Daring rewarded at Tottenham’s new stadium
Paul Finch, 27 June 2019
The official opening of Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium in April this year was a symbolic moment, not just for the football club, but for the area as a whole. This was the biggest achievement in the area since it was devastated by riots in 2011 – riots which spread to other cities across the country – but which had a profound psychological effect on a once-proud north London community, now down on its luck.
There was talk that Spurs might move away from the area that had been home since the club’s formation in the 1880s; then a series of false starts, changes of design and ultimately architects. By the time Populous came on board in 2013, the principle of redevelopment and broader planning matters had been agreed with the local planning authority, but the architect’s new design proposal was radically different to what had preceded it, for one thing increasing capacity to more than 62,000 (previously less than 37,000).
Club chairman Daniel Levy had very clear ideas about what he wanted from the new stadium. For Populous this meant on the one hand that there was absolutely no ambiguity about the brief, or the commitment of the client to achieving it, but on the other it meant intense scrutiny of every move. Creative tension, but in a good sense.
A key ambition was to be able to stage NFL American football games at the new stadium. this sport is played on artificial turf, so Populous had to deliver what had been much talked about in relation to various stadiums in the UK, but never delivered: the retractable pitch. In this case, the soccer pitch is divided into three immensely weighty sections which, as required, can slide under the south stand, revealing the artificial pitch underneath.
What this means is that in soccer mode, the crowd can be incredibly close to the pitch (as close as 4.9m) and players, a key element of the British game without affecting the atmosphere for the traditionally more remote NFL events. That spirit of keeping (or enhancing) the familiar elements of a British stadium was a fundamental idea behind the South Stand, which has been designed to generate a massive ‘wall of sound’.
This has been achieved by designing the stadium bowl to be as compact, with steep seating, as guidelines suggest. Lead architect Tom Jones notes that the design ‘does everything it can do to facilitate atmosphere’ which is what away teams will get when confronted with the chants and cheers of 17,500 home fans.
Along with another home fan crowd who occupy the north stand, have already signalled their approval of their new home – by arriving earlier, staying later and spending unparalleled sums on food and drink in a stadium designed to encourage just that. The intention is to give GA (general admission) ticket-holders a huge choice of F&B (food and beverage) opportunities, rather than a second-class experience compared with premium ticket-holders. So ordinary fans get the run of the stadium concourse level, with has 30 bars and 15 food outlets in an echo of high street offers, designed by Jump Studios, the Populous interior design subsidiary. Sales are helped by use of non-gravity beer pumps, which squirt into self-sealing glass from below at a rate of more than 40 a minute. Combine that with contactless payment-only, and you resolve the slow agony of the wait to order which has cursed sporting outlets since time immemorial.
This is all epitomised in the ‘Market Place’ area below that noisy south stand, where drinks are served from the Goal Line Bar, at 65 metres the longest bar in Europe, with food offers including a chicken shop (very Tottenham), plus stepped terraces where fans can sit and eat.
You might think that once the ‘local’ elements of the design are discounted, that the rest of the stadium design would be fairly generic. Not true here, partly because of that need to accommodate the NFL pitch, but also because those particular requirements in respect of fans and F&B have helped to generate a complex 10-level section which is very unusual for this sort of building type. No doubt Populous had learned from their previous experience of designing the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal, Spurs’ deadly north London rivals.
This project represents ‘New Tottenham’, including within its planning permission a commitment to providing residential development including more than 250 affordable homes, a primary school, gym and shops, plus a sixth-form school. This is important for a club which is so obviously part of its community, one of the few major grounds which sits directly on a high street. In a sense the club is Tottenham.
Naming rights have yet to be negotiated, but whoever eventually buys will get that local recognition benefit as fans stream towards the stadium from the high road and beyond. Club history (and shop) are incorporated in the listed building which has been kept as part of the overall development, the one part of the development which is not brand new. However, history has been incorporated into the external design of the stadium, including its Latin motto, ‘Adere est facere’ plus its English translation, ‘To dare is to do’. Not much Latin in evidence at most English grounds, other than some of the players . . .
The exterior of the stadium is designed to respond to its street context, with precast concrete panel at the base with nodular steel cladding above, angled and perforated to provide a sense of complexit and movement. The classing ‘curtain’ rises and falls to provide a sweeping vista, opening up to reveal internal elements which themelves add to the spectacle of the buildings as a whole. As Populous project director Christophe Lee notes, this is not a shiny symmetrical block unloaded onto a non-specific location, but a building that responds to a series of different street contexts, for a club which has a very particular place in the history of its local community.
This is indeed a daring building, and true to Spurs’ Latin motto the proof is that it has been done.