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Populous share memorable moments to mark Suncorp Stadium’s 20 years

Populous share memorable moments to mark Suncorp Stadium’s 20 years
June 2, 2023

With yesterday having marked the 20th anniversary of when Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium held its first event in the newly re-developed venue, global architecture and design firm, Populous share some of the original design team’s memories and stories about this incredible project for Brisbane along with 20 memorable moments on the stadium.

Suncorp Stadium has become an enduring piece of architecture, hosting 20 million fans in 20 years, linking visitors to inner city precincts and creating memorable moments for sports and entertainment fans.

Back on the 1st June 2003, Suncorp Stadium held its first-ever event in the newly re-developed venue. Now, 20 years on, this critical piece of social infrastructure has stood the test of time to become known as one of the best rugby stadiums in the world due to its connectivity, atmosphere and design.

From their Asia Pacific Headquarters in Brisbane, global architecture and design firm, Populous, (previously called HOK Sport), had just completed the Sydney Olympic Stadium for the 2000 Games.

When the opportunity came to work on their home ground stadium of Brisbane’s Lang Park, Populous commenced with a team of local architects including many who are still with the firm today; 25 years since the firm was established in the region.

Working from Populous’ APAC Headquarters, Suncorp Stadium was designed in Brisbane by the team lead by Managing Director APAC and Senior Principal Paul Henry; Director and Senior Principal Chris Paterson; Senior Principal Shaun Gallagher; Head of Government Relations Michele Fleming; Principal and Senior Architect David Johnston; and Architectural Technician Cindy Yip.

In 2005, the project was awarded a national commendation by the Australian Institute of Architects for the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture, among many other AIA awards. Most recently, a fan led poll by Austadiums voted Suncorp Stadium the 2021 Australia's Best NRL Stadium following a huge year of events.

Paul Henry believes Suncorp Stadium’s authenticity has enabled it to stand the test of time and shares “the aim of the design was to create a world class stadium for Brisbane that resonated with its location and history, and that’s why it is treasured by the local community and revered for its atmosphere by players and fans everywhere. Suncorp Stadium has also meant Queensland design talent could be showcased on the world stage and that has helped us secure export success for Queensland with projects all over the world.”

Chris Paterson adds “the stadium’s versatility is a reflection of designing for legacy, for flexibility and for widespread use by as many people as possible. It is an enduring stadium precinct which continues to thrive, connect to its community and provide memory-making moments.”

When designing the project, there were three key design outcomes: urban planning as the key to linking and connecting the stadium via plazas; atmosphere and the seating bowl to capture that famous cauldron feel; and the design of the architecture as a building that resonated with the residential surrounds of the Queenslander-style homes.

Michele Fleming was involved from the start in 1998 to assist in government relations and marketing and introduce Populous to various stakeholders.

Fleming advised “Brisbane needed a new world class rectangular stadium if we were to stay current and win big international games for the city. Lang Park had always been a revered sports ground, starting as a cemetery, a recreation ground and then the home of Queensland Rugby League. However, it had outgrown its size and the potential redevelopment to build a stadium in a residential stadium had challenges to work through. It was designed to be versatile and flexible enough to grow and evolve as Brisbane grew and evolved and has become a treasured part of Brisbane.”

Shaun Gallagher explains “since then, many design lessons from Suncorp Stadium have been applied to other stadiums around the world, including Emirates (Arsenal), Tottenham Hotspur, London Olympic Stadium, Forsyth Barr, Nanjing Sports Park, Incheon, Aviva (Dublin), Etihad (Man City) and Cbus Super and CommBank Stadium in Australia.”

Sharing his memories, David Johnston notes “as a kid from Gympie playing rugby league in the local team, I was afforded the lifetime chance to be involved in a project as a young architect helping create a world-class rectangular stadium for Brisbane.”

A key design feature for Suncorp Stadium was the arrival sequence for fans walking into the stadium on the entry concourse, away from the circulation of traffic to come across the awe- inspiring field of play below.

As for designing for the best seat in the house, each one of the 52,500 seats were designed for proximity to the field and to enclose fans within the seating bowl, helping build the famous atmosphere it is known for.

Johnston adds “with the front row seats located only metres away from the sideline each seat was deliberately designed to be brought in closer to deliver an unrivalled fan experience.

“The roof design also plays a huge part in enclosing light and sound while amplifying each event.

“Our design expertise was to capture the cauldron atmosphere that Lang Park was always famous for and deliver intensity, so people experienced something amazing.”

Cindy Yip has been involved in many design elements of Suncorp Stadium across her 17 years at Populous, documenting upgrades which have occurred throughout the building’s life.

She explains “I have had a long association with Suncorp Stadium, making continuous design upgrades for various areas to keep Suncorp Stadium the most iconic stadium by providing the best facility to the spectator. Suncorp Stadium was my first big project and holds a lot of memories for me. To revisit the stadium again and again means I keep Brisbane’s landmark stadium world-class."

The stadium’s next biggest moment in the spotlight will be hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup this coming July, where a sold-out crowd will be cheering on the Matildas’ group- stage clash with Nigeria. The stadium will also be hosting a total of eight matches during the two-month international football festival.

Populous share 20 great memorable moments that have had a lasting impact on Suncorp Stadium’s history:

9th April 2023
After 20 years since its major redevelopment, Suncorp Stadium welcomed its 20 millionth patron. Not only is this a significant milestone but also a testament to the stadium’s ability to provide world-class experiences for spectators across a wide range of events from concerts to boxing to three codes of football.

17th to 19th February 2023
British Pop Superstar, Ed Sheeran performed to approximately 173,000 fans over three shows during his ‘Mathematics’ Tour. The circular-stage set up saw him eclipse his previous per night record at the stadium to perform to almost 57,661 fans per show! Billboard reports Sheeran’s three-night stint at Suncorp Stadium isn’t just the biggest of the month, it’s the biggest reported boxscore in the venue’s history.

3rd October 2021
Suncorp Stadium hosted a once-in-a-lifetime NRL Grand Final between the Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs. This was the first time in the competition’s history that the Grand Final had been played in Brisbane following the relocation of the NRL Finals Series to Queensland due to Covid restrictions in NSW.

21st July 2021
Brisbane won the rights to host the 2032 Olympic & Paralympic Games with Suncorp Stadium confirmed to host the Rugby 7s and the Football Finals.

18th November 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Suncorp Stadium was the first stadium in the world to safely welcome back a full capacity event, which was the NRL State of Origin III drawing in 49,155 spectators in one venue.

13th February 2020
Labelled by Suncorp Stadium fans at the time as the ‘best concert ever’ to be held at the venue was the Queen + Adam Lambert ‘The Rhapsody Tour’. Even with torrential rain during the night, fans were still raving about it months later.

9th May 2019
Suncorp Stadium welcomed the inaugural NRL Magic Round to Brisbane. All 16 NRL teams played over one weekend at the ground with 134,677 patrons in attendance. Brisbane’s tourism and hospitality sectors were the biggest winners from this economic blockbuster event with more than $22 million flowing into Brisbane’s hotels, restaurants, cafes and attractions.

11th July 2018
From 2006 to 2017, Suncorp Stadium was a fortress for the Queensland Maroons' dominance in the State of Origin series. The team enjoyed a remarkable winning record winning 11 of 12 series and 24 of 36 games. The winning streak ended with Brad Fittler’s revamped Blues taking a series-stealing win in 2018.

2nd July 2017
Horn vs Pacquiao was billed as the Battle of Brisbane and Suncorp Stadium was transformed into a boxing arena for the fight. In front of 51,052 fans, Horn won the fight by unanimous decision and claimed his first world title in boxing on his home turf.

2nd December 2017
The Kangaroos and Jillaroos completed a historic double winning the men’s and women’s Rugby League World Cup Finals on the same day at Suncorp Stadium.

8th July 2015
More records at the Stadium fell when a capacity record of 52,500 fans attended State of Origin III to witness a 52 - 6 record breaking win for the mighty Queensland Maroons over the NSW Blues.

22nd January 2015
The stadium played a prominent role in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, hosting seven matches, including the quarter-final between China and Australia.

9th February 2013
Suncorp Stadium has been a venue for the NRL All Stars matches, featuring Indigenous Australian players showcasing their skills and celebrating the diverse heritage of rugby league.

13th March 2011
Fans at Suncorp Stadium witnessed a thrilling come-from-behind A-League Grand Final victory for the home team, the Brisbane Roar. Drawing a crowd of over 50,000 for the climactic football event, the match was said to be one of the most dramatic in A-League history. The Brisbane Roar scored two goals in the last five minutes to level the scores with the Central Coast Mariners after several hundred home supporters had left the stadium early, many returning after hearing the stadium erupt while waiting for the train. The Roar went on to win 4–2 in the penalty shootout, making for an incredible victory.

11th January 2011
One of the most iconic images of the January 2011 Brisbane floods was the sight of Suncorp Stadium inundated with flood waters. Major repair works as a result of the flood cost $16 million and were completed the following year. Populous were involved in the flood mitigation design works which saved the stadium from major flooding when Brisbane had another regional flooding event in 2022.

17th September 2011
In a gripping semi-final Darryn Lockyer delivered a Golden Point field goal in what wasn’t known then, but became his last ever Broncos home game at Suncorp Stadium. In a dramatic sudden- death extra time, Lockyer stepped up to the plate with a shattered cheekbone to deliver his team a win against former coach Wayne Bennett’s Dragons in front of 48,474 fans.

13th December 2006
On this day, Suncorp Stadium held its first concert since the 1980s and the redeveloped venue re-opened. British Superstar singer, Robbie Williams played two full-house shows during his ‘Close Encounters’ tour of Australia. Sneaky Sound System opened for Robbie and over two nights over 104,992 fans came along to see the two shows.

16th June 2004
Often said to be one of the greatest ever chip and chase tries was Billy Slater’s chip kick try in Game II of the 2004 State of Origin. Paul Vautin commentated that it was “one of the greatest State of Origin tries you will ever see” and cemented Billy’s place in Origin history. Queensland won the game 22 - 18 in front of the home game crowd 52,478 at Suncorp Stadium.

8th November 2003
Opened just prior to the start of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Suncorp Stadium was a brand new venue for the international game, hosting several matches, including a quarter-final where Australia defeated Scotland 33 - 16 in front of 45,412 fans.

1st June 2003
Suncorp Stadium’s first event was held at the newly re-developed stadium with the Brisbane Broncos taking on the Newcastle Knights. On that day, the Knights came away with the victory with a 32 - 22 win over the Broncos. A crowd of over 46,000 fans came along on the Sunday afternoon to experience the freshly redeveloped stadium.

For more information on Populous  

Images: Suncorp Stadium (top and middle, credit: Ethan_Rohloff) and the Populous team (below, credit: Populous).

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5th July 2021 - Suncorp Stadium operating at full capacity while Brisbane’s entertainment venues stay closed

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6th November 2019 - Suncorp Stadium’s contactless tickets a hit with fans

4th July 2016 - Suncorp Stadium set to host 2019 NRL Grand Final

10th March 2016 - New corporate suites unveiled at Suncorp Stadium

17th September 2015 - Suncorp Stadium technology upgrades could cost a mere $15 million

26th August 2015 - AEG Ogden secures Suncorp Stadium Management Rights until 2020

29th June 2015 - Suncorp Stadium to host more events and concerts


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