Lamezia Terme's new arena looks comfortable enough to flop onto for a snooze, but it's designed for much more energetic activities than that: it's the Italian town's new sports hall. Indeed, the comfy-looking pillows on its exterior are hard at work themselves, helping to light the building and regulate its temperature.

Among the sporting events that the Sports Hall of Lamezia Terme is designed to host are international tournaments for athletes with disabilities. It will also be used for concerts, conferences and other events. As such, it was required that a degree of flexibility be built into the design.

In addition, project architect Vittorio Grassi Architetto & Partners was briefed to optimize the visibility and proximity of spectators to the playing area, to provide separate routes of access for athletes and the public, to ensure that ancillary gyms and spaces could be used on a day-to-day basis, and to deliver good energy and acoustic performances for the building.

The 8,000 sq m (86,100 sq ft) arena sits on a 5 ha (12-ac) site. Its form is described by Vittorio Grassi Architetto & Partners as being "liquid and asymmetrical," as well as reminiscent of a local shoreline rock, being smooth and rounded as it is. This shape, coupled with the building's lightweight structure, was borne of the need to meet seismic requirements and to take advantage of prevailing winds for natural ventilation.

The structure comprises a steel frame with an outer layer of ETFE pressured air cushions. ETFE is a lightweight, elastic and insulative polymer, which is also said to stay clean by virtue of its non-stick properties. It is perhaps most famously used for the exterior of the Beijing National Aquatics Center.

ETFE's properties make it ideal for use at the Sports Hall of Lamezia Terme, helping to minimize the weight of the structure, reduce heat gains in the summer and reduce heat loss in winter. This, in turn, helps to keep energy usage and costs to a minimum. The material is also translucent and allows a lot of natural light into the building, making for a constantly evolving appearance as light conditions change throughout the day.

Inside, the arena is split into three main levels, with different access routes and spaces provided for athletes and the public. There are 3,500 seats for sporting events and this can be increased to 4,300 for other events, with mobile stages also able to be extended as required.

A continuous loop around the perimeters allows for good crowd circulation and fast evacuation of spectators after an event or in the case of an emergency. A glazed double-height foyer and upper ring provide a glimpse of what is going on inside the arena from outside and at the surrounding landscape from inside.

Construction of the Sports Hall of Lamezia Terme began in 2014 and is ongoing.

Source: Vittorio Grassi Architetto & Partners