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Wimbledon’s new retractable roof lets the match begin, and continue

Features | July 1, 2009 | By:

Throughout the world, sports venues are being built or remodeled to include retractable roofs. In areas where bad weather can cause delays that disappoint fans and players alike, retractable roofs allow games to continue. That’s why the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) wanted a retractable roof for the Wimbledon Centre Court in London, U.K. “The new retractable Centre Court roof is another important part of ‘The Championships’ progression and will guarantee the play that today’s audiences expect,” says Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the AELTC.

The roof is made of Tenara® by W.L. Gore & Associates, Newark, Del. The 40% translucent fabric provides UV protection while still allowing sunlight to reach the fans and court below. Because it is made of non-toxic fluoropolymer, Tenara is fully recyclable. The waterproof fabric is flexible, lightweight and built to withstand the elements, making it ideal for the roof.

Capita Symonds, a firm based in the U.K., handled the structural engineering of the 5,200m2 roof, which consists of two sections. When not in use, the fabric roof can be stored in compact accordion folds. If rain moves in, the fabric is pulled across the court on trusses in less than 10 minutes. Along with keeping fans dry, the roof will also guard the grass courts, which can sustain costly damage from rain.

Capita also engineered an air management system for the venue. The roof blocks the rain, but the humidity and moisture levels inside will need to be controlled to keep conditions suitable for play. The system, which pumps oxygen into the venue, prevents condensation on the underside of the roof and on the grass.

The roof, fabricated by Hightex, made its successful debut in May at the Centre Court Celebration in which players and fans could appreciate the new addition. “We were there on the court late in the evening last week with the roof closed and the lights on, and it was fantastic,” says Tim Henman, a retired British tennis player who played at the celebration. The roof will undoubtedly attract more fans and players to Wimbledon, preserving the legacy of the prestigious sports venue.

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Abbie Yarger is a freelance writer and editor based in Minnesota.

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