Friday, July 24, 2015

Modern Medieval: Chelsea's New Football Cathedral

Here in the States, sports stadiums can be either hit-or-miss, and their styles are all over the map. There are traditional venues, like baseball’s Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, popular newer venues like Baltimore’s Camden Yards, or huge mega-parks, like the Dallas Cowboy’s AT&T Stadium. The design of sports stadiums is a specialist trade, generally dominated by a handful of successful firms.

With this in mind, I was fascinated by the design for Chelsea’s new football (soccer) stadium, developed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who have unveiled plans for a gargantuan new home for Chelsea FC, “inspired by the design of Westminster Abbey”. As The Guardian points out in a recent article about the design:
“If football is England’s national religion, the sport may soon have its very own majestic cathedral…”

With concept drawing currently on display, the design is said to take its cues from the gothic architecture of the Abbey, in whose diocese the stadium once stood. The new plan was commissioned by the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, and is expected to cost at least £500m.  The plan will also boost overall crowd capacity from 42,000 to 60,000.

Clearly, based on the concept drawings, the proposed stadium looks nothing like what you might expect, using massive masonry, heavy brick piers and soaring vaults. Parts of it recall London’s Victorian railway viaducts, while other parts do resemble a soaring, buttressed cathedral. The design was also created to blend into the dense, urban location of the stadium, as elevated brick walkway will bring supporters directly into the stands above a world of bars, shops and cafes located in the arches beneath the structure.

From what I can see from the rendering, the concept is a little fantastic, a little outrageous, and utterly brilliant. It is highly difficult to integrate the massing, style and unique design elements of medieval architecture into the modern urban landscape without the result looking like a Disney theme park or something that’s just downright ugly. While I’m sure not everyone will love this design, I see it as highly original, and a very successful effort in using medieval architecture as a modern design inspiration.
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