FIFA Arenas: Better Together

Covering the eight FIFA World Cup 2022 venues in Qatar, STIR presents a series of in-depth case studies and interviews, delving into what makes a truly memorable FIFA-grade stadium.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Oct 20, 2022

In the world of football, there is perhaps no spectacle that can match up to the grandiosity of the FIFA World Cup. Held quadrennially since its inaugural edition in 1930, the event has long been an opportunity for architects and designers to harness the latest developments in stadium design and present an elevated image of host nations to the world at large, as seen in the current crop of FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums in Qatar, which have garnered considerable media attention of late. Among the venues from previous editions, modern icons such as the Renzo Piano-designed Stadio San Nicola in Italy, Signal Iduna Park in Germany, the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in South Africa, Saitama Stadium in Japan, as well as Daegu Stadium and Seoul Stadium in South Korea, have all been constructed expressly for the purpose of hosting the festivities that constitute football’s greatest stage.

Designing and realising such venues is no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination and the evolving scales and complexities of such structures over the years have reflected the advancement of contemporary architecture and construction technology over the past nine decades. Conversely, the massive investments and manpower involved in the construction of such venues purely for the sake of hosting tournaments have also been a source of contention at many junctures during the past, generating controversy with regard to their use of public funds and labour for the sake of landmark architectural achievements that do not always provide an equitable degree of return on investment to all. Now, as the excitement builds up for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, a milestone edition of the event for numerous reasons, these considerations have gained significant coverage with regards to the realisation of the eight venues that will host the tournament. The FIFA World Cup 2022 venues include Al Janoub Stadium, Lusail Stadium, Al Bayt Stadium, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Education City Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, and finally, Stadium 974— with each presenting their own spin on this unique typology.

The Ancient Theatre at Delphi, Greece | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
The Ancient Theatre at Delphi, Greece Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Bradley Griffin, Creative Commons

Sport as a public spectacle has been an essential facet of public life as far back as classical antiquity, where the stages in question developed from the amphitheatres of Ancient Greece to their colossal successors during the age of the Roman Empire. While the nature of the events in question has changed quite considerably, capturing all the drama, fervour, tension, and animosity of athletic competition has been integral to the creation of sporting venues that generate an atmosphere worthy of the exhilarating displays they are meant to host. The evolution of this architectural typology has engendered innumerable innovations in structural design, building technologies, and architectural theory, culminating in the monumental marvels that are contemporary stadiums and sports arenas.

Among the sports that have contributed most to this progression is association football, which was formalised during the 19th century— with the founding of the earliest professional teams and leagues. In the years since the sport’s influence on communities and public life has grown to become nigh on unrivalled across the globe, and football stadiums today in many parts of the world are far more than just sporting venues. Verging on local landmarks and important points of congregation, some of these arenas are indispensable emblems to the cultural identities of certain urban communities and also help define the images of the cities they are situated in.

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Dennis Jarvis, Creative Commons

During the lead up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar— the first World Cup in the Middle East and also the first to be played in the winter— STIR presents an in-depth look into some of the venues preparing to host this milestone event, delving into the discipline of contemporary stadium architecture.

Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium - BDP Pattern

Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium by BDP Pattern in Al Rayyan, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium by BDP Pattern in Al Rayyan, Qatar Image: Courtesy of BDP Pattern

Settled in the municipality of Al Rayyan, one of Qatar’s most populated areas barring its capital, the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium is a 40,000-seater venue encased within an ornate lattice that is said to be derived from traditional Naquish patterns in Qatari culture. Envisioned by BDP Pattern as a “gateway to the desert,” the monumental structure was built specifically for the tournament on the site of a previously existing ground. Surmounted by a system of trusses that support its roof, the stadium also features an oculus over the field of play and will be artificially cooled (like all the other venues), as it hosts seven World Cup ties. Following this, the stadium’s capacity will be reduced to serve as the home of the local club Al Rayyan SC.

Al Janoub Stadium - Zaha Hadid Architects

Al Janoub Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects in Al Wakrah, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Al Janoub Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects in Al Wakrah, Qatar Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

The first new venue to be commissioned and completed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Zaha Hadid Architects’ Al Janoub Stadium in the upcoming city of Al Wakrah is situated on Qatar’s eastern coast, facing the shores of the Arabian Gulf. The 40,000-seater stadium is equipped with a retractable roof and will host seven matches, following which its capacity will be reduced to 20,000, in order to serve as the official home ground for Al Wakrah SC who compete in the Qatar Stars League. With a form inspired by the hull of a dhow - a local fishing vessel that is linked to Al Wakrah’s history as a port - the stadium exhibits a fluid vocabulary based on a parametric design, which is a hallmark of the London-based firm’s approach.

Education City Stadium - Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Education City Stadium by Fenwick Iribarren Architects in Al Rayyan, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Education City Stadium by Fenwick Iribarren Architects in Al Rayyan, Qatar Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Drawing influences from local Islamic architecture, the Education City Stadium by Spanish architecture firm Fenwick Iribarren Architects is placed within the landlocked municipality of Al Rayyan in Qatar. Completed in 2020 as the third new venue among the eight that will host this edition of the World Cup, the structure’s envelope is adorned with a rhythmic ensemble of diamond-patterned motifs that inject movement and dynamism into its external identity. Occupying an area of 140,000 sqm, the 40,000-capacity stadium will host eight matches and is equipped with an innovative solar-powered cooling system.

Al Bayt Stadium - Dar Al-Handasah

Al Bayt Stadium by Dar Al-Handasah in Al Khor, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Al Bayt Stadium by Dar Al-Handasah in Al Khor, Qatar Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

Boasting a capacity of 60,000, the Al Bayt Stadium is perhaps one of the most unique venues realised for this edition of the FIFA World Cup. Channelling the image of a tent, with an undulating tensile façade, the ground was designed by Dar Al-Handasah, headquartered in Lebanon. This use of explicit reference in the stadium’s morphology pays heed to the traditional dwellings of nomadic peoples that roamed the deserts of Qatar as well as the regions surrounding the Arabian Gulf. Finding its home in Al Khor, a municipality to the north of Doha, the project is surrounded by a precinct developed in tandem with its construction, which includes parks and green public spaces, alongside commercial and recreational areas that will help serve the public at large after the conclusion of the venue’s hosting duties which will extend for nine games including the semi-finals.

Al Thumama Stadium - Ibrahim Jaidah Architects & Engineers

Education City Stadium by Fenwick Iribarren Architects in Al Rayyan, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Al Thumama Stadium by Ibrahim Jaidah Architects & Engineers in Doha, Qatar Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

Evoking the image of a gahfiya, a traditional woven cap that is common attire for men throughout the Middle East, the Al Thumama Stadium was the sixth venue to be completed in the lead-up to the event. Located in Doha’s Al Thumama District, to the south of the city proper, the stadium, designed by Qatari firm Ibrahim Jaidah Architects & Engineers has a capacity of 40,000 and is expected to host eight matches during the course of the tournament. The stadium’s exterior is replete with diamond patterns and geometric design motifs that pay tribute to local cultural identities, with an ocular opening over the field of play.

Lusail Stadium - Foster + Partners

Lusail Stadium by Foster + Partners in Lusail Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Lusail Stadium by Foster + Partners in Lusail Qatar Image: © Nigel Young, Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Among the most recent grounds to be inaugurated in the lead up to the World Cup, the Lusail Stadium by British architecture practice Foster + Partners, led by Norman Foster, is enveloped by a golden diagrid façade design, providing a striking new landmark to the planned city of Lusail. Placed towards the north of Doha, the stadium is equipped to host 80,000 spectators, and is scheduled to host 10 matches, including the tournament final. Resembling a “golden vessel,” the structure is situated atop a podium and its perforated enclosure is topped by an elaborate spoke wheel cable net roof assembly, to create an immersive experience for audiences.

Coming NEXT

Stadium 974 - Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Stadium 974 by Fenwick Iribarren Architects in Ras Abu Aboud, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Stadium 974 by Fenwick Iribarren Architects in Ras Abu Aboud, Qatar Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Touted as the first stadium to be made almost entirely of shipping containers, Stadium 974 in Doha’s Ras Abu Aboud district derives its name from the number of such modules that constitute its final form. Equipped to accommodate an audience of 40,000 in each of the seven matches it will host, the structure, which was designed by Madrid-based studio Fenwick Iribarren Architects employs a recycled steel structural grid to help support its vision of pure modularity. Described as an exemplar of modular design and sustainability in the domain of stadium architecture, the shipping containers used to build the venue were also used to transport other construction materials to this site, and their brightly coloured masses inject a rhythm and vibrancy to what is said to be world’s first fully demountable and recyclable stadium.

Khalifa International Stadium - Dar Al-Handasah

Khalifa International Stadium by Dar Al-Handasah in Doha, Qatar | FIFA Arenas: Better Together | STIRworld
Khalifa International Stadium by Dar Al-Handasah in Doha, Qatar Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

The only renovated venue and the first to be inaugurated in the run-up to the tournament, the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha has a long history of playing host to important sporting events in the region: including the 2006 Asian Games, the 2011 Pan Arab Games, the 2019 World Athletics Championships, and the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup, in the years since its opening in 1976. Set to host eight matches, including the third-place playoff game, the venue has a capacity of 40,000 and features a contemporary design centred on a pair of now iconic dual arches. Reminiscent of the emblematic arch of the new Wembley Stadium, the ground radiates a sculptural elegance, both by virtue of its arched ornaments and its organic roof structure.

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.

Watch this space for more.

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