Foster & Partners
Camp Nou of the future
How Barcelona's Camp Nou might look in the future
As the home ground of FC Barcelona, Camp Nou occupies a special niche in the city’s psyche. As Europe’s biggest stadium, it is among the city’s most popular tourist sites, and is a regular place of pilgrimage for Barça fans and socis (members). More than that, it’s hallowed ground for Catalan patriotism: during the Franco dictatorship, when the Catalan language, festes and flag were banned, cheering on the azulgranas (navy and maroon, referring to the team’s colours) from the stands was one of the only authorised ways to express Catalan national pride.
Even today, the link between Barça and Catalan patriotism is strong: the team is one of the city’s best-known exports, its maroon, navy and gold strip far more familiar abroad than even the spires of the Sagrada Familia. Within the city itself, manager Frank Rijkaard and president Joan Laporta are arguably familiar to more people than most local politicians.
Any drastic changes to Camp Nou, then, are matters of prime importance to hundreds of thousands of Barcelona’s residents, such as the developments now afoot: in 2009, work is scheduled to begin on the transformation of the stadium into something resembling a giant, multicoloured sea urchin as envisaged by superstar architect, Norman Foster. The project, which was unveiled on the stadium’s 50th anniversary in late September last year, is expected to cost around €250 million, and promises to transform this spiritual landmark into an architectural one as well.
The scheme involves extensive refurbishment of the player areas, improved disabled access, better views from the cheapest seats and better general access to the stands. It also features a retractable roof and 8,000 extra seats—taking the stadium’s capacity to 106,000—but its most spectacular element is the ‘second skin’. A huge sheath comprising thousands of translucent LED panels will be wrapped around the building’s exterior. These panels, which will be hung at an angle so that the tiles spike outwards, can be lit up in any colour at night, or even used as a giant screen for replaying important games.
With this exciting, high-tech façade, the whole stadium can be made to pulsate with colour when a goal is scored, lit up with logos or used for lightshows. During the day, sunlight filtering through the tiles will bathe the pitch and stalls in patches of colour. The design pays full attention to the stadium’s position as a symbol of Catalan pride: the tiles themselves incorporate the Barça colours and the colours of the senyera (Catalan flag), red and gold, while the mosaic pattern is a none-too-subtle nod to Gaudí.
Crucially, the scheme allows the works to be done with no interruption to matches, completing in time for the 2011-12 season. The stadium will be Barcelona’s second landmark building by Lord Foster’s practice, Foster & Partners, who also designed the syringe-like communications tower on Collserola. The company, which has won every major architectural award, is also currently working on other landmark projects across the globe, including Europe’s tallest skyscraper in Moscow, the world’s largest airport in Beijing, and one of the skyscrapers on the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York. Foster’s redesign of Wembley Stadium features a giant arch that is visible on the north London skyline for miles around.
There were early murmurs of disappointment that a British design had beaten a scheme by a Catalan architect, Carlos Ferrater, but local politicians have been delighted by the design’s references to Catalunya, and have been quick to underline the link between Barça and Catalan patriotism. The mayor, Jordi Hereu, praised the design at its press launch, and Jordi Portabella, leader of the party Esquerra Republicana on the city council, enthused, “It’s beautiful and attractive. It corresponds to the image of the city, and to the projection of Catalunya to the world.”
However, there has been dissent at the proposed scheme: Jordi Boix, a former director of FC Barcelona, warned in the press that he thought the project could end up costing the club far more than the predicted €250 million. Boix pointed out that Lord Foster’s Wembley Stadium project had run far over-budget and claimed that the costs could spiral out of the club’s control, possibly running to €500 million.
Residents of Les Corts, the district the stadium is in, are also up in arms over the proposed scheme. A busy residential area, Les Corts currently experiences huge disruption on match days, when traffic systems and public transport become clogged with crowds of fans; understandably, locals are concerned at the prospect of a further 8,000 people flocking to the area.
Alfonso Huesca, a representative of the Residents’ Association of Racó de Les Corts, one of the associations that is battling the expansion, said that the disruption caused on match days at the moment is tremendous. “The stadium holds 100,000 people: that’s more than the population of some small cities, such as Cuenca or León. They come with around 15-20,000 cars, which they park on the pavements, making it impossible for people to pass. Futhermore, after each match there are problems with drunken youths in the street, shouting and throwing bottles. All of this we suffer, but we put up with it.”
His association, and several others in the area, are particularly outraged at how FC Barcelona proposes to raise the estimated €250 million cost of the works: the Mini Estadi, a smaller, adjoining stadium, will be transformed into flats and sold off. Residents claim that this will make the district intolerable. “We’re not opposed to Barça,” said Huesca. “To us, it’s great that they’re remodeling the stadium and improving the accesses. What we’re opposed to is the way they’re doing it. This area is already very crowded, and the traffic is very bad. We don’t want more people in the district.”
In order to sell off the Mini Estadi and build the flats as the scheme proposes, the club will need to persuade the Ajuntament to re-zone the land from zona verde (recreational facilities) to residential land. David Falk, Barça’s director of real estate, admitted that the need to get the Mini Estadi land re-zoned is part of the reason that the work won’t start for a while. “We do not have the licences at this point. The construction won’t start until 2009 because at least a year is needed to finalise the design (currently just a concept), as well as obtaining the necessary permissions.”
The residents of Les Corts are prepared to make this process very tricky indeed, and possibly prevent it entirely. This has been done before: in 2000, they prevented another Camp Nou expansion scheme from going ahead, and now they are gearing up for battle again. “We will do everything we can to make sure the land doesn’t get re-zoned,” said Huesca. “Barça is very powerful, but I believe that we can win this. The stadium has been growing little by little for the last 50 years, and we’re already sick of it; we won’t agree to this next phase. If we have to fight against the Ajuntament, then we’ll fight the Ajuntament, with all our strength. We already have our lawyers briefed, for when they’re needed.”