Built-in Mexican Wave – the Football Stadia in South Africa Designed by gmp
Three out of the ten stadia for the FIFA World Cup 2010 are complete new builds and were designed by German architects from the Hamburg office of gmp (von Gerkan, Marg und Partner).
It was masterminded by Volkwin Marg, who had already designed three dozen stadia, and Hubert Nienhoff, partner and manager of the Berlin office. Engineers from Stuttgart-based Schlaich Bergermann und Partner were drafted in as construction specialists, led by Knut Göppert. This firm also designed the supporting structure of Soccer City in Johannesburg as a joint venture with South African architects Boogertman + Partners. The largest of the World Cup stadia, accommodating 94 000 spectators, it is directly adjacent to Soweto on the site of a former gold mine, next to huge slag heaps. Its external form is based on a flattened, bulging African calabash pot. Seven football stadia have been modified or upgraded and brought up to FIFA standards. The new stadia designed by gmp lie in the ports of Capetown, Port Elizabeth and Durban.
The fantastic landscape provided the design inspiration for the architects of the Cape Town Stadium at Green Point. The new stadium is intended to be in dialogue with the horizons of Cape Town, not project out of the vista as a new landmark. The sea, the shoreline, and the level contour of the omnipresent Table Mountain were the lines of reference. The facades with their convex lengths of Teflon-coated PTFE fibre material spanned between horizontal fins reinforce the horizontal tendency. However it looks completely different from above, viewed from Table Mountain, like the eye of the lion winking at the Lion’s Head, Cape Town’s other landmark mountain.
The external appearance is just a mantle in which the actual construction of the grandstand sub-structure is cloaked, as is usually the case with new stadia, to give the building a more distinct overall form. It is only from inside that movement comes into play through the form of the grandstands, a bowl with a wavy upper edge, its low points corresponding with the corners of the pitch. The dynamic wave seems to animate the stadium even when it’s empty, as if the Mexican wave was already a permanent feature of the building. The dynamic grandstand structure can even be seen from the outside through the semi-transparent facade depending on the lighting conditions, especially when floodlights are used.
Oversized flower petals
Football and rugby are also played in Port Elizabeth’s new arena, an hour’s flight further east. Whilst the Cape Town stadium was erected in an upmarket neighbourhood, surrounded by beach hotels, a marina and golf course, the architects in PE, as everyone nicknames the city of motor industry, were faced with completely different conditions. The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in the bay of the “Windy City” was intended to be the initial spark to improve a run-down industrial and trading estate.
The girders arch over the spectator terraces like oversized flower petals, with Teflon-coated PE sheeting spanned between them, giving the building the appearance of a gigantic exotic bloom. As such, the stadium has become a new landmark that is visible from a long way off in a truly nondescript industrial city.
The specific commission to erect a landmark for the city was awarded to the architects in Durban. The up-and-coming port on the east coast of South Africa previously had little to offer by way of architectural highlights. So the city authorities were hoping to achieve a “Sydney Opera effect” with the new Moses Mabhida Stadium. A steel arch 104 metres high, upon which the textile membrane of the tent-style roof is draped, spans the stadium oval, creating a landmark that can be seen from a distance. These days, nobody will take a cityscape photograph without contriving to include the gleaming white structure in the picture.
The arch forks on the western side, opening up the stadium oval in the direction of the city, a gesture of welcome and affection towards the city. The fact that the split arch seems to represent the South African flag was only discovered after it had been built. The Durban citizens were so thrilled with their new landmark that they asked if they could climb the arch. The architects made this possible too.
Most beautiful interior
A cable car runs up to a viewing platform at the splice point of the arch, and it is from here that the best panoramic views of the city can be enjoyed. From the other end, with safety gear and a guide, you can undertake a mountaineer-style climb. The stadium interior, which is used for light athletics and football, holds 56 000 spectators, for the semi-finals a further
14 000 seats will be temporarily erected on the top level. Its interior is the most beautiful of all the World Cup stadia. And if it happens not to be particularly full, it isn’t very noticeable because the architects have installed seats in 13 different colours, giving the effect that even an empty stadium looks as though it is full of people in colourful clothes.
Admittedly even 10 000 spectators would fill the stadium in an acoustic sense, because the South African football fans’ vuvuzelas sound more dreadful than the trumpets of Jericho. But they are not likely to cause the fall of the Durban stadium, or any of the other solidly-constructed stadia. And it would be a shame for the stadia, which are amongst the most beautiful contemporary new buildings in the world.
Falk Jaeger (Hrsg.): 3 Stadia 2010. Architektur für einen afrikanischen Traum/Architecture for an African Dream, Jovis (Berlin, Juni 2010), deutsch/englisch, ISBN 978-3-86859-063-0
is a buildings historian and architecture critic in Berlin.
Translation: Jo Beckett
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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