FIFA Arenas: Education City Stadium by Fenwick Iribarren Architects in Al Rayyan

Completed in collaboration with BDP Pattern for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the stadium has a capacity of over 40,000, with a tessellated façade of diamond-patterned panels.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Nov 10, 2022

Bordered by the lush lawns of the Education City Golf Course in the city of Al Rayyan, Qatar, to the north west of Doha, the Education City Stadium by Madrid-based Fenwick Iribarren Architects, headed by Mark Fenwick and Javier Iribarren, has oft been described as a "Diamond in the Desert"— an epithet that stems from its tessellating metal façade. Boasting a capacity of 40,000 for the tournament, the structure is no less than a landmark within the locality of Education City, already riddled with architectural and cultural beacons such as OMA’s Qatar National Library, the Longines Arena, the Education City Mosque, and the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. Perched atop a landscaped podium, which raises it above the verdant lawns of the nearby golf course, the structure immediately draws attention on approaching it, evoking a glimmering jewel, whose mirrored exterior allows mirages of nearby dunes to play across its surfaces.

  • Video of Education City Stadium Video: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • The structure is located within the Education City development of Al Rayyan, which features a number of prominent university campuses and cultural landmarks | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The structure is located within the Education City development of Al Rayyan, which features a number of prominent university campuses and cultural landmarks Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Naturally, the task of developing and implementing a stadium design that would stand out in this context is not one to be taken lightly, as the sheer volume of development occurring around it is a significant consideration, especially when coupled with the issue of creating conditions to play football in Qatar's harsh desert climate. Initially, as in the case of all the venues built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the biggest challenge was the prospect of a summer tournament, when the scorching temperatures would make it nigh on impossible to host an event of this magnitude and nature. However, even with the eventual relaxation of this condition and the shift towards a winter schedule, there was still a great deal of design work required to maintain optimum thermal comfort for both audiences and players.

Construction time lapse of Education City Stadium Video: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

In response, Fenwick Iribarren’s scheme tackled these parameters through a highly insulated envelope that is a scintillating example of geometric design applied to produce a form that defies categorisation as either linear or curved. In fact, the triangles and quadrangles that constitute the stadium’s external enclosure come together as fragments of a larger form. This form was itself guided by FIFA requirements for the shape of the seating bowl and necessary sightlines, as well as lighting needs and building services needed to provide an environment conducive to hosting football matches at all times during the year.

  • Surrounded by the lawns of the Education City golf course to one side, the building features a tessellating metal façade replete with diamond patterns | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    Surrounded by the lawns of the Education City golf course to one side, the building features a tessellating metal façade replete with diamond patterns Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects
  • The diamond patterns have earned it the moniker of a “Diamond in the Desert” | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The diamond patterns have earned it the moniker of a “Diamond in the Desert” Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects
  • These references are said to symbolise quality, durability, and resilience | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    These references are said to symbolise quality, durability, and resilience Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Each of the diamond-shaped façade panels will reflect sunlight from the surroundings at varying angles, absorbing different aspects of the building’s context throughout the day. The explicit references to diamonds are said to represent notions of "quality, durability, and resilience", positioning the stadium as something that will come to be of great value to its local community as well as the nation of Qatar throughout its lifetime. Alternatively, at night, the façade will burst into a digital light show produced by lighting design embedded into its envelope, capable of highlighting the geometric patterns across its exterior in an eruption of varicoloured hues. Minute breaks in the tessellating assembly allow light from inside the structure to filter outwards, such that a warm glow will appear to emanate from the building at night.

  • The metallic panels reflect sunlight from the surroundings through the course of the day, producing varied images across the building’s surfaces | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The metallic panels reflect sunlight from the surroundings through the course of the day, producing varied images across the building’s surfaces Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • Detail of the façade panels | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    Detail of the façade panels Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects
  • Lighting design embedded into the envelope will produce a digital light show at night | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    Lighting design embedded into the envelope will produce a digital light show at night Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

The stadium's protective outer shield is said to be inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, which has given the building's façade design a sense of being firmly grounded within the local cultural context while also reflecting its place in the canon of contemporary architecture. This arrangement is permitted by the structural design of the roof, which employs a gravity-stressed cable net system to support the weight of the innumerable metal panels that constitute the external shell. Devised in collaboration with British practices BDP Pattern and Buro Happold, the implementation of the cable net system— which visually channels cross bracing along the upper tiers— significantly reduced the volume of steel used in the structure, and by extension, its carbon footprint. Moreover, it also lowered the roof height by nine metres, with a roof liner incorporated along the portion above the field of play open to the sky, that serves as a climatic buffer for the stadium bowl during summers.

  • The building’s envelope is highly insulated to provide relief from Qatar’s warm climate | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The building’s envelope is highly insulated to provide relief from Qatar’s warm climate Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects
  • View of the entrance concourse | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    View of the entrance concourse Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Slated to serve as a venue for eight matches during the World Cup, including one of the quarter finals, the stadium’s capacity will be cut down to 20,000 after the conclusion of the tournament, allowing it to cater to a number of local university teams. This transformation is made possible by the use of modular seating in the upper tiers of the bowl. Sitting on a lightweight scaffolding system, this section of the seating is entirely demountable and will be dismantled and donated to developing countries in need of sporting infrastructure. In this 'Legacy' configuration, the stadium will become a hub for athletic training and events involving students from all of the university campuses in Education City as well as its surrounding neighbourhoods.

  • A gravity-stressed cable net system has been used to support the building’s roof | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    A gravity-stressed cable net system has been used to support the building’s roof Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • The use of this system significantly reduced the volume of structural steel  | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The use of this system significantly reduced the volume of structural steel Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Climatic regulation inside the venue is provided by a direct under-bowl cooling mechanism, which supplies pressurised air directly to each seat. Air distribution boxes— termed plenums by the designers— are also part of this system, with nozzles that circulate air along the edges of the stands and the lower concourse around the pitch. Generating a microclimate inside the volume of the seating bowl, this cooling method is expected to maintain optimum temperatures that do not exceed 27 degrees Celsius during matches, which would prove vital in the stadium’s year-round viability, especially during summers when temperatures outside can exceed 50 degrees Celsius at certain points.

  • The field of play at Education City Stadium | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The field of play at Education City Stadium Image: Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
  • The design makes use of an under-bowl cooling system that provides cooled air to seats directly | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The design makes use of an under-bowl cooling system that provides cooled air to seats directly Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

This system is also said to be powered by solar energy, ensuring that the structure conforms to current norms for sustainability in the domain of stadium architecture. Mark Fenwick, Managing Partner of Fenwick Iribarren Architects (FIA), states in an official release: "Education City Stadium represents a great milestone in making this typology more sustainable as it is among the first in the world to cool such an open area with a clean fuel such as solar energy."

  • Players’ changing rooms | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    Players’ changing rooms Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects
  • The program also features lounge areas for audiences | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The program also features lounge areas for audiences Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects
  • The stadium is expected to be a valuable landmark in the landscape of the Education City development in Al Rayyan | Education City Stadium | Fenwick Iribarren Architects | STIRworld
    The stadium is expected to be a valuable landmark in the landscape of the Education City development in Al Rayyan Image: Courtesy of Fenwick Iribarren Architects

Sustainability also informed the selection and sourcing of materials used to build the venue, with at least 28 per cent of materials coming from recycled sources and 55 per cent from sustainable ones. In the lead up to the World Cup, the Education City Stadium was the third venue to be inaugurated back in 2020, after Zaha Hadid Architects' Al Janoub Stadium and the Khalifa International Stadium — which was redeveloped by Dar Al-Handasah. Living up to its name as a shimmering diamond in the desert, the Education City Stadium could prove to be an important venture in sports architecture to assist in the advancement of collegiate athletics throughout the prominent campuses that form its urban context.

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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