The design for the new Wembley Stadium is submitted for planning approval this month. Between now and March, when a decision is due, a bloody fight is likely.
The key to the debate is one of Britain’s most famous landmarks and the central element in the current Wembley visual identifier – the twin towers – which, if the new arena is to be built, will have to be demolished. If you want to know more visit www.wembleynationalstadium.co.uk.
No doubt a mothbally gaggle of tweed-clad traditionalists will emerge from the antique woodwork and declare their opposition. Speaking as a football fan, I won’t shed a tear for the towers or the old stadium. In fact, I’d be delighted to be the person that presses the detonator and kills off an innocent symbol of our retarded public ambition.
The creation of the Empire Stadium, as it was originally known, began in 1918. Architects Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayerton and the engineer Sir Owen Williams were called in to execute the commission. In contrast to our beloved Millennium Dome, the steel and concrete construction took less than a year to complete and cost £750,000.
It was opened in 1924 as a centrepiece to the British Empire Exhibition, and attracted four and half million visitors. But by then it was already famous, for the FA Cup Final of 1923 had been played in the stadium and 250 000 spectators had pushed their way into the 100 000-capacity arena and on to the pitch.
Despite this chaos, Wembley quickly became a signifier for everything that was glorious about the national game and was loved as a place befitting the greatest sporting events (not to mention a spot of greyhound racing).
I went on the famous Wembley tour as a kid. Even though the dressing rooms looked and smelt like a lunatic asylum, the stadium’s effortlessly elegant shapes and structures made my heart pound and my knees wobble. The meadowy smell of the pitch, the Empire elegance – it was as close to heaven as I could imagine. I wasn’t to know that Wembley was in the process of (literally) being belittled by the new super stadiums of the Continent. And I would never have guessed that what was then considered the “Home of Football” would end up looking more like the outside toilet.
As even the most sentimental and historically sensitive fan must admit, Wembley has become a national embarrassment that’s not even fit to stage a second rate sport like rugby. English Heritage agrees: three years ago its annual report noted the benefits of a radical approach to the design of the new stadium (ie dynamite might have a role to play).
The good news is that Foster & Partners/HOK Lobb’s design will create a place that is as ambitious, exciting and innovative at the Empire Stadium was back at the end of the Great War. It will feature four 137m masts. Behind the glass facade fans will be met by escalators and enough bars and eateries to cater for 40 000 customers.
Inside, there will be seating for 90 000, all in one bowl-like arena. And the new roof will feature moving sections to minimise the sort of pitch shadow that dogs the almost-new Stade de France stadium in Paris.
It seems Wembley and the design team are embracing the future and they have – so far at least – got it right, particularly the fact that the twin towers must go. Whatever the cultural mothballers say, we don’t need them. They will live on in our collective memory and in pitch-loads of film, TV photographic and written material.
We have to be a bit more American about these matters and move forward without guilt. Space in London is expensive and – in this case at least – it should be used for the brave and the new. Someone pass me that detonator.
I really enjoyed the “we, the undersigned” letter from some of “Design’s” great and good (Letters, DW 17 September). It was refreshing to hear that the products I buy and the services I use are not deserving of their genius.
And it was thrilling to see designers reach out to the populace with phrases such as “we are all helping to draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse”.
Can’t wait to see their individual contributions to a “new kind of meaning”. Well done – my eyes have been opened to the essential emptiness of my life.