects to a permanent standstill and forced the organizing committee to find alternative venues at the last minute. This unforeseen obstacle slowed down the ability of the overlay contractors to take possession of sites from government agencies to be able to carry out their part of the works. This amounted to millions of dollars worth of projects.

As Chief Minister of Delhi Mrs Sheila Dikshit appealed to Lord Indra to stop the downpour, the combination of the rains and the heat brought an outbreak of dengue fever which took a toll on the health of many, putting scores of workers out of action and seriously impacting the delivery of the Games.

Cotterell explains that one of the most amusing obstacles that were faced was the role of Delhi Police. In the years leading up to the event the organising committee did not have adequate security design input at planning stage. Cotterell says: “We trained our team in international security standards, taking what would normally happen in an Olympic Games as our parameter. But then when the Delhi Police were finally mobilised to take charge of the security of the event, we were in full overlay construction mode.

“The games readiness was already under enormous pressure due to delays, rains and dengue fever and the police arrived having their own ideas on how they thought the events should run. Much to our alarm, police could be found on site improvising themselves as overlay designers.”

According to Cotterell, this posed a threat to the successful operations of the games. The Delhi Police are an extremely impenetrable body – to be able to effect change one had to appeal in writing to the highest authority before the command could trickle down to the site and the designs be rectified.

Samantha worked with the highest authorities to explain the reasons for and requirements of the proposed design, and the safety implications of allowing police to affect that design without taking into consideration the ‘big picture’ and stadium operations.

One of the highest profile overlay projects, under the responsibility of Designsport, was the operational design and construction of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies and the athletics competition, where the entrance and exit areas had to accommodate the safe movement of 60,000 people.

Samantha also explains that the location of the road races venue, hosting marathon, cycling and race walk competitions, kept shifting due to police intervention and required authorisation from and coordination with Delhi municipality. With changes like this going on right up to the last minute, the designers had to be resourceful.

“All the overlay commodities had already been ordered and delivered to India – no room was left to make any changes. To be able to build the games in the time available was already unlikely. So some of our meetings with the overlay contractors turned into bartering exercises where we would have to ask ‘what do you have that you could exchange for this, what can we take off one venue and put on another venue?’ Eventually we managed to piece the puzzle together and deliver all venues just in time. It was then up to the ceremonies department to stage a spectacular show, which was the turning point for the Games and the beginning of an unforgettable two weeks of smooth running competitions and side events”

Setting the record straight

The organisers took a lot of flak from the press for being behind schedule, but Cotterell is keen to set the record straight. “You can’t just blame the organizing committee for what prevented the smooth preparation of the Games. The government agencies, municipal authorities and the Commonwealth Games Federation, all played a part contributing to the pitfalls. Within the organising committee, contrary to what the media were saying, there were teams of people working around the clock, keeping spirits high, and assembling this extraordinary debut for India.”

“There was not a clear hierarchical path to reach a decision. In India there are as many bureaucratic levels as there are gods and the only way to get a decision was to go and sit in the General Secretary’s office and get his personal commitment in order to push forwards. Without Lalit Bhanot’s signature, nothing happened.

“There was no particular formality other than having a friendly relationship with the office man who guarded Dr Bhanot’s door; essentially one could just knock on the door and if he wanted to see you he’d invite you to sit down with another five to ten people all trying to have a meeting with him at the same time. It was warm and interesting – you inevitably got involved in the decision making about the work of other departments.”

Accepting that you are working in a different world is essential for a positive experience. “You have to be culturally adaptable. Designsport’s philosophy is to train, mentor and work with a local team of architects. By so doing we build a very dynamic and culturally friendly work environment and also leave a legacy to the country in which we are invited to work.”

Are companies who are not getting involved in India missing opportunities? Cotterell thinks so. Designsport has now set up shop in India and is well positioned to contribute to the design and implementation of facilities and infrastructure for the growing sports industry.

For overseas companies that are prepared to work in India on its own terms, the rewards are great. “We can now say that Designsport survived the challenge – I believe that really shows character, professionalism and stamina – the sort of thing that all developing world countries would need when employing foreign companies to deliver their major projects.”

India’s triumph

Having spent so much time in India preparing for the Games and having spent much time in India as an architecture student, Cotterell is well placed to comment on what the event means for the nation’s development. “It was a historical moment for India. It has changed Delhi forever. Delhi now has an international airport worthy of its name; a metro system that would be the envy of any major European city; a new road system linking major parts of the city and peripheral new towns; Connaught Place, the colonial show piece that is the centre of the city, has been revamped; beautiful hotels and restaurants have come up in beautiful gardens and other exotic parts of the city. – Delhi still has all the charm of its colonial past, now married with the character of its identity as capital city of one of the fastest growing economies in the world – truly a fascinating transition to witness.”

The hosts themselves have shown no surprise that their biggest sports event was a huge international success, because they always knew they would succeed. “The Indians are very playful people – even at the highest level there is a lot of playfulness. It is never devoid of colour or humour – and a belief in fate, that all will be OK.”

Cotterell points out that, paradoxically, the success of the event was not only a confirmation that India is capable of hosting a major international multi-sport event, but it also represents a challenge to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). After many trials and tribulations, the CGF is now faced with the fact that India has raised the bar in terms of the financial outlay and the standard of their product to a mini-Olympic Games. The CGF is now faced with having to redimension the expectations in order to stay relevant to most of the member countries which are very small.

Cotterell concludes by saying: “The previous Commonwealth Games were held in Melbourne, Australia. With its privileged status as a major sporting capital of the world, success was guaranteed. India started from a less privileged position in relation to infrastructure and sporting experience and yet succeeded in hosting a magical event. Glasgow has much to live up to!”

“The architect who brings design to sport”

“The architect who brings design to sport”
Designers who specialise in sports event operations are few and far between. Samantha Cotterell of DESIGNSPORT talks about her journey from the catwalk capital to the Asian Games and beyond

Samantha Cotterell began her career as an architect designing museums and art galleries in Milan, the “capital of fashion”. From there she would take summer holidays in the Greek islands, which was where she met some people who were putting together a bid to carry out the design and delivery of the overlays for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. “They suggested I contribute my CV, which I did flippantly,” Cotterell said in a recent interview with architecture magazine Coliseum. “It wasn’t until six months later that I got a call to say they had won the bid, asking ‘when was I moving to Athens?’” She worked for two years as a senior architect within the organising committee, working on the main Olympic Park. She then spent two years with sport architecture firm Decathlon, which became the main consultant to the contractor for the Olympic Park venues. “My passion for sport events started there in Greece,” she told Coliseum. “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 and efforts of human spirit – I felt privileged to be involved in the preparation of arenas that contribute to great historical moments.” During the Athens Games, Fiona Smith du Toit, a friend and colleague of Cotterell’s, moved to Doha to take on the role of overlay development programme manager within the organising committee of the 2006 Asian Games. Cotterell was duly approached to take on the role of head of overlay design. Cotterell and Smith du Toit developed a deep understanding of what it takes to host an event from inception to delivery, as well as a working knowledge of all major stakeholders, including athletes, broadcasters, sporting federations, media and sponsors. Realising that this specialist expertise was a unique asset, they began to build DESIGNSPORT in Qatar, enlisting a nomadic group of experienced organising committee professionals. Cotterell tells Host City: ““We now have an exciting young team of architects from different cultures and countries who have gained the necessary working knowledge of designing and delivering major sport events.”

Bringing expertise inside the OC

DESIGNSPORT is a young and dynamic consultancy that is unique in its ability to adapt to working across cultures and languages. The team is diverse and includes architects, engineers, designers, film makers, ex-athletes, researchers and all bring their creative energy to different aspects of the profession to tailor solutions for a variety of clients in the sport industry. Cotterell told the Australian International Sporting Events Secretariat: “Our team members are highly qualified architects and sporting professionals who come from a variety of cultures, languages and experiences. This allows us to move into foreign countries and establish successful working relationships easily – cultural sensitivity and adaptability are essential ingredients to the success of our work.”DESIGNSPORT’s experience across Europe, Arabia and Asia has allowed the company to create a strong team of professionals who are able to mentor and build local teams, leaving a legacy for the country in which they are working. For the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, DESIGNSPORT has built up a team of 25 architects who work inside the organising committee to develop and deliver the overlay for 17 competition venues and 6 non competition venues. Cotterell told Coliseum: “From Athens Olympics to Asian Games and Commonwealth Games we’ve always brought the team in-house. The success of this approach lies in the fact that the designers are an integrated and fundamental component of the organising committee.”

The people and the places

The strength of DESIGNSPORT lies in its people and the relationships that are built through the experience. Cotterell tells Host City: “The highlight of our experience in both Doha and Delhi has been the fabulous team of local architects who undergo an extremely tenuous process and a steep learning curve but who carry the project through to completion often against all odds and with great tenacity.”The team that Cotterell mentored in Doha was formed mainly of Arab women from a variety of backgrounds and countries. “The team was mostly comprised of strong architects capable of walking on site and managing teams of construction workers while managing a complex network of client groups and, of course, their families simultaneously.”In Delhi the common thread within the team is young architects; many fresh graduates from university who, Cotterell says, “have grown from timid young adults to fierce knowledgeable young professionals having to navigate the hierarchy of Indian politics while ensuring they deliver their sporting venues for the imminent Commonwealth Games. “The bonding we have with the professionals we had the honour to know and mentor is testimony to the success of our involvement in these places. What comes from this experience is a great network of people joined together by having shared an intense common experience that few can comprehend – like all extreme life experiences, event building and hosting creates life lasting friendships.”

Where to next?

When asked where DESIGNSPORT is going next, Cotterell says: “I view DESIGNSPORT more as an organisation than a company. Our ambitions reach far beyond the event itself – the company is currently building on its creative energy and will soon unveil its new image. We are developing other divisions of DESIGNSPORT (such as FILMSPORT) in order to continue to expand on our cross-disciplinary intervention in the industry and to develop the profession in areas that have not yet been explored. Of course, we hope to continue to work in new countries and to continue to build on the relationships we have established so far.”Of her experience in India, Cotterell says: “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 Government 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 – just like the nature of the profession itself!

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!.”

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