Inside the Collection

The Designer World Cup

Figures wearing Australian green and gold soccer shirts
Image courtesy of Andy Jackson, FourFourTwo Magazine © all rights reserved

The imminent World Cup, kicking off on 11 June, attracts attention in many ways. For many fans the look of the game is almost as important as the way it is played. To some extent this aesthetic attitude is shared by FIFA, which bans advertising from the playing pitch as well as restricting the size and amount of advertising on players’ clothing (no advertising at all is permitted on national team strips).

Hence the media focus as sportswear manufacturers unveilled new playing strips for the 32 competing teams (also see here). Nike’s new home strip for the Socceroos attracted the full spectrum of reactions – it’s either an appealing item of retro with green credentials (its fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles). Or it would look naff in K Mart. Given the history of stylistic disasters produced by the uncomfortable combination of gold and green, I think we should allow Nike’s designers some slack.

Replica shirts are an important part of the football economy although club football, with its committed fans and lengthy seasons, is the main market. Contests of national teams are more intermittent but still provide a boost to the sportswear industry. The two largest sportswear companies, Nike and Adidas, each sold about $2 billion worth of shirts during the last World Cup. Design = $.

The other design focus in June and July will be the ten World Cup stadiums. Five of these are new while the others are renovations of existing venues, products of a vast building program arguably inappropriate for a poor and troubled nation like South Africa.

Stadiums are essentially functional buildings, but in recent decades their architecture has become more specialised, complex and expressive. The reasons for this include increased numbers of privately owned and financed stadiums with the need to accommodate a variety of sport and entertainment events. The Sapporo Dome at Hokkaido, Japan with its retractable football and baseball pitches, is an example of the possibilities. On the other hand, Munich’s Allianz Arena with its translucent, colour-changing exterior, typifies today’s architectural trend to ‘statement’ buildings.

The huge building investment made for World Cups and Olympic Games underlines the use of design for national image-making. The design statements have become as important a competition as that on the sports arenas. And in this contest, sensible functionalism is likely to miss out to the spectacular ‘statements’.

Water Cube Model
Water Cube Model. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Allianz Arena was designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, without doubt the outstanding sports designers of recent times. Among their work is the Beijing National Stadium, aka the Bird’s Nest. The Powerhouse recently acquired a sectioned model of another Beijing Olympics venue, the aquatic centre more generally known as the Water Cube. With Australia’s PTW Architects leading its design team, the Cube features a translucent skin similar to that of the Allianz Arena. Together, the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube gave Beijing a new, design-savvy reputation. Or as The New Yorker’s Paul Goldberger observed:

‘If Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear—a testament to the global ambitions of the world’s fastest-growing major economy’.[‘Out of the blocks’, The New Yorker, 2 June 2008]

Similarly, South Africa’s World Cup is designed to make a statement of African achievement and progress, a retort to the stories of poverty and conflict with which the continent is usually associated (also see here). Danny Jordaan, head of the South Africa organising committee, greeted the completion of one of the stadiums as follows: ‘Now we sit here and the world can see what we’ve built. Not just a stadium. A monument for this country.’ Although the contrast between the sparkling new stadiums and the nearby shanty towns is already attracting criticism in the foreign media, there is no doubt that Jordaan’s pride and optimism is widely shared in South Africa, especially among the black majority.

It’s interesting to look back at Sydney’s design statement of ten years ago. Design was a central part of the Sydney 2000 bid. The creation of new state of the art venues in a ‘green’ Olympic park was the most persuasive argument for Sydney. In 1997 I acquired a set of architectural models of the planned Olympic venues; the models had been used to promote the Sydney bid leading up to Sydney’s selection in 1993. The piece de resistance among the seven models is an Olympic Stadium design by Philip Cox, the leading Australian architect of sports venues. Cox’ CV includes Canberra Stadium, Sydney Football Stadium, the Showground arena at Olympic Park and the new Melbourne football stadium (aka AAMI Park). Cox believes that stadiums are ‘today’s places of worship’, creating some of the most intense communal experiences of contemporary society.

Model of Olympic Stadium designed by Philip Cox
Olympic Stadium designed by Philip Cox. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Cox’s Olympic stadium was not built because the NSW government was aware that Sydney’s fractured sports market had only occasional need for an 80,000 seat stadium, and was anxious to privatise the design, construction and likely losses of the new stadium. This proved a prescient judgement, with the resulting venue now forced to hire itself below cost in a bid to attract tenants.

However Cox’s proposal shares some features with his later design for the Khalifa Stadium at Doha, completed in 2005. The Socceroos played Qatar in this stadium during their qualification campaign for this year’s World Cup. And the PHM also holds a model of the Khalifa roof structure, donated by Arup, engineer of the building. The model demonstrates the principle of erecting and pre-stressing the stadium’s cable net roof. It’s also an example of Philip Cox’s talent for creating elegance out of functional structures.

Roof model of the Khalifa Stadium, Doha
Roof model of the Khalifa Stadium, Doha. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Qatar, like Australia, is bidding for the 2022 World Cup and this tiny oil-rich principality is using a spectacular series of new stadium projects as its main selling point. In contrast the stadia promised in Australia’s bid book are primarily upgrades of existing venues, although some of these renovations would be extensive enough to effectively create new buildings.

Sydney 2000 was a design-focused bid yet among the local design cognoscente, it’s widely believed that Sydney played it safe, producing venues that are competent rather that exciting. Our Olympic (ANZ) Stadium is typical. Although serious design work will only happen if our bid gets the FIFA thumbs-up in December, I suspect that the World Cup approach will be similar.

After all, Australia arguably has less need to make statements of architectural or urban modernity than do ‘emerging’ economies such as China, Qatar or South Africa. Australia’s bid, in contrast, is founded on our location in the booming (in both economic and football terms) Asian region. Given that the Australian sporting world is not exactly united in support of the Australian bid, a bid promising ten stadiums conforming to FIFA’s standards is an achievement in itself. Design statements may have to wait.

In the meantime, you can enjoy another World Cup/design crossover here. Since Guillermo Laborde designed the official poster for the first World Cup, the posters have formed a brief history of graphic design since 1930. Laborde’s poster was an instant Art Deco classic, while Joan Miro’s effort for Spain 1982 is another standout.

3 responses to “The Designer World Cup

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *