Tennis is a sport that requires good weather, so it’s surprising that one of its premier competitions has been held in rainy England since 1877. So after 132 years and countless rain delays, a roof was built on Wimbledon’s Centre Court for the 2009 Championships. The primary function is to keep water off of Centre Court so games can continue when a downpour begins, but it also means games can continue after dark.
The roof spans 5,200 square metres (56,000 square feet) and is made up of a translucent membrane held up by ten steel trusses, each weighing around 70 tons. John Biggin was project manager of the build and explains how the roof closes: “The whole system is electrically powered. Actuators push on V-shaped arms, which flatten out, pushing each truss apart. These run on bogies, spreading along rails until the roof is covered.”
It only takes around eight minutes to close but the lights and air management system take up to half an hour to get working. The roof cuts out 60 per cent of the natural light so 120 specialist sports lights are used to provide the correct lighting levels required for both the match and the television broadcasts. The air-conditioning system regulates the temperature and removes moisture from inside the stadium so conditions are as similar to a roofless atmosphere as possible.
“The main challenge was the design,” says Biggin. “We used the concertina because of space restrictions but we built a model at Sheffield so we knew it worked. It’s the only one in the world.” The Wimbledon roof has revolutionised one of the world’s most famous sporting events by allowing matches to go on long after dark or while the traditional rain is lashing down all around.
How the roof retracts
How this ace roof is set to serve Centre Court for years to come
1 Control gear boxes
These gear boxes operate the actuators.
As the arms are pushed, they spread the trusses apart, closing the roof.
Each of the ten steel trusses that span the court weighs 70 tons.
120 sports lights are carefully arranged so the court is evenly lit.
Electronic actuators push down on the arms between the trusses.
The trusses run on these wheeled trolleys that run along a rail.