FIFA Arenas: Al Janoub Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects in Al Wakrah, Qatar

Inspired by the hull of a local sailing vessel known as the dhow, this 40,000-seater venue channels abstraction and multivalent references to resonate with the spirit of its context.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Nov 03, 2022

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 London-based 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 architects 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 after the tournament in order to serve as the home for local club Al Wakrah SC. This transformation is a common feature of all the new stadiums that have been completed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, in order to ensure their continued use after the tournament comes to a close. Delving into this and many other design considerations during an enlightening conversation with STIR, Jim Heverin, Director at Zaha Hadid Architects and the Project Director for Al Janoub Stadium, elaborates on the parameters and influences that gave rise to the stadium’s emblematic form, as well as the technical and logistical challenges involved in realising the firm’s initial vision.

Jim Heverin, Director, Zaha Hadid Architects | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
Jim Heverin, Director, Zaha Hadid Architects Image: Jacopo Spilimbergo

Multiplicity is essential to the perceived relevance of a statement made by an architectural form that reinterprets elements of local culture in order to resonate with the soul of its context. This type of approach is an ongoing trend in the arena of stadium architecture, when dealing with structures at massive scales that need to become local landmarks and recoup the significant investments involved in designing and realising them. Hence, many firms are harnessing the manner in which this approach straddles the boundaries of direct and indirect references to create credible building forms that can form immediate associations with their surroundings in the eyes of nearby residents.

Construction timelapse of Al Janoub Stadium Video: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Iconic stadium designs such as Herzog and de Meuron’s  Beijing National Stadium (also known as the Bird’s Nest) in China’s capital, along with others such as Toyo Ito’s National Stadium (Kaohsiung) in Taiwan, have used this method to great effect, gaining a significant share of the global spotlight at the time of their completion. In a more recent vein, the seven new venues being constructed to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar have also taken note of this school of thought, as evidenced by the gahfiya-inspired form of Al Thumama Stadium and the tent-like structure of Al Bayt Stadium. However, the venue that perhaps gained the most attention, quite early on, among the seven, is Al Janoub Stadium.

  • The oculus and retractable roof over the field of play | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    The oculus and retractable roof over the field of play Image: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
  • The stadium’s design abstracts the hull of a native sea vessel known as the dhow, creating a form out of multiple such hulls fused together | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    The stadium’s design abstracts the hull of a native sea vessel known as the dhow, creating a form out of multiple such hulls fused together Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Abstraction in the case of Al Janoub Stadium comes in the form of references to the heritage and context of Al Wakrah — a city on Qatar’s eastern coast with a history of functioning as a port — which serves as the structure’s site. With the hull of the dhow as the primary foundation for their form development process, the British architecture practice channelled it into a shell form composed of multiple such upturned hulls, much like the multi-domed elevations of traditional Qatari mosques. According to Heverin, "This was a recurring theme for us, the idea of the collective. Not making the form through a single gesture but from discrete elements that come together."

  • Overhead view of Al Janoub Stadium | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Overhead view of Al Janoub Stadium Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • The stadium is dressed in a tensile fabric envelope that has been decorated with pleating | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    The stadium is dressed in a tensile fabric envelope that has been decorated with pleating Image: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
  • Al Janoub Stadium is a landmark new addition to the skyline of Al Wakrah | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Al Janoub Stadium is a landmark new addition to the skyline of Al Wakrah Image: © Hufton + Crow

The resulting façade design was subsequently finished in tensile fabric decorated with pleating, which adds texture to the structure’s surfaces while also guarding it against sandstorms which frequent the area. While firmly rooting the structure in its cultural surroundings, this morphology also finds functional applications in shielding audiences from the region’s hot climate. "All of this is creating a very insulated enclosure, similar to the stadiums that have been built in places with extreme climates like Texas or Sweden,” explains Heverin.

The pleating along the stadium’s exterior serves to humanise its scale while also protecting the structure against local sandstorms | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
The pleating along the stadium’s exterior serves to humanise its scale while also protecting the structure against local sandstorms Image: © Hufton + Crow

Below this sculptural envelope, 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. The podium connects the venue to the surrounding landscape, taking visitors from the ground level to the entry concourse placed halfway up the tiers of the seating bowl.

  • Tubular steel trusses have been used to support the elaborate roof assembly | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Tubular steel trusses have been used to support the elaborate roof assembly Image: © Hufton + Crow
  • An elaborate system of cables has been implemented along the oculus as part of the retractable roof | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    An elaborate system of cables has been implemented along the oculus as part of the retractable roof Image: © Hufton + Crow
  • Detail of the central truss beam | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Detail of the central truss beam Image: © Hufton + Crow

Over the field of play, a large oculus creates a more conventional footballing environment for both players and users, where the pitch is almost entirely open to the skies above Al Wakrah. Aside from the provision of a retractable roof supported by layered tubular steel trusses and cables — that can be used to cover the field of play during times of extreme summer heat — the stadium is also equipped with bowl cooling technology developed by Dr Saud Abdul-Ghani, Professor at the College of Engineering at Qatar University. Powered by an array of solar panels, this system makes use of an air circulation technique that intakes partially cooled air and cycles it back to the pitch, along with a system of under-seat diffusers that gently distribute chilled air throughout the stands.

  • Cooling technology in Al Janoub Stadium Video: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
  • Detail of the nozzles used in the bowl cooling system | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Detail of the nozzles used in the bowl cooling system Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Following the end of the World Cup, the stadium’s seating will be reduced to 20,000, making way for the addition of new facilities and amenities within its volume, which will play host to Al Wakrah SC’s home games in the Qatar Stars League. This transition between the stadium’s ‘Tournament’ and ‘Legacy’ modes is facilitated through the use of modular temporary seating that will be dismantled and transported to countries in need of sporting infrastructure after the World Cup. In addition, further temporary structures will be attached to the stadium’s permanent footprint during the tournament, to function as concession stands.

  • Comparison between Tournament and Legacy Modes on the Main Concourse | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Comparison between Tournament and Legacy Modes on the Main Concourse Image: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
  • Comparison between Tournament and Legacy Modes on the Upper Concourse | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
    Comparison between Tournament and Legacy Modes on the Upper Concourse Image: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Sports architecture has always had its fair share of the limelight, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup has highlighted more novel innovations and adaptations within the field which could prove vital to its development in times to come. While Al Janoub Stadium may fulfill all the structural and technical requirements expected of it, as Heverin notes, "The most important and challenging part of designing a stadium is to create something unique that’s going to speak beyond its function and really appeal to people on an emotional level. It needs to convince and keep convincing as you move closer and closer towards it." He adds, "I think Al Janoub has that, you can see the finesse and quality in the cladding, and this communicates that somebody cares and wants this stadium to continue to be something of value to the people of Al Wakrah.”

Sectional Comparison between Tournament and Legacy Modes | Al Janoub Stadium | Zaha Hadid Architects | STIRworld
Sectional Comparison between Tournament and Legacy Modes Image: Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Click on the cover for the full conversation.

Project Details

Name: Al Janoub Stadium
Location: Al Wakrah, Qatar
Capacity: 40,000 (Tournament), 20,000 (Legacy)
Year of Completion: 2019
Client: Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™
Architect and Lead Designer: Zaha Hadid Architects
Design: Zaha Hadid, Patrik Schumacher
Project Director: Jim Heverin
Project Architect: Johannes Hoffmann
Project Team: Annarita Papeschi, Andreas Urff, Antonio Monserrat, Cynthia Du, Edgar Payan, Ermis Chavaltzi, Fernando Poucell, Ganesh Nimmala, George King, Ho-Ping Hsia, Irene Guerra, Jan Klaska, Junyi Wang, Karim Muallem, Karoly Markos, Ming Cheong, Moa Carlsson, Mohamed Al-Jubori, Nastassia Linau, Paulo Flores, Peter Irmscher, Rafael Portillo, Stephane Vallotton, Thomas Soo, Vincent Konate, Yeena Yun, Wen-Kai Li (Kevin)
Lead Consultant: Aecom
Operable Roof Design: Schlaich Bergermann Partner
Main Contractor: MIDMAC, Sixco, and PORR Qatar
Project Manager: KEO International Consultants
Structural Steel: SOLB26 (Qatar)
Aluminium Façade & Roof Panels: Qatar National Aluminium Panel Company
Seating: Coastal Qatar
Turf: Urban Concept (Qatar)
Cooling Consultant: Dr Saud Abdul-Ghani, College of Engineering, Qatar University

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.

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