Design strike for beautiful game

Football stadia are no longer just places for a kickaround, but also money-spinning real estate and bold architectural statements, says Clive Walker

Stadia design is becoming as important to a football club’s profile as its performance on the pitch. In the past 12 months, a slew of UK clubs have unveiled ambitious schemes designed to boost match day excitement and generate income when teams are not playing.

Southend United, for example, is pushing ahead with a 22 000 all-seater stadium, by Olympic-stadium designer HOK Sport, incorporating a 114-bedroom hotel and linked to a proposed retail development.

Meanwhile, Liverpool is distinguishing itself from other clubs – namely arch rival Everton – with an asymmetric venue, marking a significant departure from the increasingly popular bowl-shaped model typified by the new Wembley and Arsenal Emirates stadia.

The new design, which has been submitted to planners, instantly signifies Liverpool, argues chief executive Rick Parry. ‘It will be unmistakably Liverpool. A critical design consideration was to ensure the stadium sat naturally within its park environment, complementing its surroundings. It is a key driver in the regeneration of North Liverpool,’ says Parry.

Further south Brighton and Hove Albion has just won planning permission for a 22 500 seat stadium, adjacent to the Sussex Downs National Park. Given its environmentally sensitive context, the design is heavily influenced by local geography, explains lead architect, Adrian Holdstock of KSS Design Group.

‘City planners did not want the scheme to puncture the profile of rolling hills and trees, so the arch structure closely follows the landscape,’ says Holdstock.

An interior design consultancy has yet to be picked, but Holdstock believes interiors should be led by a ‘synergy of form and function’. He explains: ‘This is a multi-functional stadium designed for use outside of football days. Teaching space for universities and colleges is incorporated under the East Stand, for example, and there will be space for conferences and possibly weddings. So the key factor driving design is flexibility.’

Norman Foster’s Wembley stadium in north London – with its unmistakeable arch – sets a new world standard for stadia infrastructure and interiors. Clubs are also looking to Europe, particularly France and Spain, for inspiration. Stylish facilities, like Valencia’s 75 000-capacity Nou Mestalla Stadium for example, incorporating an arcade of specialised shops, restaurants and wedding reception area, are challenging our expectations of stadia design says 20/20 Design Group managing director, Jim Thompson.

‘Design is very important now. UK stadia design had become impersonal since the Seventies, but now personality is coming back,’ adds Thompson.

This is illustrated by 20/20’s VIP lounge, known as the Diamond Club, at the new Arsenal Emirates stadium in north London – led by Hok Sport. The brief was to design an exemplar space – members pay £25 000 to join the Diamond Club – that would serve as an additional revenue stream alongside match-day ticket sales.

The result is a 930m2 suite, featuring lounge bar, themed restaurant and entrance foyer that draws heavily on the original stadium’s Art Deco interiors, yet projects a distinctly contemporary atmosphere.

‘The idea is to communicate the history of Arsenal through features such as the original club logo inlaid in walnut veneers and furniture fabric or the names of former managers engraved in dining tables,’ explains Thompson, who has also created interiors for main retail outlets at Arsenal.

European style is leaving its mark on Chelsea FC where renowned Italian designer Giorgio Armani has been signed to design a new look for the club’s VIP Directors’ Suite. To be rebranded the Armani Lounge, the 200m2 venue will feature bespoke furnishings created by Armani’s Casa Interior Design Service.

According to Armani, the walls will be a mirrored bronze colour or alternatively clad in bronze metal effect laminates and a reed effect greige textile with marble flooring. Unique designs include sofas and armchairs covered in Armani Casa fabrics with embossed diamond-shaped graphics. Both bar and dining areas will be fitted with wall-mounted plasma screens for watching Chelsea play.

Illuminating his concept, Armani told Design Week, ‘My objective was to design an elegant space offering a variety of interconnected environments, which come together seamlessly.

‘This space will see a lot of usage throughout the football season, therefore we had to take into consideration a selection of materials that are more durable,’ added Armani, who is also designing Chelsea FC’s official new suits???.

Football stadia have evolved into multi-function entertainment destinations, and owners are upgrading facilities to add greater value to the experience. The beautiful game is no longer a simple Saturday afternoon kick around – it’s now a lifestyle brand in its own right.

Redesigning the Football Ground

Liverpool FC: a 60 000-seater stadium, by HKS, is scheduled to open in 2010. Plans were recently submitted to the city council

Everton FC: fans have approved plans for a £150m, 55 000-seat venue outside Liverpool’s city boundary, combined with a massive Tesco store

Southend FC: HOK Sport’s plan for a 22 000-seat stadium, linked to retail development, have been submitted to town planners but are subject to a ???

Arsenal FC: the new Emirates stadium, by HOK Sport with some interiors by 20/20 Design Group, opened in July 2006

Brighton and Hove Albion: KSS Design Group’s 22 500 facility has been given the green light by planners and is scheduled to open in 2010

Milton Keynes FC: a new 20 000-seat stadium by HOK Sport opened in July 2007, which can be expanded in later phases. A 128-bed hotel linked to the venue will open soon

Portsmouth FC: Herzog and de Meuron’s 36 000-seater, which includes 1500 apartments, is expected to be submitted for planning this autumn. Kick-off is scheduled for 2011

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