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Modern Rome

Rob Ridley spoke to the masterminds behind AS Roma’s new stadium about the rationale for its mix of contemporary and historic architectural design.

AS Roma will finally assume homeowner status in 2016 when the Italian Serie A football club moves into its new Stadio della Roma.

Earmarked to open for the 2016/17 season, the new 52,500-seater facility will see the club leave its home since 1953, the Stadio Olimpico, a venue owned by the Italian Olympic Committee and currently shared by Roma with city rivals Lazio.

The development of the Stadio della Roma is part of a wider drive by Italian clubs to move away from using municipally-owned venues as their home grounds, and will allow the club to join Juventus as the second Serie A team to own its stadium.

Though the masterplan for the Stadio della Roma was unveiled at the end of March, Roma has pursued the construction of a new stadium as one of the main global brand-enhancing and revenue-generating priorities of chairman James Pallotta since his American consortium acquired the team in December 2011.

“It is a simple fact of the economics of modern football that a club must have a modern stadium – with all the inherent amenities and revenue-generation capabilities – in order to remain consistently competitive,” Dan Meis, global director of sport for Woods Bagot, told SportBusiness International. Global architecture and consulting studio Woods Bagot was hired by Roma to design the €300 million venue.

“In addition to driving the revenues necessary to retain top-tier players, creating a unique fan experience is critical to attracting fans to the stadium rather than watching the game on TV,” he adds.

The location for the new stadium will be Tor di Valle, in the south-west part of Rome, where it will be built on the grounds of the city’s former racecourse. Expandable to a capacity of 60,000 for major events, the €300 million cost will be financed entirely privately.

US private investment firm Starwood Capital Group will partner Roma on the development of the stadium after acquiring a minority stake in the club around the same time the stadium blueprint was revealed. Under the deal, Starwood is a real estate capital partner in both Roma’s new stadium and the adjacent Tor di Valle complex, with the firm stating the partnership represents a strategic investment in Italian real estate.

Roman History

Meis, the design mastermind of the Stadio della Roma, says the concept of the stadium has been heavily influenced by the great history of its setting.

“I believe the strongest distinguishing design feature is that while the stadium clearly is contemporary and modern, it has strong visual clues to the history of Roman architecture,” he says. “It is a building evocative of its setting with attention to the Italian tradition of great public piazzas, rather than a simple shiny object in a sea of parking as many modern stadia are.”

Taking this idea one step further, Meis’ team has gained inspiration from arguably Rome’s greatest landmark: the Stadio della Roma will reflect the iconic Coliseum through a polycarbonate-clad roof reminiscent of the retractable fabric canopy that once covered the upper tiers of the Roman amphitheatre. There will also be a massive hydraulic lift that aims to grant a dramatic entrance for the players during warm-ups, reminiscent of the gladiatorial lifts used in the Coliseum.

“The most direct [historical] reference is what we call the stone scrim,” adds Meis. “Two large walls of stone wrap in the stadium is a dynamic reference to the iconic facade of the Coliseum. While giving a sense of history to the building in their materiality, these walls float and lean, giving the building a keen sense of movement.”

While the Stadio della Roma’s capacity will be down on the 70,600 seats on offer at the Stadio Olimpico, Woods Bagot is placing an emphasis on greatly enhancing the matchday experience for fans. To this end, the number of concession points of sale will rise from 15 to 245, club seats will be trebled to 7,930 and 50 suites – a feature unavailable at the Stadio Olimpico.

Roma’s fanatical supporters will also be well served with the new stadium offering a steeply-pitched, clearly-delineated section of 14,800 seats, with “muscular and raw” architecture providing a clear and unquestionable identity to the hardcore section, says Meis.

“Roma fans will always have a strong connection to Stadio Olimpico and fond memories of the historic matches played there. However, Stadio della Roma will provide a fan experience that will compare to the world’s best stadia,” he adds.

“With an intimate seating bowl of 52,500 seats and the best sightlines in football, fans will feel right on top of the pitch and the stadium will be ‘tuned’ to provide an intimidating roar for opposing fans. The new stadium will also provide the security for fans to feel comfortable bringing their families to the game, ensuring a next generation of Roma faithful.”

Multi-Functional

As with any modern stadium development, Meis says the term ‘multi-purpose’ is a “critical” part of the plans for the Stadio della Roma.

The stadium will offer a variety of options for music and entertainment, including a 5,000-seater outdoor amphitheatre and a 13,000-seater amphitheatre within the stadium. The facility will also serve as an anchor for a new privately-owned and managed mixed-use development, Roma Village, which will include shopping, dining, and entertainment options, in addition to office space.

A training facility will be built adjacent to the new stadium, where Roma’s first team players, coaches, technical and medical staff will be based. The training compound will include two full-size pitches and a small-size pitch, state-of-the-art conditioning, physical training and rehabilitation facilities.

“The larger development assures that the stadium will be a 365-day destination,” says Meis. “It makes the stadium an integral part of an entertainment experience that includes restaurants, cafes, a spectacular Nike superstore and a Roma hall of fame.

“Juventus has a similar but smaller development – this one will be more integral, diverse and exciting. Like the L.A. Live development in Los Angeles – which I was part of – the surrounding development becomes a second venue for fans to spend time before and after a game and to visit even when the team is away.”

With plans currently being assessed by local authorities for approval, Roma is earmarking the third quarter of 2014 for construction to proceed.

“We’re on an aggressive schedule and Rome is a notoriously challenging place to build new constructions,” says Meis. “There is great passion and interest for the project from all quarters, however, so I am hopeful we will navigate the landscape successfully.

“The main challenge for me was knowing I am only a steward of a stadium that a huge fanbase feels ownership of. The history of this storied franchise and its location in one of the world’s most beautiful and historic cities provides a very high bar for the design.”

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