Why build a stadium that can be dismantled like LEGO
28 Oct 2019

FIFA has always defended the World Cup by saying that it is an engine for development, a source of income and an event that promotes tourism and investment for the host country. While this may be true, it does not necessarily mean that governments or states manage it properly. Just look at most of the facilities that were built for Brazil 2014: immense stadiums now sitting empty simply because they are too far away for people to use them. Or worse still, Soccer City, a football city built in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup has been vandalised and closed until further notice. The big question is whether there is another way to continue with the World Cup tradition without involving significant economic investment, especially for countries that have a greater need for schools and hospitals than for football temples.

Qatar 2022 wants to send us the message that yes, it is possible. For the first time in history, there will be a football stadium that can be dismantled and then repurposed or resold. This will be the Ras Abu Aboud stadium located in the city of Al Khor, one of the venues for the next World Cup.  Once the championship is over, this 40,000-seat venue will be used to create up to three different buildings which can be moved to other locations, sold or donated in pieces to developing countries. There are multiple opportunities for reuse since the owners will receive a full instruction manual for assembly and disassembly along with the design. Sustainability is achieved by the durability of the components, and it has been estimated that it could be used in up to six consecutive World Cups; in other words, several decades of being assembled and disassembled before suffering any noticeable deterioration.

The interior is indistinguishable compared to conventional stadiumsThe interior is indistinguishable compared to conventional stadiums

It is significant that during the conversations that gave rise to this stadium, the architect who came up with the idea, Mark Fenwick from the Fenwick Iribarren firm, alluded to what happened in Brazil and South Africa. His firm had already won the contract for the construction of two other Qatar World Cup stadiums, so when the Qatari authorities asked for one more, he addressed the fact that with a population of only 1.5 million people, their country was already going to have seven stadiums. Adding another one, especially in a city as small as Al Khor, would almost certainly mean that it would see little use after the World Cup. On the other hand, if it could be divided up into several buildings, this would mean smaller, more useful facilities for the city’s 30,000 inhabitants.

The idea was a hit, and when Fenwick was asked to implement it, he proposed a development based around Lego and Meccano, which we used to play with as children. These allow you to build either a single toy or several different ones, by following a set of instructions. The comparison was not made by accident: after informal discussions with the Qatar World Cup’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, he went to a toy shop to buy boxes of building games. He had an idea in mind, and after analysing the toys he came to several conclusions that could be applied to the real, adult world, especially when combined with the most common object in international transport: commercial sea containers. Due to their size and cost, they have already been used in architecture for experimental housing solutions, but they have never before been used in a building of this size.

The containers will not only be building blocks, but they will also be used to transport all of the parts required for their assembly. They were also an ideal solution for the port city of Al Khor. The coastal location makes it easy for a ship to arrive with all the containers and will also facilitate their future transport by sea to anywhere in the country or the world.

Currently, under construction, the foundations for the Ras Abu Aboud stadium are very sophisticated, as are the water and electrical facilities. This autumn, the ship transporting 3,500 containers will leave the port of Valencia to cross the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. All of the parts will literally be inside, together with 1,000 containers painted in different colours which will be placed within the structure like shelves on a bookcase. Just like plug-and-play devices, they have been designed to connect together and start working immediately, with the lounges and toilets already mounted inside. The gaps between containers will help the air circulate, creating a natural cooling system for the stadium by taking advantage of the sea breeze that blows in from the bay. Its completion date is scheduled for 2020.

However, the most striking aspect of the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, its cost, cannot be seen with the naked eye. The cost of building the stadium will only be half that of the other stadiums’ thanks to its component parts and to the shorter construction time. And although its GDP makes Qatar the richest country in the world, its authorities are concerned about the spending on the World Cup, and about making efforts to protect the environment. The first dismantlable stadium also paves the way for countries less well-off than Qatar to take part in the driving force of a World Cup without falling into debt or going bankrupt.

Fenwick stresses that this can be achieved without having to give up the characteristics of 21st century stadiums: “A stadium is no longer a container of fans during the period in which the event lasts, it has become a meeting point and a new social venue capable of generating multiple activities – human, sporting and even urban – which transcend the physical dimension and enter the realm of emotions.” It should also be mentioned that the football community is no longer just the people sitting in the stands or the group of loyal followers previously referred to. Today the fans are a much bigger and more demanding group, capable of asking football for commitments to the rest of society’s concerns over the planet, the environment and the resources of the country in which they are located.

Sign up for the Certificate in Sports Facilities Management

The Barça Innovation Hub team


Building the future of the sports industry