As Qatar ushers in a new age in stadium design ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Melanie Mingas explores the projects the country will pursue over the next 12 years
When Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium was constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics, nearly 5000 local residents were controversially displaced to accommodate the 91,000-seat structure, cover¬ing an area of 258,000m² and calling for 42,000 tons of steel.
But the US $500 million construction tab was considered so high, the ensuing disputes delayed the development.
Similar debate followed investments in South Africa’s stadiums, with five renovation projects and five new builds.
In comparison, feedback following the announcement that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup has been considerably more positive.
Linked to the Qatar National Vision 2030, the plan is to boost sports tourism on a local scale, while creating a positive legacy for devel¬oping countries elsewhere. Prior to the decision, the Bid Committee says the projects will go ahead regardless of the result, providing “numerous opportunities to the construction and facilities management industries in all types of projects”.
“The Qatar 2022 Bid [Committee] approached the stadium design very seriously; we did not just take FIFA requirements and put them into a building — that is an easy task. We improved the process by implementing all nec¬essary elements to leave a long-term legacy to the country, the region and the world of foot¬ball,” says the Committee’s technical director Yasir Al Jamal.
Construction materials have been selected to complement the climate and enhance Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and are all sourced in the region. The stadiums are wind proofed and protected from direct sunlight to maximise cooling, and for the first time will use cooling technology powered by a zero-car¬bon, solar-energy infrastructure; reducing
on-the-pitch temperatures to 22°C, despite 40°C sunshine.
It is these measures that are used to future proof stadiums; in terms of aesthetics and sus¬tainable maintenance. The overall performance of the stadium will be monitored via an “intelli¬gent” building management system (BMS).
Electricity will be generated by solar power, recycled grey water will be used for irrigation and composting facilities, and even food pack¬aging and souvenirs will be manufactured from re-useable and recyclable materials.
Adding to the sustainability demands is the need for a versatile complex, which can be used long after 2022. Designed as mixed-use recreational developments, rather than solely sporting ven¬ues, Qatar’s stadiums are constructed from modular components, allowing them to be downsized afterwards, with the dismantled pieces donated to developing countries and the re-sized venues used as home grounds for the country’s first division football clubs.
“Designing and building stadiums is a big challenge, there are many factors to be consid¬ered, such as the sports they are designed for, the local context and social environment, new technologies, spectator capacity and sustaina¬bility, among other factors,” adds Al Jamal.
“Some of the biggest mistakes happen when all these factors are not considered sometimes leaving the community a building that cannot be used as originally intended or one that can¬not be properly maintained. It creates a big burden for local organisations, governments or entire societies and generates a sustainability issue,” he says.
No own goals
The stadiums constructed in Beijing, Athens and Montreal provide many lessons for Qatar’s bid committee, and architects. From wasting public money to designs lacking foresight, the criticisms are loud and clear. But for those who play in the stadiums, only one thing matters; atmosphere.
“My industry has been infiltrated by architects who want to win an award for the aesthetics of the building rather than design something with atmosphere,” says stadium consultant and former footballer Paul Fletcher, MBE.
“It’s more than the quality of the pitch and stadium and you can be very critical, but I don’t know a single footballer in England who cares how the stadium looks from the outside.
“You want to experience the atmos¬phere and spectators’ passion.”
Having worked on the UK’s StadiArena, a stadium which transforms into a multi-use arena, he is now pioneer¬ing a new format of design which puts atmosphere and community at the heart of the development.
“The problem is that the football sta¬dium is a completely illogical building. You build a stadium with a 50-year lifespan and it is often only used for one year.
“The question is how to make use of it during the other 49 years.”
With first-hand experience of more than 30 projects throughout the UK and Europe, Fletcher also holds the patent for the StadiArena. The concept focuses on the revenue and legacy of stadiums, “revolutionising” how they can be adapted to serve local communities.
His next project is the Stadium of the Future concept, due to launch early 2011. Calling it the “new generation” in design, the stadiums are self financing and community orientated.
“We see stadiums not as the building sur¬rounded by 10 acres of car park, but the centre of a community.
“The only way you can achieve that is to take the pitch up a level.”
Calling it “common sense”, it’s an idea he first approached with architect Robert Kennedy from Scottish firm Miller and Partners.
“We both realised the only way to turn these stadiums into community buildings is to use the ground-floor space so the whole building becomes a community building seven days a week, rather than a sports stadium.
“It will probably be the first design that pays for itself in terms of returns on retail and other aspects,” he adds.
Stadiums for the future
With social responsibility and legacy as high on Qatar’s future agenda as the football itself, the story of the 2022 World Cup is already unfolding differently from that of the coun¬try’s predecessor’s.
Saying it is “ready to make history”, the bid committee has already run a number of out¬reach programmes in Qatar, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nepal and Syria.
The 12 stadiums will bring construction opportunities to hundreds of national and international companies and are expected to create jobs for thousands.
Furthermore, Qatar is already confirmed to host the 2011 Asian Cup and is said to have the support of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president.
“The Middle East is an emerging region for sport and because there is quite a lot of wealth, the region seems to do it right and invest in quality sports and leisure facilities, whether that be golf or tennis, simply because it is a little more affluent than Europe,” concludes Fletcher.