Q&A: Soccer Stadium Design Across the Globe

With the World Cup officially underway, a few of Populous’ accomplished soccer designers – Bruce Miller, Chris Lee and David Lizarraga – provide feedback on the state of soccer stadium design across the globe and what can be learned from this year’s World Cup, including from the design of Populous’ Arena das Dunas, in Natal.

From L to R - Bruce Miller; David Lizarraga; Chris Lee

Q: Bruce, with the World Cup underway, what can the MLS learn from the design of Arena das Dunas and the other World Cup stadiums?

A – Bruce Miller: As designers, we have to keep in mind that the MLS is part of a global soccer landscape.  The World Cup demonstrates the global popularity of the sport and the rising profile of US Soccer on the global stage.  The MLS is an up and coming league in this context, and we need to remember that the MLS venues we are designing today need to be planned for this elevated world presence.  This growth in popularity, talent, media and awareness is the most important dynamic affecting MLS stadium design. A recent survey for Forbes noted that the number of Americans who watch, attend or listen to soccer matches has expanded by 32 percent since 2010 – a clear indicator that American soccer fans are a rapidly growing faction.

Q: Chris, you’ve played an integral role in soccer projects across Europe and South America. Can you explain some of the differences working in each region, the fan base and how this impacts final design of soccer stadia?

A – Chris Lee: One of the unique things about Populous’ soccer experience is that we are global – we’ve worked everywhere from the US to South America to the Middle East to Europe – and with each project, our goal is to design a project that is representative of that city, that culture and that region. It is imperative for any foreigner coming to any country to understand the local culture and customs and accept that they are different from where we are from and as a designer – our role is to bring higher international experience but adapt it to suit that unique culture. With Arena das Dunas, I think that approach is very evident. The stadium design is inspired by the town of Natal’s topography of gently flowing dunes – which you can see in the undulations of the sculpted canopy. We captured the city – with its proximity to the water, climate and unique landscape – in our design.

One common thread, across all football projects we design, is the focus on the fan experience. We are committed to designing buildings that become second homes for fans – buildings where they feel intimately connected to the game. Football is a unique sport, with a uniquely passionate fan base, and our designs always set out to honor these fans.

Q: David, you’ve done quite a bit of work in South America and Mexico. What are the trends most impacting soccer stadia design in these areas? What will make Estadio de Futbol Monterrey, a project you’re currently working on, unique to the region?

A – David Lizarraga: Most sports facilities in México and South America were built in the 60’s and 70’s for Olympic Games or FIFA World cups; after that there was a period of dormancy in stadia design.  The 21st century is witnessing the awakening of this region of the world to some of the most advanced sports facilities. Some of the trends noticed in these new buildings are providing the highest level of comfort for spectators in new single sport buildings in contrast with multiuse facilities.

Another trend is the high level of player and spectator safety and security in South America. I see Estadio Monterrey becoming the high standard to follow for future venues in this part of the world.

In relation to Estadio Monterrey, the architectural finishes pay homage to the historical industrial activity of the city. The dynamic  skin and rolled steel trusses represent the steel mills, and the shape of the building is a response to the geographical elements of the site. It’s set lower in the south to permit views to “El Cerro de La Silla” the iconic mountain in Monterrey in addition to the gill type symphonic openings on the skin for enhanced ventilation.

The stadium will provide all its visitors with the most exciting and intimate experience in soccer in Monterrey and Mexico.

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