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The Architecture of Super Stadiums

Almost every “starchitect” has designed one and almost every major sporting event brings a new opportunity to innovate a stadiums form and (non-sport) function. From Herzog and de Meuron’s Bird Nest, to Zaha Hadid’s controversial al-Wakrah Stadium, to Kengo Kuma’s New National Stadium, the stadium has become a primary space for architectural innovation and exploration....

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Date

February 14, 2018

Almost every “starchitect” has designed one and almost every major sporting event brings a new opportunity to innovate a stadiums form and (non-sport) function. From Herzog and de Meuron’s Bird Nest, to Zaha Hadid’s controversial al-Wakrah Stadium, to Kengo Kuma’s New National Stadium, the stadium has become a primary space for architectural innovation and exploration. Why does this building type allow for such a variety of architectural expression and attract big name talent across the globe?

Stadiums are huge spaces that have both rigid needs (seats and specific sized playing fields) and flexible programming space (everything that wraps around the field and potential integrations with non-game-day activities). There are opportunities for creativity in program but their rigid needs mean their necessary scale is monumental— and opportunities for monumental architecture in the 21st century are limited. The “stadium” tag on dezeen highlights the diversity in form such a standard program can facilitate. Architects are clearly attracted to the flexible monumentality of these projects.

Additionally, there aren’t many forms of contemporary architecture that can support the high cost of constructing a monument; the price tag on stadium architecture often hits a billion dollars. This high price tag does not come without controversy, with municipalities and federal governments now debating whether the economic benefits of these stadiums outweigh the tax breaks they have traditionally been given. The debate is especially heated in cases like the Olympics, where a long-term use for the stadium may not be clear. In the case of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, the stadium that was constructed is temporary and will be dismantled after the Games have ended, significantly decreasing the cost of the project compared to contemporary counterparts. Does this signal a move towards more fiscally responsible global event hosts? Will temporary constructions provide the same draw for big name architects?

Beyond their programatic needs and budgets, stadiums are an interesting form of architecture for their role in a city. Stadiums serve a huge cultural purpose as a place of community and, in some ways, a place of worship, argues Sheena McKenzie for CNN:

“It’s a vision of biblical proportions — tens of thousands of people weeping, whooping, and chanting in unison. If sport were a religion, then the stadium would surely be its place of worship.

Inside these temples to physical feats, language evokes the divine — fearful fans “pray for a miracle,” while losing prompts serious “soul-searching.” So much so that architects these days must create more than a stage for human endurance. It’s as if they have been asked to perform the architectural equivalent of feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish — constructing an arena to elevate the senses, capture the spirit of a community, and become an icon for a city long after the last fan has passed through the turnstiles.”

It’s no wonder that architectural giants find the stadium both an architectural playground and work worthy of their time. The stadium is a modern monument, but does it need to become a fiscally responsible one to survive?

 

Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash