A Festival of Lights at Euro 2016

Credit Laurent Shen

Just a few weeks ago, we saw the first international match at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Two teams lined up after months of fierce competition, each having earned their place in the final, and with moments to go before kick-off.

The only difference between then and the spectacle of football that we are about to see during the UEFA Euro 2016 Finals is the code that was being played. While English rugby team Saracens faced a vociferous blue and white-dominated crowd for Paris’ Racing 92 in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final back in May, football fans from across Europe are about to pour into Lyon for 6 matches during the football tournament, including a semi-final match.

The brief

When Populous were first approached by Olympique Lyonnais to design a new stadium for their multi-championship winning team 2006, the club had Emirates Stadium – the recently opened home ground of Arsenal F.C. – in mind as a template for the new fortress for their fans. It quickly became clear, however, that while it might be an inspiration, any Grand Stade in Lyon would need to be developed and designed uniquely for this great club and city, placing their history and future to the fore.

No two stadiums are the same. And with its huge canopy roof, Lyon looks very different from any other stadium that I’ve been able to work on or even seen, anywhere in the world. Four weeks ago, the huge canopy sheltered 60,000 vociferous rugby fans on consecutive nights in Lyon. This was fortunate, because on the second night we were treated to an incredible downpour. As we ran towards the stadium, I was suddenly very glad that we had designed the roof to overhang the podium by up to 30m in places. It certainly fulfilled its brief of providing shelter and a sense of community that night!

The lights

The other thing you notice about the roof, especially at night, is the lights. If Lyon is perhaps most famous for its gastronomy (and believe me, its reputation is deserved), its ‘festival of lights’ is surely not far behind. Over the years, Lyon has developed deep and vital artistic and economic ties with the medium of light across cinema, art, and celebration. This relationship began in the 19th century, as the Lumière brothers developed new photographic processes that brought the first moving pictures, and put Lyon on the map as the home of cinematography. The film industry still plays an important role in life in Lyon. The world-famous ‘Fête des Lumières’ has been held annually in Lyon since 2009. This four day event draws visitors from around the world, with light shows and a film festival that features local and international films. This festival was a key inspiration to the design team, with bespoke architectural lighting incorporated into the design at an early stage.

The atmosphere

We designed Parc OL to facilitate and generate an incredible atmosphere. Whilst it is primarily the home ground of a top-level football client, being designed to host a variety of sports and events was key in the initial brief from the club. The OL home fans are well known throughout France for singing to one another between the north and south stands. They even have crowd leaders to orchestrate the singing. So one of the key features of the bowl design is a flat rake on the end stands, meaning that every fan in the stand can see one another, really intensifying the atmosphere. I can’t wait to see what the international crowds can do during the Euros!

Creating a fortress

After attending a handful of games at the stadium now, I’m delighted to say that we exceeded even our high expectations. The stadium really took off during the European Rugby Cup Finals. What’s more, this atmosphere is translating into success on the pitch. When the stadium opened on 9th January, the club were 9th in Ligue 1, a far cry from their heyday of 7 consecutive league titles in the 2000’s. At the end of the season, Olympique Lyonnais sat 2nd in Ligue 1, unbeaten in their new stadium, and even overcoming the might of Paris Saint Germain at home. The crowd have urged their team on with a cacophony of noise and excitement.

If all goes to plan, England could potentially play a semi-final game here against France on 6th July. Now that is a game I’d love to see!

Grand Stade de Lyon – Euro 2016 schedule:

  • 13/06/16 – Game 1, 21.00: Belgium v Italy – Group E
  • 16/06/16 – Game 2, 18.00 (Lyon): Ukraine v Northern Ireland – Group C
  • 19/06/16 – Game 3, 21.00 (Lyon): Romania v Albania – Group A
  • 22/06/16 – Game 4 18.00 (Lyon): Hungary v Portugal – Group F
  • 26/06/16 – Game 5 15.00 (Lyon): Winner A v Third-place C/D/E – Match 4
  • 06/07/16 – Game 6 21.00 (Lyon): Winner QF1 v Winner QF2 – SF1

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