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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stadium challenge

Best known in this region for its eye-catching stadia designs for the FIFA 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, German architecture firm AS&P is also contributing to the European Central Bank in Vienna, a housing project in Frankfurt and criminal courts in Saudi Arabia.
However, the Qatar commission remains AS&P’s most high-profile project to date, and eight of the 12 stadia designs are being executed by the company. Axel Bienhau, partner at AS&P, explains that the Qatar Football Association approached AS&P directly during an exhibition in Denver two years ago.
AS&P’s designs played a prominent part in the winning bid, and the renderings are now very familiar images. Cynics would claim there is little detailed thought behind the slick renderings, but this is far from the case, according to Bienhaus. “We have detailed ground-floor plans for all of our stadia,” he explains.
“The bid book is owned by FIFA, and is stilled handled with relative confidentiality. The plans cannot be released to the media. Considering it was a bid book, I think we designed the stadia to a very detailed level – to a stage between preliminary and detailed design.”
He adds that AS&P had to increase its team to work on the bid, but it has not expanded since then, and any future increases will revolve around the timings of the stadia delivery. He notes that the client is poised to embark on a bold construction programme to complete the stadia well in advance. “I do not think they will wait three years to get going on the stadia. There are many things, such as the cooling strategies, that need to be tested ahead of time,” he says.

According to Bienhaus, the stadia could be ready up to four years before the event. “It would be a good idea to have the stadia ready by 2020 and use them in the Confederation Cup football tournament in 2021. But they may even be ready before then, perhaps by 2018.
"Qatar wants to show the world that it is well-prepared for the World Cup. They know the delivery is enormous, and they have to build 75% of the infrastructure from scratch. We are currently discussing with the client which stadium will be implemented first. An idea is to build one as a prototype.”
Bienhaus explains that the look and feel of the stadia is an integral consideration for a client that has an appetite for good design. “The client is not just focused on functionality – the appearance of the stadia is very important.” He adds that AS&P will do everything in its power to maintain the original appearance of the stadia.
“We will have to bring these designs to life, and one of the main tasks is to ensure that the outer appearance does not change. That is the main challenge in any design. It is part of an architect’s job to realise the vision within budget, and maintain the appearance and quality of the design.”
The most architecturally impressive stadium is the subject of some debate in the AS&P office. Bienhaus says: “My personal favourite is Al Khor, as the shell-like form fits perfectly in the urban context as it is located near the Gulf. But people in our team have different favourites. Many like the Doha Port stadium, which is completely modular and resembles a marine creature. Al Shamal is also popular. In reality, the form is less dramatic than depicted in the film. Shamal is a former fishing village, so we wanted to relate the stadium to the local heritage by making it resemble a traditional dhow fishing boat.”
He adds that this response to the locale is an approach that is adopted throughout the designs. “For instance, the Qatar University stadium features Arabic decoration on the façade. A lot of clients want iconic stadiums, but these are not always related to a place.”

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