28 August 2014

Wembley Stadium, Nil

The current Wembley Stadium was designed by Populous and Foster and Partners, and built, by Multiplex, between 2003 and 2007, at a cost of £798m. At 90,000, the stadium seats the greatest number in the UK. It provides more covered seating than any other venue in the world. One might thus expect it to be stunning.

In truth, the stadium has absolutely no architectural merit, unlike its iconic predecessor. It fails every test that could be applied. The partially-retractable roof was designed to cover all the seating yet not shade the pitch during common playing hours, but the calculations were wrong. The pitch is recognised as worse than its predecessor, has had to be relaid a dozen times in seven years. The stadium was supposed to double for athletics - and funded on that basis - but the cost of temporary conversion is in the millions, and it's never been used for athletics, not even during the 2012 Olympics.

Even the contractors recognise the stadium as a disastrous project. Multiplex sued structural engineering consultants Mott McDonald for £253m, and the original steel contractor Cleveland Bridge for £38m, and was counter-sued by both. Concrete contractor PC Harrington sued Multiplex for £13m.

The famous Wembley Arch, 436 feet high, 23 feet in diameter, and spanning 1,033 feet, is indeed a superb piece of engineering, but isn't enough to save the overall construction from mediocrity. It's sterile, soulless, and looks like nothing so much as a cross between a 1970s' county council headquarters and a multi-storey car park, has the form of a popped zit, and is surrounded by an ugly sea of tarmac and retail sheds.