Despite being arguably one of the biggest, if not the biggest names in club soccer, FC Barcelona occupies an aging stadium. The Camp Nou, as it is known today, was originally built in 1957 with the iconic Francesc Mitjans-designed open bowl. Today, the all-seater stadium can hold 99,354 fans, and while the arena had upgrades 1982, 1995, and 2008, the need for radical modernization has been in the pipeline for quite sometime.
Behind the $651.9 million project is the Japanese firm Nikken Sekkei, who will be delivering their first project in Europe, collaborating with Catalan architects Joan Pascual and Ramon Ausió. Paying respect to Mitjans’ original concept, whose design allowed the arena to essentially become a modern day colosseum with no roof and roaring crowd, the team have “inverted” the bowl.
A roof is now set to encapsulate every spectator—an upgrade on the meagre canopy that before only sheltered the monarchy and high-rollers. The ETFE-clad translucent roof will visually maintain the sense of openness and also boost the atmosphere: it will amplify the stadium’s acoustic qualities by keeping sound in and allowing it to reverberate around.
“Our design is derived from the essence of the original stadium,” said Takeyuki Katsuya of Nikken Sekkei. “The great open space around the stadium is like a large piece of origami, carefully arranged not to disturb the flow of people into the stadium. People can be outside, enjoying the Mediterranean climate.”
“It is a perfect match,” added Pascual. “We’re speaking as architects to architects. This has allowed us to get to know each other well. We understand what Barca is, what it represents and we know what it means for the city. The project is very respectful of the work of Mitjans and the solution was to continue his path.”
“The whole project needed to simultaneously capture the two settings, the stadium and the city. It will feel timeless. The members will continue to feel at home; they will not see the difference. They will only notice the improvements.”
In terms of capacity, allocation will be expanded to an estimated 105,000 spectators. While only averaging an attendance of just over 70,000 in recent years, some 98,760 piled in to watch el classico (vs. Real Madrid) in March last year.
While needs must, the refurbishment of the stadium’s often unseen underbelly will be a loss to some. The rugged concrete aesthetic of the stadia’s inner workings had an honest appeal. The stadium bore the scars of disgruntled fans through visible etchings and crater marks. As a result, the stadium had developed a character.
The concrete infrastructure was also partially open to the elements. This was unusual compared to the arena’s contemporary counterparts but, given the structure’s size, it allowed the coastal breeze to supply natural ventilation (a must on a balmy evening in the mediterranean) and also offered views across the vicinity.
Nikken Sekkei have dutifully maintained this aspect and have in fact taken it further. The upper concourses will be much more open, facilitating panoramic views, with only pitched eaves as barriers to the outside. Subsequently, this continues the theme of openness and sense of honesty, perhaps restoring what will be lost through materiality.
At ground level, the stadium’s perimeter will be bound by a glass facade, meanwhile escalators and elevators will be added to improve accessibility to all tiers, replacing the stairways that exist today.
Current Barcelona player Andrés Iniesta commented that “for me and everyone at the club this is an important step forward in our history. Having a stadium like this means we’ll continue to set new standards as the best team in the world.”
Work on the new stadium will continue through to the 2021/22 season, by which time Iniesta will be 37. “Everyone will be able to enjoy the New Camp Nou in their own different way,” he said, with a hint that he may not be in the team at that point.
The stadium is part of a wider scheme to develop the immediate area which will see American firm HOK design a new Palau Blaugrana multisports arena. An hour-long video of the full stadium presentation, which has been open to public can be view below.