Getting the ball rolling

Al-Gharafa Stadium

Axel Bienhaus is a very busy man these days. As well as working on the eye-catching stadia designs for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the softly-spoken partner and shareholder at Albert Speer & Partner (AS&P) is also contributing to the European Central Bank in Vienna, a housing project in Frankfurt and criminal courts in Saudi Arabia.

The World Cup commission is probably AS&P’s most high profile project to date; eight of the competition’s 12 stadia are designed by the German company. Bienhaus explains that the Qatar Football Association directly approached AS&P during an exhibition in Denver two years ago.

AS&P’s designs played a pivotal part in the winning bid and the renderings are now very familiar images. Cynics would claim that there is little detailed thought behind the slick renderings, but this far from the case according to Bienhaus. “We have detailed ground floor plans for all of our stadia,” he explains.

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Bienhaus continues: “The bid book is owned by FIFA and is still handled with relative confidentiality. The plans cannot be released to the media.

Considering it was a bid book, I think we designed the stadia to a very detailed level – to a stage between preliminary and detailed design.”

He adds that AS&P had to increase its team to work on the bid but it has not expanded since then, and any future increases will revolve around the timings of the stadia delivery.

He notes that the client is poised to embark on a bold construction programme to complete the stadia well in advance. “I don’t think they will wait three years to get going on the stadia. There are many things, such as the cooling strategies, that need to be tested ahead of time,” he says.

According to Bienhaus, the stadia could be completed up to four years before the event. “It would be a good idea to have the stadia ready by 2020 and use them in the Confederation Cup football tournament in 2021.

But they may even be ready before then, perhaps by 2018. Qatar wants to show the world that it is well prepared for the World Cup.

They know the delivery is enormous and they have to build 75% of the infrastructure from scratch. We are currently discussing with the client which stadium will be implemented first. An idea is to build one as a prototype.”

Bienhaus explains that the look of the stadia is an integral consideration for a client that has an appetite for good design. “They’re not just focused on functionality – the appearance of the stadia is very important.”

He adds that AS&P will do everything in its power to maintain the original appearance of the stadia.

“We will have to bring these designs to life and one of the main tasks is to ensure that the outer appearance doesn’t change. It’s part of an architect’s job to realise the vision within budget, and maintain the appearance and quality of the design.”

The most architecturally impressive stadium is the subject of some debate in the AS&P office. Bienhaus says: “My personal favourite is Al Khor – the shell-like form fits perfectly in the urban context as it is located near the Gulf.

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