Designing a world class sports stadium

Mark Wood talks about designing a world class Sports Stadium for Spartak FC.

Until recently Spartak Moscow FC shared the 78360 seat 1956 Moscow Luzhniki Stadium together with Torpedo Moscow and the Russian national football team. After Russia won their bid to host the 2018 World Cup, the club then went on to build a new 45360 seat Stadium on the old Tushino Airfield to the north west of the city. This new home for Spartak FC, now complete, will also become a 2018 FIFA World Cup key venue. During initial stages of construction in early 2011, Dexter Moren Associates were invited to propose a bold and ambitious design for the appearance of the new stadium. In 2013 the club achieved sponsorship from a leading Russian bank providing the stadium with its current title: the Otkritie Arena. On the 5th September 2014 the stadium hosted its inaugural match.

The façade of the stadium is very dramatic. What was the inspiration behind this and how does the design of the stadium connect with Spartak FC?

Whilst I think it’s possible to design attractive buildings which are conceived from a random or arbitrary inspiration, what really fascinates me is when inspiration in architecture is driven by key issues such as context, environmental conditions and client aspiration. Given the feedback post completion, I think the Otkritie Arena has proved successful to this end.

The client initially requested that the appearance of the stadium should relate to the sports club over and above that of its future world cup venue status. The brief was to provide a burst of colour in a relatively drab area of Moscow and to relate the appearance of the Stadium to the club icon: Spartak, (translated as Spartacus).

I was also keen that the design related to Moscow. Whilst Moscow has been largely industrialized and contains large swathes of housing built during soviet communism, there are some real architectural gems to be found particularly in the city centre such as various government and state buildings and the wonderful underground public realm of the city’s Metro system. What was particularly inspiring to me were the amazing colourful and textured onion shaped domes of the many orthodox churches, the most famous of which being St Basil’s in Red Square.

Spartak like many sporting clubs, with its Gladiator mascot, adopted a symbol of power and strength to strike fear in the heart of their opponents. What therefore proved very challenging was how this could be realised architecturally without the result appearing kitsch.

Our solution to this was the concept of a ‘gladiator’ style series of armour plates that fold over one another. The overall system was chosen as it is flexible enough in geometry to fit the overall multi curvilinear façade shape.  Once this principal had been chosen, the use of club colours and diamond shaped shingles, similar to club logo became almost inevitable final touches.

The climate in Moscow can be very volatile, how has the façade design overcome some of these issues?

Moscow has colder winters and hotter summers than London. The highest and lowest recorded temperatures range between +38deg C and -42 deg C. This demonstrates a substantial temperature differential, requiring Moscow buildings to work very hard to deal with extreme conditions. Although the modern Russian premier football league is split into two separate spring and autumn seasons, spectators will still be required to attend matches on both uncomfortably hot and uncomfortably cold days.

Therefore rather than produce a sealed façade, we decided to pursue a ventilated ‘winter-garden’ style façade approach. This allows the stadium to breathe in the spring and summer which compensates for some of the building’s ventilation requirements. The flexibility of the solution also provides excellent resistance against wind, rain and snow in the autumn and the winter.

Other considerations include the integration of movement joints and flexible fixings to compensate for the effect of expansion and contraction driven by the vast changes in temperature. We even proposed heating elements in the tips of the shingles to help resist icicle formation.

I was very fortunate to work with an excellent design team who explored every aspect of the façade geometry in infinitesimal detail utilising both the latest sophisticated 3D computer modelling techniques, combined with more old fashioned techniques of hand sketching and model making. These techniques allowed us to resolve the continual challenges and problems thrown up during detail design development. Ultimately we provided a comprehensive design solution incorporating lighting design, structural design, façade engineering and access and maintenance strategies.

Spartak Stadium represents Dexter Moren Associates’ first completed sports stadium. How has the complexity of this project differed from hotel projects you’ve worked on?

The sheer size and scale of the building façade of this type requires a considerably different way of thinking to a typical Hotel. With our hotels we normally endeavour to use façade systems on the market in interesting and creative ways. With the stadium we had to basically  invent our own bespoke fully engineered façade solution to suit the specific project and the site’s environmental conditions.

When we were looking at the size and quantity of shingles to wrap around the whole form we discovered that the fewer and larger the shingles, the better the overall appearance as this helped to break the overall scale of the building visually. We realised that around 600 shingles would cover the whole building, although each one would need to measure approximately 8m wide by 5m high. Whilst this seemed like an extreme approach, if the shingles had been of smaller unit sizes, it would have meant a considerably larger quantity, much more fixings, a longer construction time, more complexity and therefore more cost. In the end each giant shingle was constructed to this size consisting of 9 constituent parts of strengthened coloured glass with associated framing, fixings and a space frame type backing structure.

Tushino, where the stadium is located, is undergoing significant regeneration. What is the client’s vision and how have you helped them realise it?

The clients vision is a large and extensive mixed use development covering the whole Tushino airfield site with the stadium being the landmark at its heart. Most sports stadia development projects of this nature take time to return investment. Therefore the masterplan will enable the overall development commercially and help to properly regenerate this area of the city. Excellent infrastructure has already been constructed on site, including car parking and a new ‘Spartak’ metro station located next to the stadium. Future plans include amongst others an indoor arena, various hotels, offices and a considerable amount of residential properties.  Dexter Moren Associates have already been appointed for involvement in the design of two hotels at the gateway to the site and have also developed a concept design for the Indoor Arena.

Which aspect of the project are you most proud of?

As the project has developed I’ve been following comments from Spartak fans on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Skyscraper City. Architecture of course can be a very subjective topic and Spartak have many loyal and passionate supporters. The consistent amount of praise that I have read for their new football club home has been extremely encouraging and heart-warming.

As an architect, if you can design and realise a building that both yourself and its owners and occupiers love and enjoy, you have to feel proud.

It is also nice that the façade design seems to have migrated to other areas of the club such as marketing and branding. It was also quite touching to see the stadium was also the subject of some recent children’s paintings.

In addition to the design of the façade, Dexter Moren Associates were appointed to design the VIP hospitality spaces. What did this entail?

The whole western stand of the stadium was designed as a heated and conditioned series of VIP hospitality areas and seating. The stand consists of a range of food and beverage facilities including a fast food type restaurant, silver and gold buffet style VIP restaurants, private catered VVIP boxes and two presidential suites.

Dexter Moren Associates were appointed to provide interior design services for all of these spaces. I think the team has been very successful in meeting the design brief whilst creating a strong synergy between these interiors the overall stadium design.

What is next for Dexter Moren Associates in Russia?

My experience of working with the clients and their team at Tushino has been an extremely enjoyable and successful collaboration. They have always encouraged and supported our design ambition and vision whilst being pragmatic and decisive in driving their projects forward. We are naturally keen to utilise our design skills and continue to branch out our involvement within the larger Tushino masterplan. We are furthermore keen to work in other areas of Moscow and Russia and the sport and leisure sector as a whole.

For more on the project, click here.