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.

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