by Jerry ElengicalNov 17, 2022
Easily among the most eye-catching stadium designs for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Al Thumama Stadium by Ibrahim Jaidah Architects & Engineers, is also likely to be an emblematic architectural statement that stands out from those on show at the tournament. A tribute to Qatar’s cultural traditions in the most literal sense, the stadium, situated in the Al Thumama district of Doha, features a latticed façade design that evokes the gahfiya—a customary head covering worn by males throughout the region. Described as an integral part in the coming-of-age of the country’s youth, the gahfiya is a fundamental layer of the region’s traditional garb. The Qatari firm's translation of this element into a built form has yielded a structure that possesses an almost cylindrical profile, riddled with geometric design patterns that channel motifs and weaving techniques often seen in actual gahfiyas.
With a capacity of 40,000 that is expected to reduce by half after the end of the World Cup, the stadium’s architecture radiates a deceptive lightness and transparency along its exterior, with a perforated envelope that features an oculus over the field of play. These elements serve to further enhance the outward perception of the stadium as an enlarged gahfiya, even replicating its associated fabric textures to a certain degree. On the inside, the envelope allows natural light to filter in while screening excess glare and heat gain. Placed in an expanse of public spaces and greenery, the building is a new architectural landmark inside a larger sports complex within its district. Having opened in 2021, Al Thumama Stadium will be the venue for eight matches during the course of the Middle East's first World Cup, and will also host one of the tournament’s quarter-finals. In conversation with STIR, Ibrahim Jaidah, CEO and Chief Architect of Ibrahim Jaidah Architects & Engineers and Arab Engineering Bureau, delves into the inspiration behind his firm’s design for Al Thumama Stadium, and the challenges encountered on the journey towards realising it for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Jerry Elengical: What was the brief provided to you and how did you proceed to address it?
Ibrahim M Jaidah: At first, there was a design competition to award the commission of this stadium. The brief asked for a 40,000-seat FIFA-compliant stadium with all the associated requirements. Within the scope of these guidelines, competing architects were asked to create a unique design with a strong reference to local head coverings. Hence, during the design stage, I adhered to the cues given by referencing the gahfiya, a traditional head covering native to this region. The gahfiya is a very popular thing here. We have been wearing it since childhood. I still wear it and I became sort of known as the gahfiya man, which I thought was cute. There was some pressure during the competition because the design reference was tied to local elements, and I thought that I had to make an impact and either win or come close to winning as a Qatari architect. Fortunately we did win, but there was a need to put our best foot forward.
Jerry: Where did you draw inspiration from while conceptualising the design, and how did the use of literal symbolic representation factor into the final structure?
Ibrahim: The internal structure of the venue, or what we call the 'bowl', is fairly similar from one stadium to another, but the envelope, on the other hand, is unique. For that reason, there was no direct influence from the past as such. This was our first attempt at designing a stadium which resembled the gahfiya, as part of the competition guidelines. We translated it literally and symbolically. Usually when you design symbolically, the building may not come out looking very contemporary, which is not the case in Al Thumama Stadium. We achieved this by using state-of-the-art structural design elements to hold the skin and even the material, and we were also quite fortunate in that we worked with the best structural consultants and façade engineering experts, putting all that knowledge together to achieve a contemporary aesthetic.
Jerry: How does the structure integrate into its larger urban scale context?
Ibrahim: The stadium sits in an area that is predominantly populated by locals, and was designed after studying the functions of the surrounding neighbourhood to determine how our intervention could benefit its residents. The stadium and nearby landscape had to become an integral part of their lives, and for this purpose, the structure’s functionality after the tournament was considered in the Legacy planning. After the World Cup, this stadium will host local clubs and accommodate additional functions like sports medicine facilities, among several others.
Jerry: How was the facade design conceptualised, fabricated, and implemented?
Ibrahim: The underlying structural system is primarily composed of beams and columns, since the skin is almost semi-independent and covers the stadium. Therefore, the materials used had to be extremely strong and durable. So, combining structural elements and fabrics interestingly yielded a product that also complements the shape of the gahfiya patterns. The space between the skin and the structure creates a very interesting pattern as light penetrates through the enclosure of the gahfiya. Additionally, when looking at the roof, one can also discern gahfiya patterns. Such thought given to the implementation of design elements in every aspect of the space, makes this stadium quite unique.
Jerry: How will the structure’s capacity be reduced after the event? What structural and programmatic considerations had to be addressed while incorporating this feature?
Ibrahim: Stadiums usually consist of what we call the upper tier and the lower tier, so the seating arrangement is ordered over two major levels. What we have allowed here, structurally and mechanically, is the dismantling of 20,000 seats on the upper tier. Once these seats are moved, we will eventually host local clubs, hotels, and other facilities in the stadium’s ‘Legacy’ mode.
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?
Ibrahim: The cooling system is a water chill system, done in an economical way. This technology was developed and tested in Qatar in several stadiums in the past. The technical knowledge accumulated here allowed Qatar’s engineering industry to master the particularities of stadium cooling systems in advance of the tournament. We used that technology to implement an air conditioning system which permits air to flow inwards at the level of the pitch and under the seating, maintaining comfortable temperatures throughout matches.
Jerry: What impact do you hope the stadium will have during and after the tournament?
Ibrahim: I think there will be a lot to remember for visitors coming from all over the world as they would know this resembles something traditional, and yet, it is a state-of-the-art stadium. This is not only true in the case of Al Thumama, which I had the honour of doing, but I think you will see it happening in other cutting-edge stadiums designed for the World Cup. There will be a lot of things to keep in mind, and I think the media all over the world will be talking about the revolutionary stadium designs on show at the World Cup along with their aesthetic qualities, and how they reflect our culture more closely than has ever been seen before in the field of sports architecture.
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.
- Contemporary Architecture
- Contextual Architecture
- Contextual Design
- Facade Design
- Geometric Design
- Landmark Architecture
- Landscape Architecture
- Landscape Design
- Middle East
- Parametric Design
- Public Space
- Sports Architecture
- Stadium Architecture
- Stadium Design
- Structural Design
- Urban Design