Stade de Bordeaux
On the city’s fringe, Herzog and de Meuron’s Stade de Bordeaux sits with an ambiguous monumentality; on approach, its identity as stadium is not instantly recognisable.
Unlike the muscular, monolithic structures of stadia that have defined the typology from antiquity to today, Stade de Bordeaux has a strikingly unusual form, possessing an almost impossible lightness. The delicate convex roof form seems to float above a sea of 900 slender columns, creating a permeable façade with its open structure. While light and transparent, its sheer size, simple geometry and symmetry still give it a monumental presence.
Its purity and geometrical clarity inspires a sense of monumentality and gracefulness. One might be tempted to draw a comparison with a classical temple, but unlike the elevated plinth of a temple, the grand stairs of the stadium blur the boundaries between inside and outside.
— Herzog & de Meuron
Externally the elements of the structure are read with clarity: bowl, plinth and column. Its elemental composition draws from classical architecture of the stadium typology’s beginnings, although abstracted to the point of reading as a minimalist sculpture. In elevation the plinth and bowl mirror one another to form an elegant butterfly shape surrounded by a sea of columns. The geometry of the bowl is articulated as a slender arc, reaching from the top of the plinth to the edge of the roof. With a corbelled underside it mimics the language of the stair below.
When viewed from above or further away the stadium appears as a shed-like box. At a glance it could be taken as any commonplace ‘big-box’ architecture expected on a city’s fringe, but as one gets closer the delicate and refined façade is revealed. This play between simple and surprising, banal and unexpected returns again and again in Herzog & de Meuron’s work, particularly in earlier projects. They combine very dumb forms with an unusual use of material, mass, scale and structure (see Ricola Storage Building, 1987; Ricola-Europe SA Production Building, 1993; Eberswalde Technical School Library, 1999).
While not conforming to the conventions of spectacular contemporary stadium architecture (muscular structures, iconographic or branded facades, blob architecture), Stade de Bordeaux nevertheless frames a theatrical and spectacular experience. On arrival, one ascends the open concrete stair as one would the plinth of a temple. Crossing over to the stadium’s interior, one is enveloped in the arena. The interior of the bowl is remarkably bare – there is no visible structure or servicing, just the flat white ceiling with a rectangular opening to the sky over the pitch. The muteness of the interior has the drama of a James Turrell sculpture – the sky is dramatically framed and the pitch appears a fluorescent green. The visually uniform design focuses the attention on the game, drawing the eyes of a possible 42.000 spectators in this open theatre.
If it weren’t for its peripheral location, this could be an amazing piece of civic architecture rather than a monument at the edge of the city, where its gestures of openness and accessibility are somewhat wasted. It is inviting to imagine its open colonnade and grand staircase spilling into a public realm animated by daily life, rather than the temporal surging crowd.
Perhaps this will be a reality in the future – stadium construction today is characterised by a tethering to larger projects of urban regeneration, as seen in the Herzog and de Meuron’s ambition to ‘transform this piece of land into a new and vibrant part of Bordeaux.’ Whether this will come into effect remains to be seen; for now Stade de Bordeaux remains a beautiful piece of architecture to house the spectacle of sport.