Guangdong Stadium – Guangzhou, China
Guangdong Stadium, located in China’s third largest city, opened in 2001 and can seat 80,000 to watch soccer and track and field events. This fall, it will host the 16th Asian Games, a quadrennial event that’s the continent’s version of summer Olympics.
The stadium’s signature design element, its flowing, ribbon-like, cantilevered roof, represents “an image of a runner breaking the tape,” says Jon Niemuth, principle at the architecture firm AECOM Ellerbe Becket, which won an international competition to design the stadium. Additionally the upper section of the stadium’s seating bowl is shaped like petals in honor of Guangzhou’s title of “The Flower City.”
Sapporo Dome – Sapporo, Japan
The aerodynamic Sapporo Dome has been around for nearly a decade, playing host to matches during the 2002 World Cup. It has since been the home of the soccer team Consadole Sapporo and of Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific Baseball League.
Architect Hiroshi Hara designed the dome to allow the near 20 feet of snow the Northern Japanese city averages each year to sheet off of the roof more easily to lessen stress on the structure. Despite the unique exterior design, “the inside is a building that’s in some ways modeled off of the multiuse stadiums you’d see in America that can do baseball, soccer and concerts,” Niemuth says, but with a twist. The dome has a retractable grass field that slides into the stadium and rotates 90 degrees to maximize sightlines for soccer matches.
Soccer City Stadium – Johannesburg, South Africa
Reimagining the original stadium that was built back in 1986, Soccer City’s massive remodel finished just in time for the 2010 World Cup, where the 94,000-seat stadium will host the tournament’s opening ceremony, first match and final.
The panels that constitute the stadium’s façade are made of a highly compressed, fibrous concrete with gaps between that allow light to shine out at night. “We took colors and textures from the natural landscape of South Africa and took inspiration from the randomness of the stars in the Johannesburg night sky,” says Damon Lavelle, the stadium’s architect at the firm Populous.
Beijing National Aquatics Center – Beijing, China
More commonly known as “The Water Cube,” the aquatic center was the site of Michael Phelps’s unprecedented eight Olympic gold medals in 2008.
Inspired by an image of bubbles clustered together, the Sydney-based firm PTW Architects won an online vote by the Chinese public to build the Aquatics Center. The Water Cube’s square form was created in order to play off of the roundness of the Beijing Olympic Stadium located just a few hundred feet away, creating the “yin and yang of the Beijing Olympics,” Niemuth says. 100,000 square meters of the thin, UV-resistant ETFE plastic comprise the walls of the arena, held together with a maze of 22,000 steel beams for a breathtaking effect when lit up at night. “That exterior image is on par with the Bilbao Art Museum,” Niemuth says.
Beijing National Stadium – Beijing, China
The centerpiece of the Beijing Olympics’ stunning stadiums, the “Bird’s Nest” showcased an epic opening ceremony and possibly the Games’ most electrifying athlete, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Designed by Pritzker Award-Winning architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the stadium’s shape and latticework form are inspired by Chinese ceramics. The bold originality of the stadium derives from the games’ planning committee wanting its stadiums to be statements of China’s rise and assertion of national pride. “Rarely does a building become the defining element of the games,” Niemuth says.
Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
The home of soccer teams Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich, the 66,000-seat stadium was built for the 2006 World Cup where it hosted the opening match and France’s semifinal victory over Portugal.
Like the Beijing National Stadium, Allianz was designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, which created a stadium with 2874 inflated ETFE plastic panels, giving it a billowy, cloud-like form. Those translucent panels also allowed the architects to change the appearance of the stadium by adjusting illumination. Allianz “accentuated what we can do with light technology,” Niemuth says, “to completely transform these buildings with the color of lighting instead of just hanging a sign on it.”
Munich Olympic Park – Munich, Germany
Located just north of the city center, the park hosted the 1972 Olympic Games and its stadium, formerly the home of German Soccer’s most successful club, Bayern Munich, is the only one in the world to have hosted the Olympics, the World Cup Final and the European soccer championships final.
Combining stainless-steel cable nets, acrylic glass and supports, architect and structural engineer Frei Otto’s design of the Munich Olympic Park is a masterwork in tensile architecture. Never before had work like it been done on such a massive scale, and it’s a design that continues to permeate Otto’s pieces, according to Niemuth.
Ericsson Globe – Stockholm, Sweden
Opened in 1989, the 14,000-seat arena serves as the home arena for Sweden’s national men’s hockey team and for the last three years has been the venue for Sweden’s version of American Idol.
Not only is the Globe the largest spherical building in the world, it also serves as the sun in the world’s largest scale model of the Milky Way. The solar system is at 1:20 million scales with the planets located throughout Stockholm and Sweden. Forty-eight 90-foot curved pillars provide support for the aluminum panels that make up the arenas facade, and they hold up the Globe’s cupola, which has 144 skylights.
The Burj Al Arab Hotel Helipad – Dubai, UAF
In preparation for the 2005 Dubai Championships, the Burj Al Arab converted its helipad into a tennis court for Roger Federer and Andre Agassi to hit around.
Sure, it may be a bit of a stretch to call this a stadium (there are, for starters, no seats for an audience), but attached to the opulent Burj Al Arab Hotel and suspended 650 feet in the air this one-time tennis court provided one of the most scenic venues in sports. When the helipad isn’t a tennis court, guests can use it to shuttle to the airport for about $2700. The hotel is located on a man-made island just off the coast of Dubai and derives its sail-like shape from the region’s nautical history. The Burj’s “form has set in motion a number of other projects that look very similar,” Niemuth says. “When you’re in the Middle East you’ll see other buildings that were inspired by it.”
Estádio Municipal de Braga – Braga, Portugal
Built for the 2004 European soccer championships the 30,000-seat stadium is the home of the soccer team Sporting Braga.
Architect Eduardo Souto de Moura wanted to integrate the natural and the manmade with his stadium design, so to build it construction crews carved out a section from the quarry at Monte Castro and fit the stadium into the space. To further that integration, the stadium’s scoreboard was mounted on the granite cliff at the edge of the stadium. “In and of itself the stadium design is very simple, but it’s a really powerful image,” Niemuth says.
The Float – Marina Bay, Singapore
The Float, which opened in 2007, will be converted to a stage to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010.
Built as part of a land reclamation project that began in the 1970s, the Marina Bay development extends Singapore’s Central Business District. On the edge of the bay, the Float, a 30,000-seat grandstand faces a nearly 33,000-square-foot steel platform that sits atop 200 pontoons.
Sprint Center – Kansas City, Missouri
Built to lure an NHL or NBA team to Kansas City, Sprint Center, completed in 2007, still awaits a major-league anchor tenant. The stadium has been successful in luring NCAA basketball back to Kansas City after the sport had grown disinterested in playing games at the outdated Kemper Arena.
Sprint Center was built to be the centerpiece of the redevelopment of downtown Kansas City. In a rare collaboration some of the world’s biggest sports architecture firms, which are headquartered in Kansas City, teamed up to design the arena. “Sports architecture is what we do in Kansas City, it may be our No. 1 export to the rest of the world,” Niemuth says. The result proved quite different than the brick and mortar designs of American sports arenas, with a shimmering venue encased in 140,000 feet of glass.
Ingalls Rink – New Haven, CT
Built in 1958, the “Yale Whale” continues to be the home of the Yale Bulldog hockey team.
Finnish-American Eero Saarinen, himself a Yale grad and architect of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, designed the distinctive Ingalls Rink, which the Architectural Institute of America selected as one of America’s 150 favorite pieces of architecture. Ingalls “was from a time when there were buildings that were highly figural and expressive,” Niemuth says, “They were more than just sports buildings.”
Pengrowth Saddledome – Calgary, Canada
The home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, the Saddledome was completed in 1983 and hosted ice skating and hockey during the 1988 Winter Olympics.
The Saddledome’s shape evokes Calgary’s western heritage, which includes the world famous annual rodeo and fair the Calgary Stampede. Yet the signature saddle-like form also serves an important function, as the arena’s designers Graham McCourt Architects shaped the concrete roof as an inverse hyperbolic paraboloid so its weight would be supported without internal pylons that would block fans’ views.
Mellon Arena – Pittsburgh, PA
The arena known as “The Igloo” has been the home of the three-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins since the team’s inception in 1967. This season marks the Pens last at Mellon before the team moves to Consul Energy Arena.
Located in Steel City, Mellon Arena proudly boasts the world’s largest stainless steel retractable dome roof, the first retractable roof for a major indoor sports arena. “It’s a half a sphere, divided into three parts and it rotates in stacks,” Niemuth says. “It’s so simple and effective you think, ‘hey, why don’t we still do it that way?’”
Estadio Algarve – Faro, Portugal
Now the home of two teams in the lower divisions of Portuguese soccer, Sporting Clube Farense and Louletano Desportos Clube, the Estadio Algarve was the southernmost stadium constructed for the 2004 European soccer championships.
Estadio Algarve exemplifies vernacular architecture, which calls on local culture to inform a building’s design. With masts in the corners and translucent cloth stretched over the arched roofs to resemble sails, “the stadium calls upon the maritime setting and the history of Portugal’s great discoveries,” says Lavelle, the stadium’s architect. “Vasco de Gama took off from Faro on one of his first expeditions so the forms that derive from those cultural aspects.” But it wasn’t just ships that inspired the stadium design, Lavelle says, Southern Portugal’s gustatory delights are present too. “It’s almost crustacean-like as well, to match the local cuisine.”
University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, AZ
The stadium has been the home of the Arizona Cardinals since 2006 as well as the annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Additionally, it’s hosted the BCS Championship game and Super Bowl XLII, which saw the New York Giants beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots.
The sleek, silver stadium in the desert boasts the first retractable field in North America. Planted in a 2-acre tray that rolls on 16 rails, the idea of constructing a moving field began with the ownership’s desire and belief that football should be played on natural grass,” says Dennis Wellner, founding principal of the architecture firm Populous. The team also wanted a retractable roof to protect fans from the heat; however, “the opening in the roof would not be large enough for sunlight to fall on the field sufficiently so that the grass could remain healthy,” Wellner says. By having a field that rolled out of the stadium to fully bask in sunlight, the Cardinals could have a retractable roof and natural grass.
Cowboys Stadium – Arlington, TX
The $1.2 billion behemoth, dubbed “Jerryworld” after the Dallas Cowboys eccentric owner Jerry Jones, opened in 2009 and, with a capacity of over 100,000 it became the largest stadium in the NFL.
The centerpiece of Jerryworld is the massive scoreboard hanging over the field that features the world’s largest HDTVs. The two 2100-inch 1080p LED displays span 60 yards, weigh 600 tons and in the course of one game use more energy than the average American consumes in four months. And for the screen’s manufacturers, Mitsubishi Diamond Vision, fabricating them stretched the company to the limit. “There were times when every single one of our production lines was taken up with the Cowboys’ display,” says Dave Belding of Mitsubishi.