- Engineers attempted to create ‘cauldron-like’ atmosphere
- Large concourse space provides opportunities for Fifa sponsors
- Russia’s building codes were difficult to navigate
Amid a wave of dismay in England as the country’s much-hyped bid to host the 2018 World Cup was defeated back in December 2010, one man stood up in London in jubilation.
“When Russia won the right to host the tournament I was the only person in the office cheering as I knew my stadium would play a part,” says Aecom head of sports engineering Peter Ayres.
The company had just been chosen to lead design of the Otkritie Arena in Moscow for Russian Premier League club Spartak Moscow, and the timing couldn’t have been better. “The Spartak stadium scheme was not dependent on the World Cup,” says Ayres.
“But the Russian bid was going in at the time we were designing it, and I ended up producing material for the Russian bid book. “The fact that we were already well advanced with the design gave the stadium a big advantage in being chosen as a venue for the tournament.”
Fast forward seven and a half years and the build up to the start of the Russia World Cup is underway in earnest. The Panini sticker books are in shops, the sombre travel warnings have been issued and the key-player injury scares have emerged.
A raft of new stadiums built for the World Cup will feature alongside a redeveloped Luzhniki national stadium, the Fisht Stadium created for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the Kazan Arena opened for the university athlete Summer Universiade a year earlier.
Aside from the 1950s-built Ekaterinburg Arena, perhaps, where temporary seating will be added for the World Cup, the Otkritie Arena will stand out in Russia 2018 as being a tournament stadium that was primarily built for club use. Ayres believes this will ensure it performs strongly for both its high profile temporary use this summer as well as in dayto-day mode.
“We were involved in masterplanning the London 2012 Olympics, we worked on Rio 2016 and have a role on the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics,” he says. “We’ve also worked on many World Cups. Our philosophy is to design for legacy and work backwards to make it work for the tournament.”
After advising the owners to avoid an “architectural flamboyance”, and undergoing a period of concept work and negotiation, Aecom – in partnership with London practice Sport Concepts – was appointed to design the Otkritie Arena.
The 45,000-seat stadium, close to the Spartak metro stop in Moscow’s north-west, was designed to fuse western European football stadium ideals with Russian culture.
“The owners tour around Europe so we asked them what they liked – they said the Allianz Arena in Munich and some of the Premier League grounds,” says Ayres. “We said we should help them do something like that with a great atmosphere to give home team advantage while adapting it for the Russian market and fanbase.”
He adds that the desire for a “fortress” home stadium with a “cauldron-like” atmosphere was commercially driven.
“There is lots of evidence that with a passionate home crowd, teams get better results, which converts into a better league position that translates into more revenue. It was a hard business decision,” he says.
Realising this ambition started with the overall shape of the structure.
“Instead of lots of curved sides, we made sure we got the seats as close to the pitch as possible while allowing space for a Fifacompliant pitch,” says Ayres.
The way the seats are filled was also considered from the outset, with corporate attendees packed into one stand.
“Rather than distributing all the premium fans around the stadium, which can kill an atmosphere, we have two really tight tiers of general admission spectators to create a cauldron close to the pitch.”
This is also an example of how the western stadium model was adapted for the local market. “There are two types of football fans in Russia – the ultra-hardcore supporters who want to be as close to the action as possible; and the oligarchs and millionaires where the important thing is proximity to each other.
They want to be in walking distance of the president; it reminded us of the corporate culture of horse racing.”
Ayres believes this approach, while club-driven, will benefit the World Cup organisers by generating an intense atmosphere for those inside the stadium and others watching from afar.
“I went to the opening match and the atmosphere was fantastic, it was like nothing I’ve previously experienced,” he says. “It also looks great on TV. The cameras are on the west stand with the corporate stuff so on TV it looks like two banks of home supporters.”
After this much was done to ensure the stadium functioned as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“By Russian standards much of what we did was new – we brought in best-practice Western European technology in terms of stadium control boxes, CCTV systems and giant screens inside and outside the stadium.” But making the stadium a reality was a major challenge, with three major hurdles to be overcome – local building regulations, the harsh weather and security fears.
“The country has very complicated codes of practice, known as SNIPs, which were not necessarily written with stadiums in mind,” says Ayres. “It was challenging to build something that met these technical requirements while meeting stadium design best practice.”
Aecom tackled this head-on from the outset, sending mixed teams of Russian and British architects and engineers to engage with the approval bodies.
“We would send a team out to Moscow to stand in front of 100 people from different technical committees. We explained what we were doing and managed to persuade them and get all our approvals. There were still a few very frustrating moments but we got there in the end.”
Hooliganism and terrorism were major concerns for the Russian authorities.
“They have had problems in other parts of the country and this was seen as a high profile arena,” says Ayres. “There were two issues – fan behaviour, where having a well-planned stadium with lots of access and segregation is helpful – and a concern from approvers that we have measures in place to make the stadium very difficult to attack from a terrorist perspective.”
A perimeter wall was built in a ring 50 metres from the wall of the stadium. “This means you can’t get a vehicle with bombs into the stadium,” says Ayres.
It also makes supporter access easier, giving a larger area for fans to pass through security and ticket checks before entering the stadium itself more freely.
As well as the obvious access and security benefits for its high profile use this summer, the perimeter wall is expected to have additional benefits for tournament organisers.
“It provides a fantastic concourse space within it, which is proving to be brilliant for the World Cup because we have lots of space for all the overlay for premium and corporate fans and sponsors,” says Ayres. “It will be a great chance to activate mini fan zones within the secure perimeter of the stadium – there will be lots of opportunities for activities before the game.
The design of the Otkritie Arena’s roof is a product of both security concerns and the Moscow winters.
“In the really unlikely event of someone getting through the security wall, we designed the structure so if someone placed a bomb on a primary roof truss there is an alternative path to ensure the roof would still stand up.
“There are two-way spanning trusses in response to the onerous conditions imposed on us for counter terrorism.”
Ayres adds that the climate is also a big challenge, and affected the roof design. “In the winter the snow falls but rarely melts, so it builds up on a roof and can become almost like solid ice. The roof loading on the Spartak stadium is almost 10 times as much at peak load compared to the Emirates in London. You could put a car park on top of the Spartak stadium roof.”
This means building roof structures can become very heavy and overwhelming. “A concern the city had was having a massive roof structure that looked like a battleship. What we did, that I have not seen done before, was – rather than having roof trusses above the roof like the Emirates in London, or below like the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, we created a primary roof structure where the plane of the roof surface bisected the structure so it disguises its size and looks more elegant.”
Ayres has fond memories of the opening fixture at the stadium, a Spartak friendly against Red Star Belgrade.
“I walked back across Moscow after the game and it took me until nearly 6am to get home because I stopped at nearly every bar,” he says. “I was speaking to Spartak Moscow fans who were all thrilled. The best compliment they gave me was that it felt like finally having a proper football ground. They said it was like a Premier League ground, which was the best thing they could have said. I didn’t have to buy many of my own drinks.”
Fifa officials may be hoping for similar easy-on-the-pocket experiences in Moscow’s bars and restaurants this summer, when the stadium hosts five matches in just over two weeks, starting with Argentina v Iceland on Saturday 16 June.