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Insight into stadium design

Posted on 16 December 2008  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

David Keirle, chairman of KSS, gives us an insight into the thinking behind the designs of the new stadium.

1. When you were initially approached to design the new stadium, what was the brief you were given by the Club and do you feel these aims have been achieved?

We were given a very clear brief by Daniel, and that was to provide fantastic atmosphere. There are a number of things people criticise the existing stadium for, but one thing it does have is fantastic atmosphere, that intensity and proximity of the fans to the pitch. Daniel made it clear he wanted a world class stadium, but he wanted to do things slightly differently. We wanted to give fans the best possible experience and recreate the atmosphere at the current stadium, and that's been the single most important factor as we've gone along.

As to whether we've achieved it, I think that's for others to judge, but I am very excited about what we've done. We've spent a long time getting this right, and Daniel's pushed us extremely hard on the design. Designing a big stadium is always complicated, and there are many factors to judge and balance, but I'm really excited about what we've done and I think it's something that will really separate us from other clubs.

2. Talk us through the design of the stadium.

We wanted to design a stadium that really reflects the Spurs brand. Fans will know that we've had a reputation over the years for flowing football, so we've tried to reflect these flowing lines. The whole architecture has responded to that concept and it is a flowing design that really picks up on that. We've focused on major entrances in the corners so fans can see them and it's obvious where they are with big video screens outside. It's a single entity that can be seen from a great distance, most of north London, particularly at night when the roof will appear to float above the stadium because we've got a wonderful screen of glass that links the two. We're intending to clad the building in aluminium shingles because it's a very complex shape, and it will allow us to shape the elevations of the building. That in itself will lift it above any other stadium and make it look so great. We've had a positive response from everyone we've shown it to, from all the various local governments and authorities, and I think it's a very exciting design.

3. The Club has been looking at options for several years now in respect of a new stadium - can you elaborate on this?

We were initially commissioned about five years ago to look at options for the existing stadium and looked at what it might be possible to do with the east and west stands and to upgrade north and south. But those proved very limiting and came nowhere near to the quality of fan experience or overall capacity the board at that time were considering was appropriate for Spurs. So that was reasonably quickly put to one side and we were then asked to look at other potential sites in north east London. We came up with about 18 or 20 sites that had the potential to manage a stadium of this size. But for one reason or another, they were all either undeliverable, not viable or nowhere near transport. All of those fell away and we started looking at a new stadium two years ago, and that was looking at options for the existing site and whether we could play away for a couple of seasons. It was about that time that we started expanding the site and looking at what those options are. A few months ago re-developing on the existing site became viable and deliverable.

4. What considerations did you take into account when designing the new stadium with respect to fans and local residents?

Designing a stadium like this is a whole myriad of geometric requirements and fan experience requirements, but there were some very key aspects to it. The first one was that Daniel really wanted a world class stadium that truly reflected the Spurs brand and that was materially different from other stadiums. Clearly many stadiums are following a common theme these days, but we were really looking at doing things differently. That meant we had to look at delivering the best possible fan experience and that was across a range of different levels, but most importantly that would replicate the intense atmosphere and viewing experience of our current stadium. I'm a Spurs fan who goes to a lot of stadium, and while the existing stadium has many faults as a stadium behind the scenes, it has the best atmosphere of any stadium in the Premier League, it's just stunning. Everything that we have done since we started this has been aimed at recreating that intense atmosphere. We're not chasing a headline capacity.

The other issue is that when it proved impossible to relocate sufficiently far away from the existing site to build a whole new stadium, and looking to vacate a ground for a number of years proved in no way viable or attractive as an option, the next thing was to look at designing a stadium that could be phased so that we could build approximately two thirds of it while we are still playing at home and then knock down the existing stadium, completing the new one the following season - so that we're always playing at our home. It was also a great opportunity to maintain the terrace of listed buildings to the north.

We wanted the stadium to be part of a much wider development with the new supermarket, housing and new public space. It is important that this sits comfortably within the locality, contributes to the area and provides enough reasons and facilities for the fans to arrive earlier, depart later and enjoy a total matchday experience.

Those are the real key design drivers that then lead on to maximising the fan experience, atmosphere and the facilities we want within the concourse. Anyone that knows the current stadium knows the concourse is very tight and it's difficult to get a drink and food at half-time, there aren't as many toilets as there should be because it's the design of a different era. We're looking at providing the best facilities and I think the Club wanted the stadium that would sit as a single object in its public realm and we'd look at it and think it's amazing, it's different to anything that's gone before.


5. How does this design differ from other new stadiums we have seen in recent years?

We focused on providing a much better atmosphere, a much better environment and intense relationship between fans and players than exists elsewhere. For instance, the distance set between the first row of seats and the pitch is something that's been criticised in many larger stadiums because, in complying with all the requirements in terms of safety, sight lines and everything else, it's much easier when you start further away from the pitch. We've turned that on it's head and said we're going to be metres closer than other comparable stadiums. So we've started from the point of view that we want people to have a similar kind of experience going to the new stadium as they do at the current stadium in terms of where they sit. The one thing you'll notice is that, in some places, we're four and a half metres closer to the pitch than at most other stadia.

It's not just about being closer to the action, it's also about being related to what's back-of-house. We've been looking at the offer on various concourses and executive levels to give a great relationship between where you sit and watch and what you can do there, how you can get in and out of the stadium.

We've looked at really trying to emphasise the public realm outside the stadium so that fans have got somewhere to meet. We're embedding video screens into the external envelope of the building so what we can build up the atmosphere outside, and providing the right facilities within the stadium enables people to arrive earlier. We want fans there an hour and a half before kick off so that fans can really enjoy the experience. The other big thing we've really worked on is keeping the noise within the stadium.

We have spent a great deal of time looking at different roof formations. The roof has been designed to focus the noise back onto the crowd and onto the pitch. All the seating is enclosed, there are no open corners, so everything is focused back onto the pitch and the acoustics will maximise the impact of the vocal support from fans. The stadium will have a roof that allows us to have four large screens up in the top corners, which means every spectator will be able to see a whole host of information.

So the overall spectator experience will be a million miles away from the current back-of-house, and very close to what happens on the pitch once you're in your seat. That's a balance that hasn't really been struck at many other stadiums that have been built in the last few years, I see that from a fans perspective. When you see the visuals of the new stadium, again it's really seen as a building which responds to the Spurs brand, which we see as representing style and flowing lines of football. We've tried to design something that reflects that and we've really achieved that.

6. How will the great atmosphere synonymous with Spurs home games be maintained within this new stadium?

It's about getting close to the pitch but it's also about keeping the atmosphere and noise within the stadium itself. The roof has been designed to focus the noise back onto the crowd and onto the pitch. It's not just about having a great atmosphere for the fans, it's about having an intense atmosphere for the opposition to come to and be intimidated by. There are no open corners so everything is focused back onto the pitch.

One of the things we've spoke about is how we get the fans to sing together when they go to the new stadium. One of the problems with new stadiums is fans moving from their historic home where they all sing together, so we'll be working with fan groups and asking where they'd like to be so it compares and really try to recreate this intense group of supporters. It's not just a design issue, it's a question of how the crowd works.
We also want to make sure the atmosphere isn't just about sitting in your seat; it's that you learn about the lineage that's imbedded within the building, and we're doing the same thing with the training ground and picking up on the heritage and the lineage of what's gone before and what's to come with the new players coming through the system. You will be able to learn about the heritage on the concourse and that builds it up. We went to look at some American stadia in the summer and we looked at how baseball teams picked up on their heritage and built up the atmosphere through great pictures and images on video screens throughout the stadium. That builds up to the moment you get in your seat and you realise how close you are considering this is a big stadium.

7. Fans have commented that having distinct stands is important. The new stadium is a bowl, how will that cover this point?

I am aware of the discussions regarding separate stands, but it's important to note that the current stadium is a bowl and does not have separate stands, almost all stadia are bowl designs for a very good reason. If we did separate the stands, you would have gaps in between them where the atmosphere can leak out, which we don't want. The current stands wrap around into a nice round bowl, but what they do have is distinct personalities. Park Lane is very different from Paxton Road and The Shelf, so what we've looked at is creating a very tight wrap-around bowl that gives the opportunity for different personalities because each of the upper tiers will be distinct and separate. So you will actually get the tight feel of a bowl, but also the feeling that each stand has it's own personality.

The bowl design means good sight lines from every single seat and also means, with the design of our tiers, that every fan will have a view of all the fans in the stadium.

8. What is the expected capacity?

The Chairman has been quite clear in his brief to us - it's not about chasing headline capacity, it about atmosphere and fan experience. The key issue is that we're going to have the best atmosphere of any Premier League stadiums both now and afterwards, so everything relates back to that.

We're going to be somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000. It's getting the balance right between proximity to the pitch, seat width, leg room, sight lines, all of those combined. We could give everyone a much bigger capacity but everyone will be further away from the pitch. We think that being closer, and we've talked to fan groups and a lot of people at the club, gives you that intensity.

9. What excites you most about this project?

I think we have the chance to see something a bit different. We've been involved in a number of stadium projects over the years, but as a Spurs fan and a football fan, the opportunity to be able to design a total piece of architecture sitting in this urban block, which seeks to reflect everything about Spurs, is exciting. It's not just about architecture, it's about fan experience. It's a wonderful challenge to be given as a stadium architect.

10. Would you say this is a stadium of the future?

I think it really is a stadium of the future. You have to remember these projects take a long time from start to finish, so any of the new stadiums we have seen recently would have been designed at least eight to ten years ago. Now we've had the opportunity to look at the best in the world and we've taken all the tips and brought them together, so it's a real opportunity for us to design something which is. Having shown a number of people the design, somebody recently said to me that they thought this was the first of a brand new generation of stadia.