editorial     Jun 19 2014

Copa do Mundo (The World Cup)

Dani Alvarez
Mapos Designer

…and the start of a conversation someone should be having, somewhere.

Unless you’ve been sitting under a very large, heavy rock for the past week, you’ve probably realized that the 2014 World Cup is currently underway in Brazil. In honor of the greatest month in four years, I thought I’d give you some more soccer to chew on, then be a big buzzkill and tell you about the architectural problems that stem from it.

The FIFA World Cup, much like the Olympics, requires a host country to provide a certain number of stadiums for the tournament, whilst playing innkeeper for a global-scale amount of football fans. The Cup typically brings up a plethora of emotions and issues in the host country regarding costs and environmental effects, but this year feels hotter and heavier than ever. A number of writers (see: In These Times, Fast Company, Business Insider) and even John Oliver have already given a much deserved verbal whipping to FIFA and the destructive impact The World Cup has had on its host country.

Instead of doing as they already have and outlining the terrible costs (both monetary and mortal) of the stadiums and events this year, I thought I’d keep it cheery and show an example of a stadium both initially well-built and henceforth well-utilized in its afterlife. I do so with hope that at some point, not only as architects, but you know, as a planet, we can begin to do something to prevent the harsh impact of building new stadiums, abandoning them, watching them rot, and then making a google tour out of it. (Google Sightseeing)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – Arsenal Stadium, Highbury.

The stadium, when it was still a stadium/arsenal.com

Quick disclaimer: My respect for this stadium and the people who decided its useful fate does not change the fact that I despise the team whole-heartedly. #liverpool4lyfe

The initial stadium design was done by a guy named Archibald Leitch, and in 1913 was plopped on top of a local college’s existing field (shout-out to Archie for locational relevance). The stadium consisted of one main stand and two terraces to seat 9,000, until 1932 when Arsenal officially moved in, and Mr. Claude Waterlow Ferrier decided to step up their architectural game by designing “the most advanced grandstand ever seen in England.” The addition meant two more tiers to raise seating to 4,000 people, standing capacity to 17,000 people, and just another thing for Arsenal to brag about.

Standing room only/arsenal.com

The stadium continued to grow throughout the years, eventually hosting 38,419 screaming Brits, hundreds of soccer matches for a number of different tournaments – including the London Olympics in 1948 – and even serving as a first aid post in World War II. However, as the team continued to dominate the Premiership and its fan base grew substantially, Arsenal decided to move on to a new stadium in 2006.

Okay here’s the important part: Instead of leaving the stadium as it stood (and generating insignificant income by giving stadium tours and holding one feature game a year), the owners did one better.

The old pitch was converted into a 650 unit residential block, designed by architects Allies & Morrison, and is now known as Highbury Square.

Stadium entry then, front door now/Allies & Morrison

Peter Hill-Wood (Arsenal Chairman) gives it a quick run-down:

“Our wish for the development was always to retain more than a passing resemblance to Highbury Stadium and to respect its class and heritage. With the apartments being constructed in the same location as the four old stands and the pitch being converted into a wonderful garden area, we are delighted that we have achieved our goal.

Although Highbury as a football stadium is now gone, Highbury Square has ensured that our old home will never be forgotten.”

Well doesn’t that just bring a tear to your eye? Uh, yeah me neither.

Despite the fact that much of the stadium was demolished, the spirit of the stadium remains. The East and West Stands were preserved, including the marble halls and the player’s tunnel, the pitch now serves as a communal garden, and much of the new layout was directly derived from the original plan.

Seats turned studios/Allies & Morrison

View of the renovated East Stand / Allies & Morrison

Pitch turned garden/arsenal.com

View into courtyard/Allies & Morrison

View from the window of a unit/Allies & Morrison

Highbury should stand as a precedent of the possibilities of post-use for a stadium, whether it be housing, or any other program dreamed up by the owners and designers.

So I’ll leave you with this:

What will it take to make places like Highbury a regular occurrence? Whose toes need to be stomped on to get the higher-ups requiring not only a set of stadium drawings, but a set for repurposing said stadium in the aftermath of the games?

Mull it over, let me know if you can come up with anything. In the meantime, though, enjoy watching. Just try not to think of how such destruction is caused by such a beautiful game.

Sorry for being such a killjoy. Oh, and VIVA HOLANDA.

Facts and photos courtesy of www.arsenal.com and Allies & Morrison.