Stadiums, arenas, and sports centers: identity and technology
  1. Home
  2. What's On
  3. Stadiums, arenas, and sports centers: symbols of identity and technological architecture

Stadiums, arenas, and sports centers: symbols of identity and technological architecture

Zaha Hadid Architects | 3XN | Iotti + Pavarani Architetti | Berger+Parkkinen Associated Architects

Stadiums, arenas, and sports centers: identity and technology
By Editorial Staff -

Nowadays, sport and leisure facility architecture is an important field for experimentation, in which architects can trial innovative design strategies supported by cutting-edge technologies. These are community-oriented structures that often come with high budgets, and generate enormous public and media interest.

Although we might still associate modern stadiums with the arenas of ancient Rome – and structural similarities still exist – a closer look reveals that the evolution of sports infrastructure has also involved a radical evolution in their outward appearance.

If we look at the recent history of European football stadiums, for example, we can see how they’ve quickly evolved from the simple sports fields of the late 19th century to the huge stadiums built for a sport with mass popularity in the early 20th century. Technological innovation has also joined the mix. First, with the use of new construction materials, such as concrete and steel. A case in point is Rome’s Palazzetto dello Sport (1958) designed by Pier Luigi Nervi with a roof composed entirely of wedge-shaped prefabricated reinforced concrete modules. Later, with stadiums used to host major musical and community events, they developed their own highly distinctive identities.

If we compare FIFA World Cup stadiums from over the last twenty years, we can see how local differences have also been a characterizing element in the construction of new sports infrastructure. An example is the technological profiles of the structures created for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002, where, for the first time, materials derived from recycled textiles, such as Teflon, ETFE, and PTFE, were used. By contrast, the stadium for Euro 2004 in Portugal, the work of Eduardo Souto de Moura, was all about connecting with context – an architectural concept that doesn’t renounce technology but uses it to create a unity with the local setting. The project was, in fact, carved into the face of the Monte do Castro quarry, which still forms the backdrop to one of the goals.


The 2006 World Cup in Germany marked a technological and ecological turning point, with the building of the Allianz Arena, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. A similar shift relating to the use of local materials happened in South Africa in 2010, while there’s enormous expectation surrounding Qatar in 2022.


The Sport & Leisure category of The Plan Award 2021


The projects submitted in the Sport & Leisure category of The Plan Award, an annual international award for excellence in architecture, interior design, and urban planning, offer many insights that confirm all these trends. Along with the award’s nineteen other categories, the Sport & Leisure category will again be a feature in 2021, dedicated to sports grounds and sports facilities, playgrounds, and entertainment venues. The registration deadline is May 31.

Read more about participating in The Plan Award 2021.


Al Janoub Stadium

Zaha Hadid Architects designed the first new stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar: Al Janoub Stadium. The facility opened in 2019 to host the final of the Amir Cup, the national soccer championship.

This stadium was created using the most up-to-date and sophisticated technological and design concepts. The operable roof, engineered by Schlaich Bergermann Partner, and cooling system, powered by solar harvesting, mean that the facility can be used during Qatar’s hot summers. The roof was designed in sympathy with the cladding, using pleated fabric and cables. When extended, it covers the oculus above the playing field, creating a sheltered environment for games. Passive design principles were used in conjunction with computer modeling and wind tunnel tests to maximize comfort levels for both players and spectators.

Read more about the project in English.


This evolution in the construction and composition of stadiums has involved all types of sports and leisure facilities, its effects even spilling over into the community, cultural, political, and financial spheres. Over recent years especially, the focus of architects has been slowly broadening to include the design of everything around the building itself. More attention than ever is being paid to the design of community spaces, green spaces, and mixed residential/commercial areas connected to sports facilities.


RCF Arena Reggio Emilia

An example from Italy is the RCF Arena Reggio Emilia, the work of Iotti + Pavarani Architetti, Tassoni & Partners, and Lauro Sacchetti Associati. The project involved repurposing an unused fifty acre (20 ha) site within the airport with zero land use. The development has bolstered the city’s capacity to host entertainment and community events. It’s also put Reggio Emilia on track to hosting major national and international events of all kinds, with the highly user-friendly stadium specifically designed for the purpose.

The project includes spaces that can be reconfigured as needed. Designed for major international events, the Arena Verde (Green arena) seats up to a hundred thousand people, with seating on a 5% slope to ensure excellent views and acoustics. The Area Concerti (Concert area) is for smaller events of national interest, while the Area Accoglienza (Reception area) is intended to host minor events as well as temporary structures providing spectator services at major events.

Set in an urban park just a stone’s throw from the city, RCF Arena Reggio Emilia is a highly sustainable project, designed to provide the best in safety and medical services, ease of access, and prestige guest services, all aimed at achieving strategic market position.

Read more about the project in italian


Sap Garden

A high level of attention to green areas and sustainability can be seen in the Sap Garden project, a basketball and ice hockey training facility, designed by 3XN Architects. The design excels in its ability to create a flexible, multi-function facility with its own distinctively modern and original identity. The project both reflects the architects’ vision while integrating harmoniously into the surrounding parkland and existing buildings.

An artificial hill provides access to the center, while also adding a new public recreation space to the park, with the existing Olympiapark trail system now expanded to cover the hill. All these aspects ensure that the facility is a clear and unambiguous centerpiece in the surrounding parkland.

Read more about the project in English.


Paracelsus Bad & Kurhaus

Last up is an urban project in the center of Salzburg. Berger + Parkkinen Associated Architects were behind the design of the Paracelsus Bad & Kurhaus, a public swimming pool that has created a dialogue between the late 19th century block structures of the Auerspergstraße and the open development along Schwarzstraße, the landscape of the Kurgarten, and the Mirabellgarten.

“The building’s outstanding impact is a result of the dialogue between the new spaces and existing surroundings: the baroque gardens of the Mirabellgarten, the old town, and the surrounding mountains. The indoor swimming pool was conceived as an extension of the park onto the third floor.”

Alfred Berger

The entire top floor, which houses saunas and the spectacular pool itself, offers views right across the city. Meanwhile, the facility is surrounded by ceramic louvers that screen it off from passers-by. The pool level is fully glazed and overlooks parkland trees and the city.

Read more about the project in English.


If you’ve designed a sport or leisure facility – built after January 1, 2018 or yet to be completed – you have until May 31 to register for the Sport & Leisure category of The Plan Award 2021. Enter your project via the registration page.



Eduardo Souto de Moura Braga Stadium 02 - 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia from Taichung, Taiwan, Taiwan - Licenza CC BY 20 - Fonte Wikipedia

Palazzetto dello Sport Roma - Blackcat - Opera propria - Licenza CC BY-SA 3.0 - Fonte Wikipedia

All other credits relating to photos and render refer to individual articles.

Keep up with the latest trends in the architecture and design world

© Maggioli SpA • THE PLAN • Via del Pratello 8 • 40122 Bologna, Italy • T +39 051 227634 • P. IVA 02066400405 • ISSN 2499-6602 • E-ISSN 2385-2054