by Jerry ElengicalNov 03, 2022
The city of Al Rayyan, Qatar, the capital of its namesake province, occupies a swathe of land on the fringes of Doha at the entrance to the country’s interior. Bordering a region of bare, arid landscapes, littered with pockets of small settlements, the area has been described as “a gateway to the desert", ushering in a transition from urban to rural beyond the coastal metropolis of Doha, the national capital. This pivotal location along Qatar’s geographical expanse is the site of one of the seven new venues commissioned for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, christened the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium after the late Emir of Qatar Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani, who governed the state from 1960 to 1972. Built on the site of a former 21,000-seater structure with the same name, which was completed in 2003 and later demolished in 2015 to make way for the new ground, the stadium is equipped to accommodate an audience of nearly 45,000, and will host seven matches during the tournament.
With such a vital site in Qatar's landscape, the structure needed to serve as a landmark, announcing the impending transformation in the region's topography from one of buildings, roads, and pavements, to broad expanses of sand and scrub vegetation. Hence, when appointed as the lead architects in charge of designing the football ground, London-based practice BDP Pattern settled on the desert itself, along with the culture it nurtured, as the main precedents for their stadium design. Envisioning an emblem, a literal marker of the exit to the desert along the highway, the new Ahmad bin Ali Stadium is designed around circle-packing geometries, employing a predominantly quadrangular form whose edges have been softened, accommodating curved concession stands and supplementary spaces with shapes that have been extracted from those of nearby sand dunes.
Extending this desert-inspired theme to the building's exterior surfaces, the stadium's envelope is enclosed within an ornate lattice, whose motifs have been drawn from traditional naquish patterns in Qatari culture. As elements that often decorate the houses of craftsmen and traders throughout Doha, the use of these patterns in a venture related to sports architecture is a reference to how powerful symbols are ingrained within Qatar's culture, possessing a degree of appeal that transcends regional boundaries. The structure's tensile roof features an assortment of angled supports which have been used to suspend the lattice as a second skin around the internal envelope. Arranged radially around an oval oculus over the field of play, much like the spokes of a wheel, the supports use triangular trusses as part of their structural design to manage loading situations. Furthermore, the lattice also serves to shade and cool the structure from the area's warm climate, as part of the contextual design measures incorporated into the stadium's architecture.
Beyond this, the venue will also be artificially cooled - as in the case of most new structures hosting matches during this year’s World Cup. To create an environment that has been termed as an "open air cooled venue", the British architecture firm has utilised a cooling system where air is fed into the ground from along the sides of the pitch, while the seating inside the stands is cooled by air filtering in from above or below. In this fashion, the need to cool the entire volume is negated in favour of creating localised micro-climates, which collectively create optimum conditions for spectators, staff, and players. Lastly, auxiliary spaces in the stadium’s program include concourses, VIP lounges, skyboxes, press facilities, and changing rooms ensure an experience reflecting a spirit rooted in luxury, through a curated material palette and astute lighting design measures.
In conversation with STIR, Lindsay Johnston, Director of BDP Pattern elaborates on the precedents that gave rise to this structure and how its legacy will extend beyond the scope of the tournament to benefit the local community of Al Rayyan throughout its lifetime.
Jerry Elengical: What was the brief provided to you and how did you go about addressing it?
Lindsay Johnston: The initial brief was to produce three separate and distinct iconic concept options, for a 40,000 capacity FIFA World Cup Stadium and precinct. We looked at multiple concepts for ideas that would be unique to Qatar and Al Rayyan. Examples included traditional Qatari patterns, biomimicry derived from local flora and fauna, the designs of caravans in the region, as well as desert-related phenomena such as mirages. The chosen design was based on traditional Qatari patterns and caravans, which was developed into the current form of the stadium.
Jerry: Were you influenced by any previous World Cup stadiums or earlier projects while conceptualising the design?
Lindsay: Yes, we had recently completed the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi and carried out extensive research into designing a bespoke stadium tailored to the climate and local culture. Hence, by virtue of this earlier venture, we felt that we had learned a lot, and these lessons exerted a prominent influence on the design of the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. The façade of the stadium in particular, uses research and development findings from the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to provide a permeable envelope which offers shade and allows the air flow around the building to be dynamically controlled.
Jerry: How did you go about creating a spectacle that would serve as a landmark point of entry to the desert in Al Rayyan and how will the structure integrate into its larger urban scale context after the tournament?
Lindsay: The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium is in Al Rayyan, which is also known as the “gateway to the desert.” Our concept, derived from caravans and vernacular architectural patterns combines the modern with the traditional. This is reflected in the stadium's location where the city meets the desert: new meets old, and the future meets the past.
Jerry: How was the ornate façade design conceptualised, fabricated, and implemented?
Lindsay: We researched and collected traditional Qatari naquish patterns which have meaning and resonance, including taking cues from vernacular buildings. Subsequently we devised parametric scripts to morph the patterns into each other and create a façade design with the correct proportions of shading, air flow, and views from inside the stadium. Finally, we undertook the process of seeking out the right materials, manufacturers, and installers to help realise our vision.
Jerry: How has the design been uniquely tailored to intrigue audiences?
Lindsay: There are a large number of unique tailored design features and experiences in the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. One of our favourites is the hospitality 'dunes' section which surrounds the exterior of the stadium and has been configured as a series of intriguing Star-Wars-inspired, sci-fi style spaces to relax before and after a football match.
Jerry: Could you go into a bit of depth about the sort of cooling system that has been incorporated to host games all year round?
Lindsay: The cooling system ensures every seat in the stadium, the players, and the pitch are cooled to a temperature specified by FIFA. This is done by using sealed air plenums under the seating bowl and vents under every seat and around the pitch edge. Because football stadiums have open roofs we had to create aerodynamic foils around the roof edge to stop the cool air being sucked out of the stadium by the desert winds. This involved much research, development, and testing.
Jerry: What impact do you hope the stadium will have during and after the tournament?
Lindsay: We really hope the World Cup is a resounding success and wish for Qatar to showcase its rich culture and the amazing collection of modern, iconic stadiums it now possesses throughout the course of the event. After the tournament, the legacy of this stadium as a World Cup venue is paramount to its lifelong viability. The temporary 20,000 seat upper tier will be removed, and the stadium will be home to local side Al Rayyan SC, who compete in the Qatar Stars League. The community is also welcome to make use of the stadium and precinct, which will increase social connectivity to foster the health and well-being of the entire surrounding urban locale and its residents.
Name: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium
Location: Al Rayyan, Qatar
Capacity: 45,000 (Tournament), 20,000 (Legacy)
Year of Completion: 2020
Client: The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
Architect: BDP Pattern
Interior Design: KSS Group
MEP Engineering and Fireproofing: Hoare Lea
Acoustic Consultant: Hoare Lea
Building Physics: Hoare Lea
Structural Engineering (Steel) and Roof Design: Schlaich Bergermann Partner
Structural Engineering (Concrete): Matejko & Wesoły Biuro
Crowd Flow Analysis: Momentum Transport Consultancy
In response to the mounting anticipation, excitement, and fervour around the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, FIFA Arenas: Better Together is a collection of interviews and features that analyse the sphere of stadium design from a multitude of angles, examining the venues which will set the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Diving into the core tenets that forge an arena worthy of football’s greatest stage, the series explores means by which the typology of a football stadium can create memorable spectacles, foster a sense of community, and become a prominent point of convergence within the larger urban realm it inhabits.