Grounds to appeal

As Tottenham Hotspur’s planned new home tries to please both fans and corporate clients, Tom Banks explores the politics of stadium design

Back in 2000, former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane controversially accused the patrons of Old Trafford’s corporate boxes of ‘Having a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches and not realising what’s going on out on the pitch.’

Keane may be an unlikely design critic, but even he could recognise the growing trend of designing and promoting sports stadiums with corporate visitors in mind as much as fans.

Last week, a planning application was filed for the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, by architect Make with stadium designer KSS and landscape architect Martha Schwartz, which looks to buck this trend and design with atmosphere in mind as much as corporate requirements.

KSS architect David Keirle says the new stadium proposes a banked 9000-seater stand with 63 rows of consecutive seating ‘that will get us away from the corporate feel’.

Acoustically designed to keep noise within the stadium and even deflect it on to the pitch, the stand is one result of a strategy forged by ‘listening to fans’, Keirle says.

‘The things that decide atmosphere are capacity and proximity,’ says Keirle – themes that have informed the design of a stand he describes as ‘two-thirds atmosphere and one-third comfort’.

It is widely accepted that corporate use is a necessity in modern grounds and Spurs’ stadium will, according to Keirle, be designed with heritage and atmosphere in mind in the corporate echelons of its 56 250-seater stadium. Keirle has also proposed a consistent brand message across ‘graded’ levels of exclusivity.

Less than four miles down the road, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, designed by HOK Sport (now Populous) and completed in 2006, has had extensive branding and interiors work carried out by consultancy 20/20, from public-realm areas to exclusive lounges.

Jon Lee, creative director at 20/20 and a lifelong Arsenal fan, says consistency of message is key. He talks of ‘theatre’, ‘conversation’ and ‘connecting with the fans’, demonstrated through graphics and painted wall treatments in and around the ground where ‘hat-trick heroes’, a list of managers, and – coming soon – players’ signatures, can be seen.

More potently, he says that even in Arsenal’s Diamond Club, where members pay £25 000 for a pair of season passes, the theme is continued.

‘Standard corporate boxes were actually taken out to create the lounge,’ says Lee, who has designed the space in homage to The Marble Halls, an Art Deco space at the heart of Arsenal’s former Highbury ground.

‘It’s not a corporate soulless space. The first view you get is of the pitch as you walk across a bronze cannon. Materials were used in the 1930s to tell stories, and that’s what we’ve done here through marquetry,’ Lee adds.

The carpentry technique has been used to capture events like Thierry Henry’s movement and Ian Wright’s 185-goal scoring record.

Even with a Raymond Blanc restaurant at its disposal, the Diamond Club is ‘a fans space’, Lee says. ‘The best place in the world for football and food.’

Theatrical intervention has been applied to the club shop, too. ‘It might be a commercially run environment,’ Lee says, ‘but it’s still a place for the fans.’ A new shop now allows fans to see shirt-printing carried out in front of them.

The football close season is less than three months, so stadiums are generally designed to cater for fans and corporate visitors at the same time.

Tennis differs – Wimbledon Tennis Championships lasts only two weeks, and the close season dominates the venue’s calendar.

Consultancies Mather & Co and 1977 Design were tasked with creating and branding experiences for fans and tourists out of season at Wimbledon. It now has a museum, a restaurant (Debentures), and a 3D viewing platform, designed by Mather & and branded by 1977.

Richard Stevens, designer at 1977 Design, says, ‘For the museum, we focused on the end user – a tourist or passing fan. The way we handle any branding or collateral is geared to an engaging typeface and key words. Otherwise, we reiterate what Wimbledon is, through a sense of history or present-day court technology.’

Like Wimbledon, cricket ground Lord’s has always operated as a brand that can engage fans, according to Circle managing director Claire Livesey. She was tasked with maintaining the strength of Lord’s and making it appeal to people ‘who don’t necessarily like cricket’ for corporate events.

‘The challenge,’ says Livesey, ‘was to take the ground’s history – it was where the laws of cricket were made – and to unpack that for different audiences.’

The masterbrand, Lord’s The Home of Cricket, and the sub-brand, Inspiring Occasions, were created to this end, Livesey says, the latter being a ‘Lord’s experience’, selling hospitality and exhibition space in competition with non-sporting venues.

Stadium statistics:

  • Plans for the new 56 250-seat Tottenham stadium include a public square, hotel, supermarket – and 434 homes, 40% of which will be affordable housing
  • The Emirates Stadium, a 60 432-seat stadium, was designed by HOK Sport (now Populous) and opened in 2006
  • Lord’s has occupied its St John’s Wood site since 1814
  • Wimbledon Tennis Club’s Church Road premises were acquired in 1922

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