Americans do like soccer, contrary to what many around the world believe. American architects, though? Hard to say.. But even for the most soccer-agnostic architects, there are four good reasons to watch — or at least glancingly pay attention to — this year’s World Cup in South Africa. Four of the 10 stadia designed or renovated for this year’s quadrennial World Cup really are worth checking out beyond the context of international soccer matches. These stadia will be long-lasting legacies of the World Cup; that’s good news for people who want to check these structures out, but potentially bad news for the cities that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in what may become massive white elephants. And here they are, AN’s favorite four!!
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
The showpiece of the World Cup, this striking earth-toned stadium will play host to eight of the tournament’s 64 matches, including the opener and the final. Designed by South Africa-based Boogertman + Partners in conjunction with U.S.-based Populous (formerly HOK Sport) the stadium is actually a renovation of the original Soccer City, built in 1987, the structural profile of which remains at the core of this updated version. The new design gives the stadium a three-tiered structure with room for about 94,700 people — the biggest in Africa. It was modeled after the calabash, a traditional African gourd pot, and its bowl-like appearance makes it one of the most interesting World Cup sights to see. Driving down the Soweto Highway at night, it can almost be mistaken for a far-off twinkling city skyline. Now accessible by the Johannesburg’s World Cup-instigated Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system, the stadium will see some continued use in the future as home to the South African National team, as well as various cultural and sporting events. And additional commercial and residential developments are also expected to rise up around the stadium, so locals are hoping the $440 million the city invested will pay off in the long-run.
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
This brand new stadium in Durban has maybe the most unexpected design of all the World Cup Stadia. Modeled after the South African National Flag, the stadium has a 105-meter-high arch that runs the length of the oval-shaped structure. At one end, that arch splits as it heads towards the ground, creating a gap that provides a view of nearby downtown Durban to people in the stands during its seven World Cup matches. The stadium as a whole has a very ship-like feel to it, which is appropriate in Durban, South Africa’s famous beachside city. And, as an added novelty, the arch boasts a funicular “skycar” that transports tourists up to its apex for what are probably some very sweet views of the city. The bold can even bungee jump from the top, though a series of malfunctions with the skycar left a number of tourists stranded at the top of the arch on multiple occasions leading up to the Cup. This stadium was designed by GMP Architekten, a German firm, and the designer of two other notable stadia on this list. At a cost of 4.8 billion Rand (roughly $640 million), Moses Mabhida Stadium is the second most expensive stadium built for the World Cup. There will be seating for 70,000 for the World Cup, but the amount of seating can be reduced to 54,000 or increased to 80,000 depending on the need. Need, however, is a concern in Durban, as no professional team (soccer nor rugby) has yet decided to use it as their home base.
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
GMP Architekten’s design for this brand new stadium in the relatively small but growing oceanside city of Port Elizabeth has an appropriately nautical feel. Overlooking the city’s North End Lake, the stadium exterior emulates the sails of an early trading ship, and its pointed bulges are like the ridges on a bottle cap. Host to just five World Cup matches, the stadium’s impressive features are likely to push it across TV screens far more than its game count would otherwise merit. After the Cup, the city is hoping that two local teams — one rugby, one soccer — will take it on as their home field. But both of those teams have not succeeded in climbing into their sports’ respective top leagues, which makes the prospect of regularly filling a 48,000-seater for minor league sports unlikely. This unfortunate reality has left the city questioning the wisdom of its $270 million investment — and worried about the stadium’s future.
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
This subtle but attractive stadium is less a statement of its own than an exclamation point for a city with more than its share of iconic scenery. Positioned near the tip of Africa, Cape Town boasts an incredibly scenic oceanfront. And with Table Mountain and Signal Hill behind it, the addition of this brand new stadium to the city’s beach side Green Point Common is just icing. Its strong vertical walls and gently dipped roof line accentuate the flatness of the city’s famous mountains, and also provide a classy look to what is already a posh and cosmopolitan city. Though there has been some controversy about the selection of Green Point as the site of a brand new stadium when existing stadia in the city could have been World Cup-ready with little investment, the stadium is already considered a postcard asset. GMP Architekten’s design includes a translucent skin, which turns the stadium into a bright glowing light during evening events. And an innovative roof design contains much of the sound generated at the stadium within its walls, a boon to nearby residents who would otherwise be subjected to the impressively loud sound of up to 68,000 vuvuzelas. Seating will be reduced to 55,000 after Cape Town’s eight World Cup matches are over. At a total cost of roughly $773 million, this is the most expensive stadium of the World Cup. City officials have contracted with a management company to book events in the stadium to help pay off what has been a major investment for the city.