Indrit Alushani worked at the Abilities Centre (above) which hosted boccia and judo during the Parapan Am Games (photo by Indrit Alushani)

These alumni helped set the stage (literally) for the Parapan and Pan Am Games

Architecture grads Indrit Alushani and Craig Deebank explain what goes into the temporary infrastructure needed for events

Indrit Alushani and Craig Deebank have had a behind-the-scenes look at the many things cities must do to make large sporting events such as the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games possible.  

The two recent Master of Architecture grads scored contract positions doing what’s known as Games overlay – designing and overseeing the construction of the temporary infrastructure required for venues hosting the Games. 

Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies student Josie Harrison spoke with them about their experience, what they have learned about designing venues for accessible international sporting events, and how the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design helped prepare them for their roles.

What exactly is “Games overlay”? 
Alushani: Games overlay deals with the temporary infrastructure that is needed to run the Games. This includes but is not limited to commodities and spaces that are necessary to meet the standards of an international sporting event. Overlay managers collaborate closely with stakeholders and others who will use the venue to ensure the space that meets everyone’s requirements. 

Deebank: I was told when I started that no venue is 100 per cent ready to host a game. There is always an alteration process that takes place based on the game’s unique standards and protocol. There are a lot of different client groups you have to please at the end of the day within the design and budget parameters you’ve been given.  

In some cases, venues are 100 per cent overlay. For example, some venues are constructed over parking lots – such as the beach volleyball venue. The overlay team would bring in the temporary seating, sand, power, platforms, grandstands, broadcast stands and all of the other things required to make the venue and sport function. These are removed at the end of the Games and can be repurposed for other things.

Could you describe your role for the Games?

Alushani: I was first assigned to the East Zone team to help out six site managers who were in charge of designing and delivering the infrastructure of one or more venue. At first you would jump from one task to another, one venue to another. As things progressed I was assigned to assist in the delivery of the President’s Choice Pan Am Ballpark in Ajax where baseball and softball was held, as well as the General Motors Center in Oshawa for the weightlifting and boxing. Lately I've been working at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, which is hosting boccia and judo during the Parapan Am Games.

(Image below: Alushani at President's Choice Pan Am ballpark)

photo of Alushani at  work site

Deebank: As an overlay site manager in the West Zone, I was involved in managing the design of several venues and delivery phase of the Cisco Milton Pan Am / Parapan Am Velodrome. It’s a high-pressure environment. One day you’re working on coordinating the Velodrome cycling track; the next day you’re trying to plan the cycling time trial race. During the design phase you jump around from venue to venue, sport to sport, so there’s a lot of learning that takes place. A lot of the people working in our overlay department are architects or architecturally trained. It’s very much like a studio environment. We don’t do physical models, but we sketch a lot and use similar software. So it’s like being in a studio, but you are putting on the Games. 

What kind of things did you have to consider when designing overlay with the Parapan Am Games in mind?

Alushani: The Abilities Centre building in Whitby has won a number of awards for design excellence with respect to accessibility. It serves as a center for rehabilitation and is a true celebration of barrier-free design, which made things quite easy for us in overlay as the building was already so well designed for individuals with physical limitations. The striking element in the building is the gradual ramp that starts from the ground floor and leads to the upper level. There was a great level of consideration for ramp slopes or demarcation of raised steps or cable flies in areas with high traffic. I have learned so much about accessible design. It was inspiring to see how design can create so many opportunities and become a means of inclusion.

Deebank: The Cisco Milton Velodrome is both a Pan and Parapan Am venue which I have been stationed at for the duration of the Games – it's a beautiful facility specifically designed to function for large track cycling events and accommodate a variety of accessible needs. During the design phase we had incorporated many barrier-free design features to our verlay spaces in order to reduce the amount of transition required.

photo of velodrome

In the West Zone, The Mississauga Sport Centre had the most Pan to Parapan changes as the overlay, sport and venue teams had transformed the venue to host combat sports (judo, taikwondo, karate and wrestling) and then wheelchair rugby, powerlifting and goalball. It was really impressive how that team transformed the hockey arenas into their current Games-ready state.

From an overlay perspective, the key things to consider were the Parapan user experience and to find design and cost efficiencies that would work for both Pan and Parapan's needs. I thought the TO2015 Organizing Committee had strong, experienced leadership with Parapan Planning and Integration and were able to help us collaborate through this unique process.

What have you learned from your experience working on overlay for the Games?

Alushani: Where do I even begin? This has been such a unique experience, and I consider myself lucky to have been part of it. Project management is one of the first things that comes to mind: being able to work with schedulers in order to have contractors build on time, meeting budgets and legal requirements, ensuring that the work is conducted safely, communicating and delegating work to a large number of people, from your own contractors to your colleagues. It is a huge role with great responsibility.

Deebank: It’s a very high tempo, fast paced, social, and collaborative environment. You have to be able to think quickly and be adaptable, and that’s been a fun challenge. I worked with many great people who have experience with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the World Cup in Brazil. Hearing what they did in these particular locations and the challenges they faced – be it a labour shortage or the need to use local materials – and how they problem-solved in those cases was really interesting. You learn more about the sports as well. I have spent a lot of time at the Cisco Milton Pan Am / Parapan Am Velodrome in Milton, so I learned a lot about track cycling; it’s incredible what the athletes can do. You don’t know how steep those curved walls are until you see it in person. And then you see the athletes ride at 70 km or more around it – it’s really cool.

(Image below: Deebank at Velodrome)

photo of Deebank at velodrome

It has been great to see the large selection of Parapan sports offered. A few days ago I went to watch wheelchair rugby, a.k.a “Murderball,” at the Mississauga Sport Centre. As one would expect with a nickname of “Murderball,” this is a contact sport – those athletes are fierce competitors and can hit really hard! It was really entertaining and an amazing display of athleticism.

Speaking with a few of the athletes, coaches, sport organizers and volunteers throughout the Parapan Am Games, I've had the opportunity to learn about some of the athletes' stories and how they came to specialize in their Parapan sports. It's incredible what these athletes have accomplished and their commitment to their sport.

How did your time at the University of Toronto prepare you for this role?

Alushani: The Daniels Faculty is a world-class school of design in part because it emphasizes on collaboration and creativity. The Faculty welcomes people from different backgrounds both cultural and academic because diversity and collaboration is key to successful design ideas. The Toronto 2015 office has been one of the most diverse offices I have been to. People were coming from all ends of the world with different career backgrounds, working together to create one unique and remarkable final product, the Pan Am games.

Deebank: The Daniels Faculty really promotes the City as an organism, understanding the city, and where architecture and design fits within it. This has stuck with me, and I try to apply it wherever I go. The Faculty also provides a diverse and collaborative environment between landscape architecture, visual studies, urbanism, and architecture, and people coming into these programs with completely varied academic backgrounds. There is a cross-disciplinary approach to problem solving. That, I think, was very applicable to this job. I’m really thankful for what I’ve learned at Daniels, and how I’ve been able to apply it in a professional setting.

photo of President' Choice Pan Am ballpark

(Above: the President’s Choice Pan Am Ballpark in Ajax)

Josie Harrison is a student and Dale Duncan is a writer with the University of Toronto's John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design where this article originally appeared. Read more news from the Faculty.

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