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Tottenham Hotspur’s new home sets benchmark for modern stadia

Jim White
Tottenham Hotspur’s new home sets benchmark for modern stadia

For Tottenham, finally the home stage is reached. After seemingly endless delays, after embarrassing hold-ups, after an ever-lengthening stay at a temporary home that grew less appealing by the day, on Wednesday April 3, more than seven months after it was first scheduled to happen, the new Tottenham Stadium will open for business.

In order to reach this stage, Christopher Lee, of the architecture consultancy Populous, has done something not many in football would envy: he has spent much of the past six years in the company of the Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. Together with the man he calls “the most demanding client I have ever worked with (and I mean that in a positive way)” Lee has travelled the world, visiting dozens of buildings, seeking out ideas and features that might be incorporated, magpie-like, into the new stadium he was designing.

“Everywhere we went – arenas, airports, concert halls – he’d see something that he liked,” he says of Levy. “Maybe the bar there, the cladding there, the line of the roof there. He never stopped. He sends out dozens of emails at ungodly times, I don’t think he ever sleeps. From the moment we started the process six years ago, he has been hell bent on one thing: delivering the perfect stadium.”

And when the doors finally open to welcome Tottenham’s fans for the game against Crystal Palace, after a test Under-18 game against Southampton tomorrow when attendance is capped at 30,000,  Lee reckons Levy may well have got precisely what he asked for.

“It’s a new benchmark in stadiums,” he says. “And more than that. It is a genuinely civic facility.”

It has been more than a decade since the Premier League last saw a new, purpose-built football ground. When Arsenal’s Emirates opened at the start of the 2006-07 season, in its sight lines and spectator offerings it made the previous generation of stadiums look moribund. In the 12 years since it opened, however, ideas have shifted. And the fans filing in for the Palace game will discover that the new Tottenham building presents a substantial departure from what has come before. Not least in its cost: some £700 million has been spent, £300 million more than the price of the Arsenal stadium.

“A huge amount has changed since the Emirates opened,” says Lee. “This building is radically different.”

And, despite the huge atrium packed with stalls offering street food, despite the bar stretching several hundred yards along one wall, despite the microbrewery offering up Spurs’s own, home-brewed ale, perhaps the most significant adjustment from the previous norm the fans will encounter is in the arrangement of the stands. A central feature of the previous generation of super stadia, like the Emirates and Spurs’ temporary accommodation at Wembley, was the sandwich layer of corporate hospitality seats spinning around the entire circumference. At the Tottenham Stadium that has gone. In its stead is a single steep sweep of a south stand, seating 17,500 fans in one vertiginous tier.

“Dortmund’s Yellow Wall was a big inspiration here,” Lee says of the stand.

“But there is a nod to English stadium history, too. Memories of the big noise generators of the past, like the Anfield Kop.”

Under Levy’s insistent direction, the design has done everything to facilitate atmosphere: the intention is that it will be noisy in there.

“What we wanted to create was a bit more identity,” says Lee. “Noise is massively important in that. So we have worked on delivering fantastic acoustics. We have thought of the stand as we would a concert arena, using sound engineers to advise on the best construction methods to produce quick reverberation times. What we effectively have here is a 17,500-seat megaphone.”

The idea is this will become a building which, in its vibrant ingenuity, will be an attraction in itself.

“I think what has happened in the past 10 years has been a huge rethinking about the fan experience,” he adds. “For too long we in English football have been guilty of expecting fans to behave in a way they don’t in their normal daily lives. What we are trying to do here is allow everyone a choice in experience: let them select where they want to eat, where they want to drink, from the lowest price to the highest price. American sports do it very well. Even in the cheapest seat in an NFL stadium, the experience is of the very highest level.”

There is a commercial imperative in all this. As television coverage becomes ever more immersive – and comprehensive – there has to be a compelling offer for supporters to fork out substantial sums to attend a live game. The new stadium, its architect insists, will provide an irresistible lure: even on a cold, wet Wednesday night in March this will be a place to be.

“The venue is now part of the experience,” Lee explains. “Think of Arsenal moving from Highbury, a lovely ground, but the experience was pretty c--p. We’re more than 10 years on from the Emirates; things have advanced.”

Not least in the use of the stadium. This has been designed to play host to two different sports: football and NFL. It is a double life which has tested the ingenuity of the architects. The grass football pitch will be swished out, to reveal an artificial gridiron surface below; there is a dressing-room area substantial enough to fit the vast NFL squads; even the American media’s preference for watching matches from behind glass has been accommodated, while the football press box remains out in the middle of the stands. Nothing has been overlooked.

But what pleases Lee more is the manner in which the new building, for all its cutting-edge design, melds into its environment. While Levy’s ambition might have been mocked by some as nothing more than an arms race attempt to go one better than Arsenal, the architect says there is much more to it than that. What the chairman wanted was a building which was expansive, inviting and inclusive, one open to the area in which it sits.

“Daniel has this vision that this stadium will kick start the regeneration Tottenham, in the same way the new stadium has at Wembley,” says Lee.

“Clearly the area has been chronically underinvested in. But it has a fantastic fabric, the bones are all there. The fact is this building will have a huge effect in delivering inward investment. Football clubs are hugely culturally important, architecture has to respond to that. What we hope we have delivered is a stadium that belongs to Tottenham. What we have got here is a de facto city hall.”