Perfect Symmetry

Finding agreement in dimension, due proportion and built arrangement is as difficult today as it was in classical times. Both sides in the the battle of styles are as equally wrong – as you might say.

Football stadiums are rebuilt, knocked up in a few years and redesigned in ways that very often compromise or enhance the whole depending on which side of modernity you sit on. A sense of harmonious beautiful proportion and balance is hard to locate depending on your preference. But when it is found embracing it is a duty.

Symmetry finds its ways into stadium architecture at every scale, from the external views to seating arrangements that are as glorious as the pews in a gothic cathedral. Spectator seating can be a peaceful experience or an ordeal depending on whether the fixture is similar to the demands of a congregation or the intensity of a courtroom.

The elaborate use of symmetry both in their structure and in ornamentation is a rarity in modern football.

Moorish buildings like the Alhambra Palace in Granada are ornamented with complex patterns made using translational and reflection symmetries with rotations that leave visitors amazed.

In truth ornamentation is often the last aspect thought of these days where stadium design is concerned. With the emphasis on technology and the functional perfection of visual appearance small detail is hard to find. Very few stadiums in Europe match up to the ornate feel of the Pancho Aréna in Hungary which has been listed among the top three most beautiful stadiums of the world.

The reason why this is the case is the wood-lined curved interiors that give spectators the feeling they are attending a Sunday church service, rather than a a football match. The thoughts of a local architect were crafted into a small yet wonderful masterpiece sponsored you could say by a Prime Minister yet unmatched in Europe in terms of a unique visual feel.

If the stadium at Felcsút was the pet project of the Hungarian Prime Minister Urban so the Puskás Aréna is the pride of the Hungarian Football Federation. From an open communist shell known as the Nepstadion has arisen a masterpiece that meets all current UEFA and FIFA stadium requirements.

This is a stadium that transcends socialist-realism and post modernism.

Brick built entrances and stairwells were all part of a monumental sized open bowl stadium that could almost have been built for the Olympic Games.

Old to New

By 2012 the Nepstadion was a stadium representative of a previous age; an age Hungarian football was desperate to shake off. Glorification in the era of the magical Magyars had long since wore thin, with successive generations of Hungarian players failing to live up the standard bearers of the golden age.

The national stadium was simply another reminder of a past long since gone.

Given its name, the Nepstadion (People’s stadium) was a potent symbol of the Hungarian communist era. In 2002 it was renamed in honour of Hungarian football’s greatest ever player Ferenc Puskas but it had become was so tired a complete rebuild on the same sight was needed.

New Structures

With the awarding of the 2010 World Cup to Qatar stadia visions of the future became more spectacular.

Advanced technologies would be mixed with a solid sustainable designs giving some of Europe’s most historic stadiums a new feel and setting often similar to the Doha skyline. 

It’s that respectfulness for historical context – and ensuring modernity does not infringe upon past space – that can be seen in Bucharest with the new Arena Nationala.

1989 Onwards

The Stadionul 23rd August was like many of its communist bloc partners – a hastily built venue that stood adjacent to one of the main throughfare boulevards in Central Bucharest. It was a stadium that often catered for many sports disciplines. Numerous other football-specific stadium already existed in the Romanian capital.

With an exposed running track – complemented by a host of pillars, columns and diplomatic balcony’s all fit for communist party dignitaries – this was Romania’s most ornate stadium. That was until it too, just as in Warsaw, Budapest and Kiev, became unfit for modern purposes.

The new arena in Bucharest comprises neoclassical ornamentation mixed with columns, arches and pillars. Gone are the communist era emblems of wheat, fir trees, oil and sunshine and incoming are the modern flags of Romania and UEFA.

The Stadionul Național had been built in 1953, for the 4th World Festival of Youth and Students. This was a communist sporting celebratory event with ideological goals that included protest against the Korean war and western colonialism.

The stadium actually forms part of the Lia Manoliu complex, Lia Manoliu being famous Romanian Olympic discuss thrower.

The Arena Națională (as it became known) can be found inside the larger Lia Manoliu National Sports Complex. There are three tiers and the stadium is split across Nord, Sud, Vest and Est. The Vest is typically considered to be the arena’s main feature, housing the dressing rooms, players’ tunnel and technical areas.

The Arena Națională is built atop the same earth embankment that was built for Lia Manoliu Stadium in 1953. Well positioned flights of exterior steps that follow the slope of the earthen berm give access to the stadium seating.

Most noticeable is the alternation of tall and even taller outer columns which are combined with the refashioned earth embankments. This feature recalls the classical articulation and shape of the historical stadium. The grandstand roof meanwhile, and the retractable playing field canopy, are formed by a spoke-wheel structure with an outer compression ring.

A prestressed cable construction follows the elliptical configuration of the upper tier with a focus when inside on the TV screens that hover overhead at the centre of the field. Its is a combination of precast concrete units; a stunningly visual roof with membranes that folds together above the outskirts of the playing field that finish this arena.

The Arena Națională has the city of Bucharest as its owner and is very much a new venture in architecture and modern city urbanism.

Like many a new build it is considered a key part in the implementation of a city masterplan for culture and sport in the rapidly developing Romanian capital. That said the national Rugby stadium sits somewhere further north and is located in an area of the city that is far more upmarket than where the Arena Națională sits.

That said the football stadium building reflects the special local conditions of the landscape unlike the rugby stadium that is overshadowed and named after the Arch de Triumph.

Its height not only allows an impressive view, but also provides natural shading, shelter and ventilation for those watching. Moreover, the structural elements of the stadium are built to withstand extreme weather conditions including the cold winters that can be felt during a Romanian winter.

Bucharest’s Arena Națională is a landmark building which was overhauled functionally, technically and in terms of infrastructure. The goal was to preserve the characteristic location and appearance of the expressive concrete structure while expanding the supporter capacity who venture to seats via intricate stairwells. Once inside all fans now shelter under a mixture of concrete and a lightweight membrane roof structure creating coverage for all – and not just a selection of state party dignitaries.

Year Opened2011
Opening Attendance55,000
Record Attendance53,329 (Romania v Netherlands (2012))
Pitch Size105 x 68 (7140)
OwnerMunicipality of Bucharest
Clubs HostedRomania national football team, Dinamo București, Steaua București, FCSB
First FixtureRomania v France (06.09.2011)