Monday, 5 June 2017
Tuesday, 21 March 2017
A chair was hurled against the window, which quivered on impact. The line of policeman stood outside The Green did not see fit to enter the pub and merely held formation, censureless.
Certain fans of Plymouth Argyle Football Club had chosen to drink there on account of the name The Green reflecting the colour of the shirts that Plymouth Argyle play in. The Green had been invaded by The Green Army. We drank our pints swiftly, for although we too were supporters of Plymouth Argyle, the launching of furniture towards plate glass was not something that particularly interested us. Moreover, the group of people from whence the chair had emanated were surely capable of lobbing chairs in other directions too. In spite of our shared desire to see Plymouth Argyle defeat Queens Park Rangers, the sort of mind that sees fit to toss around furnishings in confined spaces does not tend to discriminate.
Loftus Road in Shepherd’s Bush is a favourite stadium of mine. Unfortunately, the locality has something of a crummy reputation. The gloomy West 12 shopping precinct might have something to do with it, and the West Cross Route is grimmer still. Embedded betwixt Hammersmith, Acton, White City, Notting Hill and Kensington, Shepherd’s Bush can feel squeezed. Shepherd’s Bush Green itself, at its centre, is airy and arboreal, and much of the surrounding housing dates back to the late 19th century – Victorian terraces mainly, which is no bad thing. Still, the environment at Loftus Road is a physical hindrance, prohibiting expansion and limiting development.
Practically speaking, Loftus Road reached its extremity when QPR concurrently rebuilt the School End and Loftus Road stands in 1980 and ’81 respectively. Loftus Road backs onto terraced housing, whilst the School End overlooks a school – Jack Tizard School precisely. Built in 1972, the Ellerslie Road Stand, on Ellerslie Road, is encumbered with similarly residential concerns. Finally, The South Africa Road Stand (1968/69) is hampered by both its namesake and the four storey structure that has been tacked on its rear, as functional in its appearance as its purpose dictates – office space.
The overall impression is of rectangular cuboids and of the colour blue. The ground is almost as straightforward as this crude reduction suggests. The South Africa Road Stand is its centre piece: a tidy two-tiered structure with a single row of executive boxes in between and an outward appearance that belies its age. It is of ‘post and beam’ construction, but the posts – one at each end and two equidistantly between – are relatively unobtrusive. The Ellerslie Road Stand opposite is similarly supported but offers just one tier. It is the least remarkable stand of the four but by no means unattractive. The School End and Loftus Road are virtually identical and also the most interesting. They comprise of two tightly packed overhung tiers almost running the width of the entire ground. Their roofs converge with those of the South Africa and Ellerslie Road stands, not seamlessly but coherently enough to present the stadium as a single entity. That the fasciae are all painted the same shade of blue augments this impression. The stadium is completely enclosed, and the boundary between the stands and the pitch is contiguous. Incidental features include a video screen mounted above the School End, a television gantry suspended below the roof of the Ellerslie Road Stand, and four elegantly slim floodlight pylons emanating from behind the School and Loftus Road ends.
Problem: a limited capacity of 18,439. For the last forty odd years Queens Park Rangers have oscillated consistently between the top two strata of the English football league. Currently competing in the second, they’re averaging an attendance of between 14 and 15,000. If they were to be promoted, this capacity would be found wanting. It is reasonable, then, that QPR are examining the possibility of relocating to Old Oak Common with the intention of building a new ground with room enough for 40,000 fans. This sort of thing takes time. Should QPR face relegation, rather than promotion, these plans will more than likely be shelved. In such an event, their fans can console themselves with their continued residency at Loftus Road.
[Pilgrim Pete at Loftus Road]
The football hooligan is afflicted with what could be described as ‘combat envy’ – a sort of collective guilt for having not fought in the Second World War. Aware of the horrors that became his ancestors, the hooligan wishes to atone in some way, but not to the extent that he’ll join the actual army and put himself in any substantive danger. The sacrificial element of partaking in combat does not interest him. He considers only his reputation: that people might think he somehow isn’t up to the job of his forebears, that he’s not ‘hard’ enough.
However, the thug does not aspire towards meting out random acts of violence upon disinterested parties. Instead, the mob – or ‘firm’ in football parlance – will simultaneously seek out pitched battles with complicit rival factions whilst also engaging the local constabulary with impertinent acts of antagonism. Indeed, if the police presence is significant enough, or sufficiently equipped, the respective firms may enter into coalition and direct their aggression solely towards the state apparatus. In this sense, the thug supporter sees himself more as some sort of fifth columnist. The role being played is not one of an occupying force – even when brawling at home – but of insurgent, guerrilla, or terrorist.
One should appreciate that the British police officer is not a gendarme: his or her role is primarily that of keeper of the peace. This plays perfectly into the deranged fantasy of the yob. As tensions rise, it can be imagined that the uniformed police are in fact infantry – a modern day Wehrmacht – whereas the firm is some sort of people’s army fighting against the odds, in civvies (but completely free from the threat of long term incarceration – or ‘disappearing’). If in Britain there existed something approximating Italy’s Carabinieri, these naive re-enactments would take on a much darker and improbable dimension. When the Metropolitan Police (Waffen-SS) are involved, they sometimes do. Yet this is no incitement to riot, merely an opportunity for the deconstructed idiot to exhibit in front of his mates, cosy up to a horse and protest innocence when the mounted police officer tells him in no uncertain terms to back off. Then, as the fans are marshalled to the ground as a collective, the mob will sing about how they’ll never capitulate to the IRA – official, provisional, continuity, or otherwise.
Kenilworth Road is as confined as Loftus Road, but with added eccentricities. Comprised of five separate stands, the shape delineated is actually of an irregular hexagon. The A505 (Hatters Way) and the Luton to Dunstable Busway interrupts the Man Stand at an acute angle and the crooked David Preece Stand fills in the gap awkwardly. It has the appearance of a diminutive two-tiered structure that’s been bent in the middle and had the lower tier removed (to provide access). It holds 711 spectators.
The Bobbers Stand is odder still, comprised of what passes for executive boxes. Whose idea was this? It was never a very big stand on account of the housing behind, although it used to accommodate 1,539 seated supporters. I have not been able to find out how many it seats now, but it can’t be much more than a few hundred.
The Oak Road Stand (capacity: 1,800), and the strangeness doesn’t let up. Its roof, pitched, is comprised of three staggered sections that rise in height to meet the Main Stand to its right. The entrance occupies what at one point must have been the ground floors of two consecutive terraced houses, yet the top floors, and the front doors leading to them, remain intact. Once the fan has passed under these tenements they must climb a set of stairs that offer an intimate view of the terraced gardens either side. (Loftus Road’s surroundings appear boundless by comparison.)
Then there’s the Main Stand, which isn’t without eccentricity either. It appears at first glance fairly cohesive, but not only does it have to put up with the David Preece Stand’s clumsy incursion on its territory, three floodlight pylons blight the lower terrace. These aren’t the spindly stanchions incorporated so successfully at Loftus Road, but more substantial latticed steel affairs. The club’s offices and utilities and the Nick Owen and Eric Morecambe suites are built on the back.
Finally, there’s the Kenilworth Stand, which has a flat roof, 3,229 seats, no significant visual encumbrances and room enough for a carpark out the front.
The stadiums of early antiquity were nothing more than acclivities with the ground levelled before them. These grassy verges were later fashioned into actual terraces, but they were still built upon naturally sloping land – there was no exterior to speak of. Practically speaking, it was the Romans who built the first freestanding amphitheatres, radically changing how these structures presented themselves. From possessing just one functional aspect, the stadium now possessed three: the façade, the interior, and the cavea.
This multi-dimensional perspective does not normally apply. Where form follows function, a building’s relationship with itself is more usually binary, symbiotic. Its innards cater to its functionality – a place to sleep, eat, work, etc. – and the external walls are present by default, to bear the roof and to demarcate the territory. The same cannot be said of the stadium where the inside is outside too, because what goes on inside is taking place outside. Its exterior then is continuous: it can be interpreted as both its inward and outward appearance. In its rawest form, what might be referred to as the stadium’s walls are in fact the underside of the cavea: they are not designed to protect this exposed internality but to physically uphold it. (Where an actual interior is present it is subservient to the building as a whole, providing toilets, ticket offices, changing rooms, and other extraneous utilities. In this respect, the stadium is comparable to the railway station.)
Unlike those early auditoriums of antiquity (or even some of the Soviet ‘superbowls’ that were dug into the earth after the Second World War: Warsaw’s 10th-Anniversary Stadium; the Kirov Stadium in St Petersburg) Loftus and Kenilworth Road are freestanding structures. Except, so hemmed in are they, if you tore their floodlights down you might struggle to find them. There are no boulevards, no concourses, no squares, no parks or any other types of open space from which to view these buildings as independent structures. But where one can ascertain an external presence at QPR – if you look for it – it’s a real struggle at Luton. From Ivy, Beech and Clifton roads, one encounters fragments of breeze blocked walls and corrugated steel, random brickwork and wooden doors, peeling paint and corroded air-conditioning units. For all the onlooker knows, they’ve come up against something like an industrial estate, or the back-end of a bingo hall.
I do not mean to disparage Kenilworth Road. A football ground can live with a shabby exterior, the atmosphere within unaffected; who is to say that a stadium’s aesthetic appeal rests upon the ability to perceive it from a variety of angles. I suppose the problem for many of these smaller grounds is the uncertain choices that their clubs face: to move on, redevelop, or settle for what they’ve got. And if move on, then where to?
Saturday, 12 November 2016
The fad in England for fabricating stadiums from scratch is relatively new. Take the Premier League. Villa Park, Anfield, Goodison Park, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, Selhurst Park, Stamford Bridge, Vicarage Road and St James's Park have all evolved over time, unbeholden to any overarching scheme or long-term vision. Like Theseus's proverbial ship, they have mutated, in fits and starts, and resemble little their nascent self. (At Old Trafford they have aspired to create the illusion of architectural forethought, but those horribly disjointed corner sections fool no-one.) Conversely, the Emirates Stadium, Britannia Stadium, King Power Stadium, KC Stadium, Liberty Stadium, St. Mary’s Stadium, Stadium of Light, Riverside Stadium and the Olympic Stadium are all ‘new builds’. That’s a lot stadium, constructed to replace grounds that were deemed variously to be too small, too old, too awkward, too dangerous, too uncomfortable or too ugly – and irredeemably so. Unfortunately, from an architectural perspective many of them can be found wanting. Much of them look like they have been assembled by the same firm that knocked up your local supermarket (and may well have been).
It is a matter of cost and spatial constraint. The clubs that have developed their existing homes remain where they are. Those that have built new stadiums have done so out of town, or – particularly in London where out of town can manifest itself as somewhere else entirely – on derelict land, probably at greater cost. Indeed, out-of-town developments appear to be all the rage, again echoing the sort of cheap and prefabricated buildings that are more usually built on the fringes of towns and cities – supermarkets, factories, storage facilities, head offices.
Other stadiums are neither raised to the ground nor replaced stand by stand but built upon and expanded upward and outward. This has certainly happened at Old Trafford, and it is happening currently at the City of Manchester Stadium (albeit upon a stadium purpose built in the first instance but now regarded as lacking capacity). This approach has precedence elsewhere, particularly in European countries lining the Mediterranean: the San Siro in Milan; Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall'Ara; the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille (hard to tell since they wacked a roof on it); the now demolished Estádio das Antas in Porto which was extended downward to increase capacity; Barcelona’s Nou Camp, the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, and stadiums in Spain generally; as well as the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven, where the effect is reminiscent of that at Old Trafford.
With a capacity of 55,000, Valencia C.F.'s Mestalla Stadium in Valencia is the fifth largest stadium in Spain. Like many Spanish stadia, it comprises of a rectangular concrete bowl with rounded corners, and a roof covering what might be reasonably described as its ‘grandstand’. The lower tier is continuous, the second tier not. The second tier of the grandstand recedes backward and upward to expose much of the tier that lies beneath (the Tribuna Baja) and therefore stands taller than the second tier sections overseeing the goal-lines (the north and south ends), but not the portion of the second tier facing it (the east side of the ground), which rises to approximately the same height.
This is how the stadium sat up until the year 1997. The logical thing then would have been to extend the north and south tiers backward so that they lined up with the already augmented east stand. Instead, a disjointed third tier was added following the existing edges of the north, east and south stands, thus replicating the irregularity that existed prior to expansion; it appears as if the third tier of the east stand has been cut away and moved diagonally backward by 15-odd rows. With just the two tiers and a shallower rake, the grandstand now rests subjacent to its immediate surroundings, yet a flimsy, brown corrugated roof detracts from the fact. Moreover, this shabby (cantilevered) canopy serves to improve upon its environment. Resting upon a dense trellis of metal, it is hard to make out exactly how it is supported – the two glass fronted pavilions (or ‘radio cabins’ as Inglis refers to them) that sit either side of the top tier look to have nothing to do with it.
Until relatively recently, the seating used to be mostly a tasteful shade of blue (the lower tier’s seats were white) which contrasted well with the brown of the roof (pale blue and rusty brown are quite complementary). These have since been replaced with predominantly orange ones: the grandstand is completely orange, the rest a mixture of orange and white, save for black chairs forming the image of a giant bat stretched over the three tiers of the Mestella’s east side. The exterior of the stadium has been given a similar treatment: the breezeblock walls and concrete lattice structure are painted black; the underside of the balconies and metal gates orange; the railings lining said balconies white, as are the those within the ground itself, of which there are many, especially among the seats of the very steeply raked third tier.
The Mestella is an exercise in the economy of space. It’s also in thrall to the concrete that forms it, and probably why it’s been painted so exhaustively. Trees line the perimeter, roads run around it, and residential blocks sit opposite. It could not feasibly be made any bigger. But it is a wonderful stadium. The lack of space must make for a delightfully claustrophobic – and intimidating – atmosphere, especially after dark.
In 2007, Valencia C.F. began work on the ‘Nou Mestella’ but it was abandoned soon after the financial collapse of 2008. It’s getting to the stage, apparently, where the structure may be unsalvageable: the concrete skeleton has been left exposed to the elements for too long. This new ground is/was intended to hold 61,500 spectators – just 6,500 more than the present stadium. One wonders whether it was ever really worth pursuing.
Friday, 3 June 2016
The Good Companion pub on Eastern Road, less than half a mile from Fratton Park, where many Plymouth Argyle fans have gathered before the game against Portsmouth. This assemblage cannot be offered as a cross-section of Plymothian society, but they are legion: the total attendance of away fans on the day will reach 2,405, way above average for League Two. Many of the older supporters look out-of-shape, unwell, lacking any concern for their appearance. The younger are more neatly dressed but have drunk too much, some of them spilled over tables next to barely touched pints, others behaving more boisterously. The bar is at least three deep, and this is not a small bar. The staff is doing its best to chronologise service, but it cannot be guaranteed. There is queue for the men’s toilet that leads well out of its door. Approximately 90% of those present are male, all are white. There is nothing to fear; the partisan is reactive, moved to oppose only when opposed. The atmosphere is congenial, if unrefined. Pasties are being hawked in the car park.
The North–South divide is mythic, a dichotomy that supposedly hard northerners perpetuate when wishing to denigrate supposedly soft southerners. I determine so because whenever I've travelled somewhere in this respect considered 'north' – Edinburgh, Sedgefield, Leicester, Nottingham, Grantham, Cardiff, small towns and villages in Wales and Lincolnshire – I've found the manner and attitude to be comparable in tone to that found in places like Plymouth, Bristol, Exeter, Torquay, Southampton, Portsmouth, small towns and villages in Cornwall and Somerset. The implication is predictive by dint of geographical allusion: it is not a North–South divide at all but a South East–the rest of it divide.
This still doesn’t quite satisfy. Romford and Southend hint at trouble, Cambridgeshire is as bleak as hell, and I’ve heard the Medway towns are very rough also. Jonathan Meades talking to The Quietus:
"I don't think the South is a paradise, that's a complete nonsense. I have a friend who grew up in Liverpool 8 above a pub, and he went to university in Southampton and he said that Liverpool will kick you but then say, ‘Sorry, whack,' but Southampton will just kick you. We're talking about places that are hard, without any doubt, especially port towns – Plymouth and Portsmouth as well. Say if you go to the Medway towns, they're very hard and rough places."
My formative years spent in Plymouth give credence. Whenever I return from London I’m reminded of the variance in mood, the dissimilar mores. The city isn’t as violent or shabby or parochial as it was, yet there’s still something inured about many of the residents. Not a more pleasing quality necessarily, but probably more sincere.
Specks Lane around the back of the away (‘Milton’) end at Fratton Park, the sort of passageway you wouldn’t want to be caught walking along, having visited as an opposing spectator, by an active mob of Portsmouth fans coming the other way. The rear gardens of terraced houses look over it from behind breeze-blocked walls and incongruously large flat-roofed garages. Facing this are graffiti covered concrete slabs aligned vertically, like a portion of the Berlin Wall. This is by far the cared less for quarter of the ground. Signs assert “No Smoking”. Fag-butts, ubiquitously littering a weedy declination held in place by those concrete monoliths, suggest otherwise. This is what all inner-city football grounds were once like, built ad hoc, giving rise to strange wasted spaces with no access; buildings born of utility, it is the spectacle within that counts.
The view from the Milton End is maybe the best Fratton Park offers: the South Stand to the right, North Stand left, the Fratton End straight ahead, and just four spindly stanchions required to carry the corrugated iron roof above. If the goals go in here, you won’t miss a thing. The South Stand is by far the most interesting, dating back to 1925, designed by Archibald Leitch (responsible for the Johnny Haynes stand at Craven Cottage, Ibrox, much of Villa Park, etc.) and one of the few examples of his work that remains. The North Stand exhibits a certain charm too: its rectangular shape is compromised at one end, rather like Everton’s Goodison Road stand. (It is unclear why as behind lies simply a car park, as opposed to the residential housing that hampers at Goodison.) Both stands are double tiered but the South Stand more elegantly so. The Fratton End is an example of the sort of single-tiered structures built over the last twenty-odd years where clubs have been unable to redevelop, or move away from, their existing ground – or there just isn't the weekly attendance to justify it. In and of themselves they’re rarely much to look at but are usually raked more steeply and their roofs cantilevered, which benefits sight-lines greatly.
Portsmouth was competing in the Premiership as recently as 2010 and had intended to build a new stadium elsewhere in the city. Following the club’s calamitous decline these plans were shelved. Vague ideas concerning the redevelopment of Fratton Park have since been proposed but such schemes are unlikely to come to fruition whilst Portsmouth remains playing in League Two. Yet how many other clubs’ home fans get to enter their ground via a mock Tudor façade dating back to 1898? And despite the business parks to the west (a contemporary conglomeration of hotels, supermarkets, gyms and fast-food establishments) and north (red brick industrial units and warehouses), much of the surrounding area is still residential. There are parks nearby too.
[View from the Milton End. Archibald Leitch's stand is just visible to the left.]
Central Park, not New York but Plymouth. See it on a map, it’s no token recreational space. There is: a library; a clinic; pitch-and-put; 5-a-side; extensive leisure and sporting facilities in the form of the Plymouth Life Centre; allotments; a cemetery; a number of playgrounds; a bowling green; a baseball field; more allotments; ample seating; Home Park – residence of Plymouth Argyle Football Club.
Central Park is trust land, which is how it continues to exist – only leisure related facilities may be raised upon it. Like much of Plymouth, it undulates. Home Park occupies the western apex of the park adjacent to a large open car park that adjoins Outland Road (a component of the A386, which continues up to Dartmoor and ultimately as far as Appledore on Devon’s north coast). To the east, this verdant landscape falls away, meaning the stadium’s profile appears more elevated from its eastern aspect than from any other vantage point. When observed from the higher ground of the suburb of Hartley the impression is of a stadium almost twice its actual size.
In fact Home Park is of modest proportion, always has been. In 2001, the ground underwent redevelopment. The Lyndhurst Stand and Devonport and Barn Park Ends were knocked down and a continuous all-seated U-shaped structure built in its place. This reconstruction contributed little in terms of capacity and was focussed mainly on comfort and improving viewing angles, as well as complying with legislation that applied to the leagues Plymouth was rising toward at the time. Phase 2 of Home Park’s development was to involve replacing the existing Mayflower Stand with a new multi-tiered grandstand that would have granted an all-seated capacity of 18,500. Like at Portsmouth, the project was put on hold, and the Mayflower as it was survives to this day, restricting the capacity to around 16,000.
Artists’ impressions tend to deceive so it’s hard to say whether Home Park has missed an opportunity or benefitted from a stay of execution. Clad in corrugated aluminium, the Mayflower may be outmoded but it simultaneously remains a far more arresting structure than the Devonport/Lyndhurst/Barn Park combo presently surrounding it. It looks like another Archibald Leitch job but was in fact built some ten years after his passing, a testament to his influence in the field. With a shallower rake, the grandstand rises only a little higher than the rest of the ground but its two tears impose a much more commanding disparity. Only from the air does it appear insubstantial.
Not to say that progress should be resisted. The old Home Park was a rickety, disjointed affair. None of the roofs stretched as far as the goal-lines; the Barn Park End didn’t even have one. The Devonport End was set at a funny angle and the uncovered junction separating it from the Lyndhurst – the Spion Kop – lacked cohesion. The Lyndhurst – rectilinear, fan-trussed – afforded a little more protection, and actual seats were installed toward the end of the 1980s. (The crowd leapt out of them and jeered as Gascoigne’s reputation preceded him in a pre-season friendly against Tottenham Hotspur.)
But for all that the general feeling was one of openness and of free movement (despite the perimeter fencing, which was deemed reasonable back then). You could look towards the Barn Park End and see Hartley rising up above the dot-matrix scoreboard (prone to malfunction) and the trees beyond. Like at Portsmouth – and at Fiorentina to a fanciful degree – there were separate sections you could move around in, with views towards the rest of the ground that were unique to where you stood. Light permeated almost throughout. There was shade if you preferred. Now, aside from your allocated seat, the only place to loiter is within the industrial interior of the stands themselves. Try to imagine what it might be like having a quick pint in your local B&Q.
[Traces of the old Home Park are still apparent.]
Fratton Park and Home Park feel comfortable in their surroundings. So do many modern stadia, but when you consider that those surroundings are more usually out-of-town industrial estates then maybe that’s not so much comfort. It becomes not so much a question of architecture relating to its surroundings – although it is still that – but finding surroundings worth relating them to. In the case of Portsmouth and Plymouth, if undertaken with sufficient regard, their surroundings could have a positively mitigating effect. My fear is that, when it finally comes to pass, these grounds will be subject to either the cheapest tender or the demented ego of some preening architect, determined to leave their mark where it’s not welcome.
Friday, 29 April 2016
Purple permeates the city – Florence in Tuscany – in tribute to the football team that represents it – ACF Fiorentina, aka La Viola. It is said that the colour has no actual connotation but came about fortuitously after the archetypal red and white halved shirts of Fiorentina were washed, presumably at too high a temperature, and the colours ran. Most likely apocryphal, and cannot explain the switch from black to white shorts that followed. Besides, such diffusion would have emanated pink.
Conversely, the club's badge is informed by the city's heraldry. The roles are transposed, a fleur-de-lis does for both, typically in red mounted on a white background, certainly in the case of Fiorentina, and often for the metropolis too. An ordinary state of affairs, except Florence is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, has been since 1982, remarkable for a plethora of Renaissance art and architecture. Football is an irrelevance generally for those who visit here, and so few will make the connection, let alone be aware of it. But the effect is the same: purple seems to suit the environment, just as if some design agency had proposed it as an apposite hue (no doubt for an exorbitant fee).
The Stadio Comunale Artemio Franchi is placed well away from the older material that draws in the tourists, probably with intent – why locate something as utilitarian as a football stadium alongside buildings as venerable as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Palazzo Vecchio? Yet the Artemio Franchi offers more than mere function and was perhaps as progressive in its time as the Il Duomo di Firenze was in its. Pier Luigi Nervi was tasked with raising it, a structural engineer and architect renowned for his pioneering appropriation of reinforced concrete, a progenitor of Italian Modernism. [Built some 25 years later, Nervi’s more impressive contribution to stadium architecture is actually the Stadio Flaminio in Rome, which the Italian Rugby Federation is supposedly in the process of bastardising whilst their rugby team play out their international fixtures at the capital’s aesthetically flawed Stadio Olimpico.]
The slightly out-of-town location of the Artemio Franchi works to its advantage. It is a very low-rise structure, save for its svelte tower, and would be utterly overwhelmed amongst the grandeur of central Florence. Instead, we have residential tenements to the west, the modest Stadio Luigi Ridolfi to the south (a municipal athletics facility), and unabridged views towards the mountains north and east: the Florentine hills of Fiesole and Settignano. Trees dot the perimeter and a road encircles it; the stadium’s concrete framework can be viewed from all around.
From above, the stadium’s footprint traces a rather awkward ‘D’ shape. This is because the Artemio Franchi used to accommodate a 220 metre sprint track – so long to cater for the completion of marathons. In preparation for the 1990 World Cup, the entire running track was removed to allow for a second, shallower tier, which necessitated the pitch be lowered by 2.4 metres. This in turn facilitated the extraction of the temporary stands set behind each goal, which stood in isolation and probably didn't hold that many spectators anyway, as well as freeing up the parterre to function once more as a parterre, rather than the secondary viewing platform it had ineffectually become. Other changes included the replacement of some pretty awful roof extensions with ones more sympathetic – although still far from ideal – and the installation of individual seats in place of the existing wooden benches. The seats of the new lower tier were initially green, which worked, the rest a tasteful shade of grey. Now almost all are grey save for those in the tribuna centrale (grandstand) and the lower tier facing it, which are purple – as is the club’s name spelled out in seats in the tier above; this also works. Since the 1990 renovations, the concrete has been refinished a second time and the stairways have been painted yellow.
Despite the increased capacity, new plastic chairs and the removal of much of the clutter that inflicted the stadium prior to 1990, it is many of Artemio Franchi’s pre-existing features that make it interesting: three helicoid staircases that provide external access to the upper gallery; the tower - streamlined, glass-fronted, almost art-nouveau; the bare concrete underside of the terracing and their gentle curves; the outward facade of the tribuna centrale; the roof. The tower might be considered extraneous, the stairs merely salutary, the facade functional, but the roof is to be greatly admired. It is cantilevered – or not, depending how you interpret the stresses placed on the bifurcating structure supporting it: 24 corbels, the tier below serving as their counterweight. It is a shame the two (genuinely cantilevered) roof extensions were not done away with completely, but the original structure doesn't provide much coverage.
It’s all very pleasing, yet Fiorentina has plans to construct a new home. Perhaps this is why, contrary to the attention lavished on Artemio Franchi’s interior in recent years, the exterior – the underside of the exposed terraces – is spalled, shabby, and neglected. The ground of arch-rivals Juventus has been cited as an inspiration and probable template, a stadium that was built to replace the much maligned Stadio delle Alpi, which was too large, had a running track, lacked intimacy and atmosphere; built anew in 1990, things didn't work out and Juventus ended up again sharing the Stadio Olimpico with Torino, before they knocked the Alpi down and put the Juventus Stadium in its place. Fiorentina does not share grounds, and theirs is listed and in harmony with its surroundings. Does it not seem absurd to move away from a unique and perfectly serviceable structure in Florence, only to then mimic a building contrived to address a predicament that had arisen in Turin? Could Il Duomo di Firenze have once been torn down and the Mole Antonelliana replicated in its place?
Monday, 18 April 2016
It has been suggested that by the time Wembley Stadium had been rebuilt its design was obsolete, aesthetically at least. The conceit is that it was the last of a generation of stadia constructed in the mid-1990s through to the early 2000s that might be said to include grounds such as the Amsterdam Arena (opened in 1996), Stade de France (1998), Cardiff's Millennium Stadium (1999), Lisbon’s Estádio da Luz (2003), and many of the British grounds rebuilt over the same period; for example, the Stadium of Light in Sunderland (1997), Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium (1995), and the redevelopments of Old Trafford and St. James' Park. The supplanting of the original Wembley Stadium (and whether or not its iconic twin towers could be incorporated into any new design) was conceived in the late 1990s, scheduled to begin in the year 2000 – ground was eventually broken in September 2002 – and completed in 2007, by which time it was one of the most expensive projects of its kind.
The economics, politics and general shambles of the whole affair aside, the new Wembley Stadium, with its new iconic arch, appeared to go down rather well. I suspect that those who applauded it didn't bother too much appraising its exterior but were pleased with the scale and uniformity of its interior, which wouldn't look out of place hosting American Football (which it does from time to time). In comparison to its predecessor, the thing is luxuriant.
And what of its exterior? It is inoffensive enough, and from the air the roof imparts a certain fragmentary appeal. The arch, which can be illuminated, seems less of a gimmick now than when it was first proposed as some sort of conciliatory exchange for those famous twin towers. Overlooking the decision to install bright red seats, it is a decent enough stadium, albeit, in an architectural sense, a very predictable one. It presents as a rotunda of glass, steel and plastic, just like any other inner-city edifice.
It was perhaps Munich’s Allianz Arena that underlined the fact that stadium presentation had moved beyond more familiar modes of urban planning. From within, the Allianz Arena doesn’t appear to break any moulds, although the seats are a pleasing shade of grey, which in itself is refreshing. From outside the stadium’s ambition is immediately apparent. Shrouded completely in Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene – a fluorine-based plastic – when illuminated the effect has been compared to that of a paper lantern, or lampshade. You get the feeling the whole structure could at any moment float upward like some benign zeppelin. Moreover, the roof can be scrolled backward in segments to let in light and aerate the interior as required. Wembley’s roof can move about a bit too, but more laterally and with a greater sense of burden.
Wembley’s lack of imagination is not confined to its sense of inertia or its garish seating. The matter is not one merely of materials, or that it could so easily be mistaken for something else; the removal of the twin towers, and the arch in its place, is forgiven. What disappoints is that the design for Wembley Stadium was so obviously derivative from the start. It looked around at what other cities were building and elected to do blandly the same, just on a slightly larger scale.
The Emirates, home to Arsenal FC, doesn’t suffer from the same deficiencies. By embracing its financial limitations, and making a virtue of them, an idea relating to its specific purpose is embraced. Ostensibly, this ground is as conservative as Wembley: oval, the seats are red again, oscillating top tier, plenty of glass and steel. But these constituents have been arranged differently, with more thought. The almost perfectly elliptical perimeter of the building is broken up into alternating sections of glass, then concrete, glass, then concrete. The fashion for cladding has been resisted, nothing is hidden, utility defines it. There are pleasing touches, such as vertical slits cut out in the concrete sections that reveal the stairwells behind them; the glass fronted portions of the building are canted and protrude slightly, overlapping over the joins with the concrete; the underside of the roof is smooth, reflective, and supported by steel trusses painted in white. Overall, the structure is not as cumbersome, more airy, and doesn't impose so evidently upon the surrounding (and less industrial) environment. It conveys that what goes on here is something out in the open. I stare at Wembley Stadium and imagine a thousand office workers sat behind their desks.
And then some clown comes up with this thing called the ‘Arsenalisation Project’, and shabby murals now cover the formerly exposed concrete of the stadium’s façade.
Thursday, 14 April 2016
If 25-odd years ago you’d asked what my favourite book was, with complete sincerity I would have told you this: The Football Grounds of Europe by Simon Inglis. My reading then was more usually a means to an end – school work, which bored me – but this book was something else: it satisfied both my appetite for sport (football in the main) and a passing interest in architecture. A substantial hard-backed tome, it covers in great detail the stadia selected, built or modified for the 1990 World Cup, held in Italy, and many more besides (but not British football grounds – Mr Ingles had written a separate book on that subject a few years before). No mere glossary, the history, architectural detail, and cultural and social relevance – where it applies – are all explored, and there is substantial photographic coverage too. It really is a wonderful thing, and its author invoked great jealously in me. As research I do believe Mr Inglis toured Europe extensively, making notes, taking pictures, asking questions. He would go on to write a column for World Soccer magazine, and now stewards a website called Played in Britain that concerns itself with chronicling, and where possible preserving, sporting sites of historical and cultural significance and interest – these aren't the sort of jobs you’ll find advertised anywhere much.
My interest in stadium architecture persists and I make a point of journeying to them when I travel abroad: am often thwarted by geographical limitations, time constraints, and the lack of interest on the part of whoever has accompanied me. I should try harder, but many a ground can be found on the periphery of its host, involving convoluted and time consuming journeys to reach them, although I have travelled farther for less. Other, more normative and diminutive stadia have been chanced upon: the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Siena, and Prague’s FK Viktoria Stadion for instance. Where I have made the effort I’ve only sometimes gained entrance, normally at football grounds deemed worthy of being granted entrance: Barcelona’s Nou Camp, Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu, Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla. (Does this say more about the nature of Spanish football or my personal touristic habits?). With others, I’ve had to make do with inspecting their exterior, with varying degrees of satisfaction: Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski National Stadium is barely discernible as being such; the San Siro in Milan could be little else; Istanbul’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium appears like an industrial building of the sort found near motorways and airports. The fact of the matter is that a lot of football grounds aren't very pretty, were never intended to be. That is not to say they don’t have character or charm, but sometimes it can be hard to tell from the outside. Like I said, I've not often gained entrance to find out either way.
The Estadio La Rosaleda, home of Málaga CF. I recollect the football ground from Inglis’ great work, but it is much altered since that was published. You might come at it from a southerly direction, along either side of the Rio Guadalmedina. If it is summer this river will be dry, dusty, dormant. The area around the stadium itself is residential in nature, but the watercourse allows a clear view of the mountains to the north. La Rosaleda occupies its own space, contrary to the dense and moderately high-rise surroundings; because of its riparian setting, you may regard it from a variety of angles.
The structure itself is fairly typical of many a Spanish stadium (although this may not hold true for those constructed over the past decade). It possesses a Modernist aesthetic: the rectilinear concrete struts attached to the two main stands support the roofs in the same way many mid-twentieth century buildings employ a series of reinforced concrete columns to bear their loads. Such a retrospective approach towards architecture – if you choose to see it that way – has precedence elsewhere. I am considering in particular Valencia's Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a concrete extravaganza, albeit one mantled in white paint. Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences is considered something of an architectural indulgence. Conceived of and built in the 1990s it should not be tied too neatly to the strain of thinking that elected to work so prominently with reinforced concrete in Malaga: José Segui Pérez, if it was indeed him who was responsible, did not opt to have La Rosaleda painted white – or painted at all.
It must be emphasised that these concrete abutments are primarily functional – they support the roofs and partition the executive boxes that run along underneath. We know this because prior to them being built between 2000 and 2005 the upper tiers adjacent to the touch-lines were set lower than those fronting the goal-lines. Initially they weren't. Instead, the curves of the second tier rose upward away from the main stands only to stop abruptly at the point where they might be expected to join the lower, shallower rake of the upper tiers overlooking the goal-lines. Were the curves culminating in anticipation that these banked terraces would be steepened later, thus completing the bowl effect that eventually became it? The ground was developed in tranches so we cannot be sure of what long-term vision the architects had in mind. In any case, they were. The upper tiers of the main stands could not be raised to the same height because of the road behind one of them and the river to the rear of the other. This is where these more solid concrete columns come in. The roofs could have been set at the lower height of these opposing tiers but would have then been subordinate in aspect to the rest of the stadium – you should be able to imagine why this was undesirable. To allow, then, for the height of the new roofs to correspond with the uncovered upper tiers behind each goal, the struts were angled outward to overcome the spatial restraints on the ground. Furthermore, this permitted the inclusion of the executive boxes in the newly created space between.
You sense these days that architects are a little bit funny about exposed concrete, embarrassed even. Perhaps they think it looks cheap – cheaper than the rough paint or cladding commonly used to cover over it. The point can be taken on board within a climate harsh upon the patina of this material, but Spain generally doesn't have to worry about such precipitous scarring. The 38 concrete columns – 19 either side – at Estadio La Rosaleda have been left proudly exposed. The opportunity has been taken to build a concourse around the stadium using similar techniques, although the concrete supports in this instance have no reason to be anything other than perpendicular and are much more slender, conveying a sort of lattice-like quality to the surrounding colonnade.
I looked for a way in along Camino la Palmilla, couldn't find one. I tried again along the towpath that traces the river but turned back on account of a vagrant with a large dog that saw me approaching. Málaga CF doesn't offer tours. I might have been more disappointed were it not for my conviction that the parallel lines of Estadio La Rosaleda’s exterior are probably the most impressive thing about it. I had also found a pretty good view from Malaga’s Castillo de Gibralfaro a few days earlier.