Al Janoub Stadium
The innovative pleated façade and structure of Al Janoub Stadium draw on the maritime traditions of Qatar and the Persian Gulf—abstracted, parametricised, and embedded in the stadium’s DNA.
Af Jason A. Dibbs
Zaha Hadid Architects’ Al Janoub Stadium is the first new stadium, among eight venues, commissioned for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Situated in the coastal city of Al Wakrah, 23-kilometres south of Doha, it is connected to the Gulf country’s capital by the new Doha Metro system.
The home of the Al Wakrah Sports Club, its tournament capacity of 40.000 will be reduced to 20.000 in legacy mode following the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Not only a World Cup venue, Al Janoub Stadium is the cornerstone of a new sporting and cultural precinct in Al Wakrah, which includes cycling and athletic tracks, equestrian facilities, a marketplace, mosque, and school.
In May of 2019, Al Janoub Stadium hosted the Amir Cup Final, in which Al Duhail defeated Al Sadd 4–1. The stadium’s inauguration was celebrated locally, and the architecture of the stadium was heralded both for the elegance of its design and the fact that its construction was completed three-and-a-half years ahead of the World Cup kick-off. However, the international reception of the stadium has been subject to the controversies plaguing the initial selection of Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host country — and more recently, criticism from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, concerning the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state.
Turning from the political context to Zaha Hadid Architects’ design, Al Janoub Stadium implicitly reflects its maritime locale, drawing inspiration from the dhow — traditional masted sailing vessels — characteristic of the Persian Gulf. This strategy — of abstracted appropriation through parametric design — has been carried all the way into the stadium’s structure, with the architects writing that even “the roof’s beam structure … echoes the interior structure of a dhow’s hull.”
Discussing the rationale for this design approach, Jim Heverin — Zaha Hadid Architects’ Project Director for the stadium — explains that “we wanted to respond to the client’s brief, which was to do something which resonated with Al Wakrah, so we started by looking at the dhow. We didn’t want to literally blow up a dhow boat, so we looked at abstracting it in order to create something dynamic and organic—something that has multiple interpretations.”
Zaha Hadid Architects also suggest that the dhow’s architecture is the touchstone for the stadium’s tapered facades and overhanging eaves. This aesthetic continues with the stadium’s operable sail-like roof of pleated fabric. Zaha Hadid Architects’ response to the unique climatic conditions of Al Wakrah has been further augmented by solar-powered cooling, accommodating all-year-round football. Dr Saud Abdul-Ghani, the consultant behind Al Janoub Stadium’s cooling technology, describes the environmental strategy in terms of its use of the stadium’s pedestal platform to defend “against the infiltration of warm wind,” and solar-powered air-conditioning to maintain a “cold bubble” of air within the enclosure of the stadium’s pleated façade.
Arguably, Al Janoub Stadium is the most iconic of the suite of stadiums commissioned for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The elegance of its pleated, sail-like facades, its intriguing symmetry, and the innovation of its retractable roof earmark it as an important precedent in stadium design. However, the ultimate measure of its worth will be determined by how it performs as a world-class football venue. Some insight into this has been given by four-time World Cup competitor Tim Cahill, who has said of Al Janoub Stadium, “it’s amazing … it’s got a really good feel to it. The fans are very close to the pitch and when you look around it actually feels like you’re at a World Cup.”