by Jerry ElengicalNov 03, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.