Charting the cutting edge in sports architecture from 2022

Best of 2022: STIR curates the most innovative developments in sports architecture featured over the past year, from landmark stadiums to innovative multi-use venues.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Dec 29, 2022

As a domain of contemporary architecture that has constantly fuelled innovations in structural design, construction and material technologies, planning principles, and programmatic adaptation, sports architecture has seen leaps and bounds in its evolution, across the globe over the past year. With sporting events returning in full force following the release of restrictions and social distancing measures brought on during earlier waves of the coronavirus pandemic, the world paid witness to a glittering calendar of athletic spectacles, including the likes of the FIFA World Cup, the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing, and the Commonwealth Games in the UK, among others. Events of this scale and stature generally require a considerable degree of infrastructural investment on the part of host cities and nations—either in regards to the construction of new stadiums and venues or making upgrades to existing ones. Hence, this past year has witnessed a number of architectural undertakings of this nature grab headlines, across the globe, for new ideas and perspectives they crafted in making immersive experiences for sporting competitions. On this note, STIR has curated a selection of the most innovative ventures in sports architecture, across a range of scales that have captured the attention of the general public and the creative community, over the past year.

1. Lusail Stadium by Foster + Partners

  • Lusail Stadium by Foster + Partners in Lusail, Qatar | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Lusail Stadium by Foster + Partners in Lusail, Qatar Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • The stadium’s roof structure makes use of a tensile membrane with an oculus over the centre of the pitch | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The stadium’s roof structure makes use of a tensile membrane with an oculus over the centre of the pitch Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • With a span of 307 metres, the stadium’s spoke wheel cable net roof is among the largest such structures used in a stadium throughout the world | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    With a span of 307 metres, the stadium’s spoke wheel cable net roof is among the largest such structures used in a stadium throughout the world Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Resembling a 'burnished golden vessel' whose gleaming diagrid façade design features geometric motifs in anodised metal, the Lusail Stadium by London-based Foster + Partners has been described as the "centrepiece" of all the venues developed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Situated in the upcoming development of Lusail on the country's east coast, the project is just a short distance away from the waters of the Arabian Gulf, as a glimmering new landmark that will be a focal point of the new urban development to the north of Doha. As the stage for the 2022 FIFA World Cup final, which saw Lionel Messi’s Argentina bring home their nation’s third World Cup, the structure boasts a capacity of 80,000 in its tiered stands. Shaded by a tensile roof supported with a spoke wheel structure composed of an internal tension ring and an external compression with diagonal struts linking the two in a cable net system, this element of the structure is said to be among the largest of its kind in the world, possessing a diameter of 307 metres.

2. Quzhou Stadium by MAD Architects

  • Quzhou Stadium by MAD Architects in Quzhou, China | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Quzhou Stadium by MAD Architects in Quzhou, China Image: Courtesy of CreatAR Images, ©MAD Architects
  • The stadium has a seating capacity of 30,000 | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The stadium has a seating capacity of 30,000 Image: Courtesy of CreatAR Images, ©MAD Architects
  • The exposed concrete frames of the stadium create a mesmerising aesthetic | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The exposed concrete frames of the stadium create a mesmerising aesthetic Image: Courtesy of CreatAR Images, ©MAD Architects

MAD Architects' latest undertaking, the Quzhou Stadium, takes residence in China’s Zhejiang Province, within the Quzhou Sports Park, which comprises of what is claimed to be the 'world’s largest collection of earth-sheltered buildings.' Spanning 7,00,000 sqm, the structure which was developed by a team led by Ma Yansong (Founder of MAD Architects) comes together sans boundaries between its built layers and the surrounding, volcano-like natural landscape. The undulant topography also informs the organic shape of the Chinese architecture firm’s intervention, appearing as a 'halo hovering gently above the landscape' when seen from afar. Yansong's idea of building a stadium as constructed nature, a “poetic landscape that falls somewhere between that of Earth and Mars,” came alive with this project’s completion. Sixty sets of concrete column walls support the stadium, made of exposed wood-grained, fair-faced concrete sheet walls that add warmth to the design. The canopy’s interior is composed of self-supporting steel, onto which a translucent light-emitting membrane material was wrapped, in order to take on the complex geometry required for long-spans of the structure.

3. Dong’an Lake Sports Center by gmp Architects

  • Dong’an Lake Sports Center by gmp Architects in Chengdu, China | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Dong’an Lake Sports Center by gmp Architects in Chengdu, China Image: CreatAR
  • The development consists of three minimalist cuboidal blocks separated by open spaces and landscaped stretches | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The development consists of three minimalist cuboidal blocks separated by open spaces and landscaped stretches Image: CreatAR

Designed and realised by gmp Architects (von Gerkan, Marg, and Partners)—headquartered in Hamburg, Germany—the Dong’an Lake Sports Center in Chengdu, China, consists of three minimalist cuboidal blocks, each dressed in a system of aluminium louvres which impart the development with a futuristic aesthetic. Linked by a common plinth, which also supports a swirling overhead walkway, the project is said to be a milestone achievement in the development of the Dong’an New Town area at the centre of the city’s Longquan District. Built in anticipation of the FISU World University Summer Games next year, the complex faces a vast wetland at the edge of the city’s urban fabric, in proximity to a stadium. As per the architects, their approach was structured on the image of 'artefacts in nature’— a group of clear and simple architectural volumes that contain the main venues, and are interwoven with the landscape by a terraced podium containing service functions. Of the three blocks, the largest is a sports hall capable of accommodating 18,000 spectators, and the two remaining buildings serve as a multifunctional hall and an indoor swimming pool complex equipped with two 50-metre pools.

4. Al Janoub Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects

  • Al Janoub Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects in Al Wakrah, Qatar | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Al Janoub Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects in Al Wakrah, Qatar Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • An elaborate system of cables has been implemented along the stadium’s oculus as part of its retractable roof | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    An elaborate system of cables has been implemented along the stadium’s oculus as part of its retractable roof Image: © Hufton + Crow

Exhibiting a billowing form that soars over the skyline of Al Wakrah, a city to the south of Qatar’s capital Doha, Al Janoub Stadium by British architecture practice Zaha Hadid Architects is a striking example of the firm’s roots in parametric architecture, showcasing their fluid design vocabulary—pioneered by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid—at its most potent. The stadium’s morphology itself draws from the hull of the dhow, a traditional wooden fishing boat native to the region around the Arabian Gulf. As the first new venue commissioned and completed for the World Cup, Al Janoub Stadium was built from 2014 to 2019, and boasts a capacity of 40,000, which will be reduced to approximately half now that the tournament is over, in order to serve as the home for local club Al Wakrah SC. The stadium’s exterior is clad in a restrained palette of materials including glass and bronze metallic finishes that were intended to harmonise with its pure white roof. The pleated cross-sections of the roof and upper façade aid in humanising its scale, breaking it down into smaller fragments. Elevated atop a podium that features landscaping, parking, and public concourses, the stadium is a monumental presence against the skyline of Al Wakrah.

5. Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium by Nikken Sekkei

  • Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium by Nikken Sekkei in Honjo, Japan | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium by Nikken Sekkei in Honjo, Japan Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • Perforations in the walls along with a rhythmic ceiling grid generate a ‘drizzle’ of natural light into the space | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Perforations in the walls along with a rhythmic ceiling grid generate a ‘drizzle’ of natural light into the space Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha

Called to design a gymnasium for a high school affiliated to one of Japan's leading private universities, Tokyo-based firm Nikken Sekkei sought to inculcate a sense of 'simple beauty' to the space, stripping its essence down to the bare essentials and creating curated ties to its natural context. Situated in the Honjo campus of Waseda University, the Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium—realised as an austere, perforated block dressed in exposed concrete, it is to serve as an “extension of the everyday," gradually imbuing a sense of awe into the minds of users as they encounter more of what it has to offer. In this regard, the building emerges almost as a primaeval monolith, placed in a landscaped plaza within the campus, which perfectly complements its severe yet serene morphology. A melange of concrete textures imbue liveliness to the structure's boxy exterior, compensating for the observable lack of ornament or decoration of any kind. An assortment of circular incisions along its faces infuse a sponge-like quality to the building’s exterior, optimising and regulating its absorption of sunlight.

6. Pôle Simone Veil by K architectures Sigwalt Herman

  • Pôle Simone Veil Multifunctional and Sports Center by K architectures in Le Havre, France | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Pôle Simone Veil Multifunctional and Sports Center by K architectures in Le Havre, France Image: © Sophie Oddo
  • The multi-sport venue rests beneath a jagged ceiling clad in timber slats | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The multi-sport venue rests beneath a jagged ceiling clad in timber slats Image: © Sophie Oddo

Inspired by the archetypal morphologies of brick warehouses of nearby docks, Paris-based firm K architectures' Sigwalt Herman has developed a new sports and cultural facility in the Danton district of Le Havre, France. The complex, dubbed 'Pôle Simone Veil,' was completed in 2021 and intended to act as the final touch to the framework of a new public square in the neighbourhood, in the role of a unifying cornerstone. Developed with the aid of some public participation, as part of the city council’s plan to upgrade the Danton district, the project is envisioned as a centrepiece in the locality's urban landscape. Crenellated, double pitched roofs are a staple feature within the project’s urban milieu, and the design team at K architectures captured this aesthetic element to shape an architecture that would reflect the contextual heritage. In an attempt to transfer the spatial efficiency and visual identity of these warehouses into the typology of sports architecture, the designers settled upon a simple, rectangular plan form, crowned by an irregular series of gabled roofs that compose the façade design and reference the building’s spiritual origin.

7. Nokia Arena by Daniel Libeskind

  • Nokia Arena by Daniel Libeskind in Tampere, Finland | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    Nokia Arena by Daniel Libeskind in Tampere, Finland Image: © Hufton + Crow
  • The arena has the capacity to accommodate over 17,000 fans for matches | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
    The arena has the capacity to accommodate over 17,000 fans for matches Image: © Hufton + Crow

Merging his signature angular sharpness manifested here in cosmetic projections, with a bulbous form typical of stadia, Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind has completed the Nokia Arena, the first multipurpose arena of its kind in Tampere, Finland. Operating on a near urban scale, Libeskind’s architectural intervention covers almost one-fifth of a massive mixed-use development, commissioned to enliven the city's urban fabric. Apart from the arena itself, designed as a multi-purpose ice hockey stadium, the complex comprises a 273 room hotel and five mixed-use blocks topped by five residential towers. With the intention of an urban renewal, the development—a dynamic new live-work-play complex—creates a connection between its eastern and western parts, between the historic city and its 20th century extension.

8. ‘The Cathedral' Milan Stadium by Populous and International Forest Stadium by Stefano Boeri Architetti

‘The Cathedral’ Milan Stadium by Populous and International Forest Stadium by Stefano Boeri Architetti | Sports Architecture Roundup | STIRworld
‘The Cathedral’ Milan Stadium by Populous and International Forest Stadium by Stefano Boeri Architetti Image: L to R: Courtesy of Populous, Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

Global design firm Populous' vision for a new complex of sport and leisure in the San Siro district of Milan was announced as the winning proposal to replace the iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, earlier this year. The proposal, christened 'The Cathedral', features a façade design that is said to be inspired by the aesthetics of two of Milan’s most famous architectural landmarks—Duomo di Milano and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. In this regard, the structure’s design was presented as a celebration of the city’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. Its exterior exhibits a rhythmic assembly of white ribs, as per Populous’ visualisations, displaying an eye-catching expressive front to the tens of thousands that are expected to flock towards it each week. However, with the reopening of public debates on the project’s viability, Italian architecture firm Stefano Boeri Architetti is now presenting their vision on how to infuse their distinctive vocabulary to the realm of stadium design with their recently revealed concept for The International Forest Stadium in Milan's San Siro neighbourhood. The proposed structure has been imagined as the centre of a larger development consisting a series of public spaces, parks, and commercial areas, all blanketed by dense sheets of vegetation, which will also wrap around the venue's façade.

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