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10 design-forward football stadiums

Notable for their design, history, and cultural associations, these structures reflect how national stadiums affirm the country's dedication to innovation in design. 

[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Designed like a bowl, a hat, a tent, or a shipping container – World Cup stadiums go beyond playing host to the iconic sport; they serve as megastructures reflective of the country’s prowess in sports and bring the global community together.

With the countdown to FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar officially on, we look at the most iconic stadiums of all time. Notable for historical roots, technological advancements, and cultural associations, these structures reflect how stadiums affirm the country’s dedication to innovation in design.

Organized in no particular order, take a look.

ROSE BOWL STADIUM

One of the most iconic venues in sporting history, the Rose Bowl is best known as a college football venue, and as the host of the annual Rose Bowl Game, for which it is named, and marked its centenary last month. Built in a horseshoe shape in 1920, over the years, is now a complete “bowl” with a capacity of 92,542. Ranked the 16th-largest stadium in the world, it has hosted some of the world’s most significant sporting and musical events.

Architect Myron Hunt designed the stadium, with its opening game being played on New Year’s Day in 1923. Playing host to five NFL Super Bowls, two Olympic Games, and the Men’s and Women’s FIFA World Cups, this superstructure became the official home in 1982 for the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) football team. The stadium has welcomed musical acts, including the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Kenney Chesney, and BTS. 

STADE DE FRANCE 

The Stade de France is the largest football stadium in France. As the country’s national stadium, it has a capacity of 80,000 seats, of which 25,000 are mobile – this feature was a world first in 1997. 

Due to its architectural design inspired by Pan Am’s Worldport terminal at JFK International Airport, Stade de France features some innovative elements, including an ellipsis-shaped roof. Built to replace Parc des Princes as the 1998 FIFA World Cup final venue, the stadium has played host to Rolling Stones, Madonna, Johnny Hallyday, and The Black Eyed Peas concerts. The elliptically-shaped stadium is topped by an elliptical disk supported by 18 steel masts at 40-meter intervals. 

MINEIRÃO STADIUM

Designed by Eduardo Mendes Guimarães Junior and Gaspar Garret, Mineirão Stadium was inaugurated in 1965 and served as a venue in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With a total seating capacity of 61, 846 seats, it also played host to some matches of the football tournament of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Its exterior is topped with 6,000 rooftop solar panels capable of supplying power to 1,200 households.

The plant was built by the Minas Gerais State Electricity Company (CEMIG), in partnership with German bank kfW and Minas Arena, the group that manages the Mineirão. Since the panels produce more energy than is necessary to power the stadium (1,600 megawatts-hour per year), 10% of the power goes directly to regular consumers.

WEMBLEY STADIUM

Dubbed as the home of football, Wembley Stadium opened as the Empire Stadium in 1923 and has played host to some of the most prestigious events in European and international football, including the 1948 Olympic Games, England’s World Cup victory in 1966, and the Live Aid concert in 1985. Wembley went through a refurbishment by the end of the twentieth century.

Designed by the World Stadium Team, the new 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium was a joint venture between Populous and Foster & Partners, as a multi-purpose venue to host soccer, rugby, concerts, and, by the installation of a temporary deck above pitch level, for athletics when required. 

MARACANÃ STADIUM

Constructed in 1950 and named after the nearby Rio Maracanã (Maracanã River) and the indigenous Tupi-Guarani word for “green bird,” the iconic stadium has become just as symbolic of Brazilian culture as its namesake. The Maracanã Stadium was built for the 1950 soccer games. With the aim to design the world’s largest soccer stadium, nine of Brazil’s leading architects worked to construct the stadium to attract global audiences and reflect the country’s long association with the sport. 

SIGNAL IDUNA PARK 

Germany’s Westfalenstadion, officially called Signal Iduna Park for sponsorship reasons, has a capacity of over 80,000. It is installed with a glass shell, undersoil heating, and the largest stand in Europe. The stadium on Strobelallee, known as “the temple” by fans, was refurbished for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. 

FIRST NATIONAL BANK STADIUM 

Built in 1987, the First National Bank Stadium, or Soccer City, underwent a major upgrade for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with a design inspired by the shape of an African pot, the calabash. The upgrade included an extended upper tier around the stadium to increase the capacity to 88,958 and an additional two executive suites, an encircling roof, new changing room facilities and new floodlights. 

The stadium is notable for being the site of Nelson Mandela’s first speech in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990. 

LUZHNIKI STADIUM 

The Grand Sports Arena of the Luzhniki Olympic Complex has a total seating capacity of 81,000, making it the largest football stadium in Russia. It underwent a major reconstruction in 2014. While the interiors were completely demolished, the outer shell of the main stadium was preserved. Luzhniki Stadium later served as host to the 2018 FIFA World Cup for seven matches, including the opening and final matches. 

AL BAYT STADIUM 

With a design inspired by Qatar’s bedouin culture, this superstructure features a tent enveloping a modern football stadium. The designers kept sustainability as the front and center of the Al Bayt Stadium’s development, and the upper tier was designed to be removed after the tournament – allowing the recommissioning of seats. Named after ‘bayt al sha’ar’,  which were tents historically used by nomadic peoples in Qatar and the Gulf region, Al Bayt Stadium will host the FIFA World Cup 2022 opening match.

LUSAIL STADIUM 

Qatar’s biggest tournament venue, with an 80,000 capacity, will host the final of the FIFA World Cup 2022. Inspired by the interplay of light and shadow that characterizes the ‘fanar’ lantern, Lusail’s design elements reflect the decorative motifs on bowls and other vessels characteristic of the golden age of art and craftsmanship in the Arab and Islamic world. The legacy plan for Lusail Stadium is to modify the venue’s interior space to house a mixture of civic facilities. 

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