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Following the release of UEFA's extremely comprehensive Guide to Quality Stadiums, Stadia speaks to Thierry Favre, head of UEFA National Associations Development, about the association's vision for the future development of successful and sustainable stadia worldwide
When a number of key football administrators came together in Switzerland in 1954 to form the Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) – the parent body of European soccer – the organisation’s guiding principle was to foster and develop unity and solidarity among the European football community. Pretty much six decades later, UEFA’s mission remains very much the same, although the association has since also assumed the position as ‘guardian’ of football in Europe, with the aim to protect and nurture the wellbeing of the sport at all levels.
It is with this role in mind that UFEA recently published its UFEA Guide to Quality Stadiums – a comprehensive step-by-step guide designed to assist anyone involved in the commissioning, design or (re)construction of a stadium. Stadia being the vital element in the game, UEFA’s stance is simply that better stadia mean better football. “Our aim with the guidebook was to provide an easy and concise resource to help any stadium developer in the quest for better quality stadium design, covering most of the pertinent issues from the earliest days right up to the stadium opening,” reveals Thierry Favre, head of UEFA National Associations Development. “The book came about following various requests from representatives of our member associations following two highly successful workshops focused on building and operating a new stadium that were staged in 2011 at Espanyol’s Estadi Cornellà-El Prat in Spain. That’s where the idea took shape and it appeared logical to us to put it together with the architects who conducted the workshop – Mark Fenwick and Joan Tusell – who built that excellent stadium at a reasonable cost.”
The guide is currently a one-of-a-kind publication. Although a great deal of information was – and still is – included in manuals, regulations and bidding requirements, this is the first time that such an extensive, education-focused guide has been produced by UEFA, and the organisation hopes that its publication will lead to new standards of functionality and design being reached in stadia throughout Europe.
Although other such guides exist in the industry, including such venerable tomes as Football Stadiums by FIFA and the Stadium Atlas by Stefan Nixdorf, the UEFA guide uniquely features five case studies that examine the quality of existing stadia built in different capacities, periods and locations throughout Europe. A non-exhaustive breakdown of the cost is also highlighted – ‘real-world’ examples that will aid decision-makers of new stadia. Favre feels that the detail of the construction phases and the advice relating to the professionals that need to be involved are also unique elements of the guide.
Ever since the first stadia were built in Ancient Greece, the concept of the ‘stadium’ has continuously evolved and developed to suit the needs of different sports and events. Some 30-40 years ago, such buildings were designed largely as multifunctional venues that would serve not only football, but other sports as well, such as athletics. Recent trends, however, show stadia focusing on the needs of a single sport, with an increased emphasis on spectator experience and community welfare. “Above all, they’re becoming safer, more secure and more spectator-friendly,” Favre believes. “Better facilities are being developed for all who enter the stadium, with careful attention paid to fans, spectators with disabilities, players, media representatives and VIPs, while much consideration is also being given to the communities in which the new stadia are placed.”
In particular, Favre notes that floodlights, emergency generators, sanitary facilities and refreshments are all facilities in the stadium environment to have been recently enhanced to improve comfort and safety. Improvements in control rooms, turnstiles, security cameras, under-soil heating and artificial lighting are also prevalent.
Functionality over design
Although football stadia are often regarded as architectural icons and design is undeniably highly important, the guide advises new stadia should focus on incorporating the latest technology to offer the best possible facilities in a people-friendly environment. “Design should follow functionality and not the other way round,” Favre suggests. “This is why we point out that all the relevant experts should be involved in the initial phase of the project and not just in the final one – a mistake that still occurs far too often and results in significant shortcomings. Poor pitch conditions, for instance, can result from a lack of natural light and oxygen as well as inadequate crowd management.”
UFEA’s guide is structured to show the chronological sequence of events that should take place from conception to completion, covering a range of issues in detail, from choosing an architect to resolving legal issues, in doing so making it relevant to almost anyone involved in a new-build or renovation project. “It explains how to organise and put together the best possible team to achieve the desired result,” Favre continues. “In addition, readers will find information concerning where to find the essential details. It is a very good roadmap of how to get started.”
Sustainability and community
UEFA also hopes that owners and operators of existing stadia that are not currently undergoing renovation will find the information on maintenance and sustainable concepts useful. “For UEFA, sustainability is a highly important topic,” Favre says. “We believe there must be a greater focus on this area, which is why we have developed different chapters on possible areas where sustainability can be implemented in stadium design.”
The guide firstly addresses environmental consciousness: reducing general energy consumption and waste and carbon emissions; generating local energy (solar panels and wind energy, etc); and promoting rationing and recycling of natural resources (i.e. water collection). Then it looks at creating sustainable architecture for people: fostering the wellbeing of players and visitors, design with a ‘human scale’ (i.e., creating a pleasant environment), creating a sense of place via user-friendly accesses, and encouraging the use and enjoyment of common spaces to enhance social interaction.
The focus on people continues as UEFA addresses the issue of local communities, stating that it is vital that the project team not only understands the needs of visitors to the stadium but also those of the local residents. “It is essential that a stadium – a building of that size and for that type of activity – forms an integral part of its local community and neighbourhood,” Favre adds. “Added values for them must be identified from the outset of a project.”
The guide advises that local residents and businesses should be made fully aware of the benefits that the new stadium will bring to their community – for example, an improvement of amenities, local regeneration, employment for local residents and a resource for local business. Communities also need to be reassured about the potential negative aspects such as noise pollution, the impact of large crowds on matchdays and public safety, in addition to the major interferences that could result during the construction phase. “They should be involved in the process and clear communication must be established with the ultimate goal to ensure they understand that a well-designed stadium can be a source of local pride,” Favre says.
The stadia of the future
With its Guide to Quality Stadiums, UEFA hopes to improve the overall standard of both new and existing football stadia in Europe by assisting all those involved in the decision process. Favre believes the sharing of experience between professionals means that fewer mistakes will be made – firstly by helping everyone involved identify what they want, need and can afford. Additionally, the organization hopes the guide will discourage clubs from ‘over-building’ or wasting money trying to become ‘pure’ football stadia, while also providing a better understanding of the specificity of the game. “Basic traditional issues such as being close to the pitch with an unobstructed view can be bettered by improved access, good standard facilities and fully-covered, all-seater stadiums with better comfort and the correct lighting levels,” Favre insists.
In the future, UEFA envisages Europe’s stadia being developed in parallel with current trends, using the latest technological advances to enhance spectator experience and increase community benefit. “When you look, for example, at what you can already do with a smartphone,” Favre concludes, “a stadium should be able to integrate and embrace the latest technologies in order to service the audience, and who knows what the future will bring in this field.”