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Mike Kumar
Mike Kumar

What Makes a Great Stadium? Design, Technology, and Atmosphere

A stadium (PL: stadiums or stadia)[1] is a place or venue for (mostly) outdoor sports, concerts, or other events and consists of a field or stage either partly or completely surrounded by a tiered structure designed to allow spectators to stand or sit and view the event.[2][3]


Pausanias noted that for about half a century the only event at the ancient Greek Olympic festival was the race that comprised one length of the stadion at Olympia, where the word "stadium" originated.[4]

Most of the stadiums with a capacity of at least 10,000 are used for association football. Other popular stadium sports include gridiron football, baseball, cricket, the various codes of rugby, field lacrosse, bandy, and bullfighting. Many large sports venues are also used for concerts.

The oldest known stadium is the Stadium at Olympia in Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were held from 776 BC. Initially the Games consisted of a single event, a sprint along the length of the stadium.

The excavated and refurbished ancient Panathenaic Stadium hosted attempted revivals of the Olympic Games in 1870[6] and 1875 before hosting the first modern Olympics in 1896, the 1906 Intercalated Games, and some events of the 2004 Summer Olympics. The excavation and refurbishment of the stadium was part of the legacy of the Greek national benefactor Evangelos Zappas, and it was the first ancient stadium to be used in modern times.

In the U.S., many professional baseball teams built large stadiums mainly out of wood, with the first such venue being the South End Grounds in Boston, opened in 1871 for the team then known as the Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves). Many of these parks caught fire, and those that did not proved inadequate for a growing game. All of the 19th-century wooden parks were replaced, some after a few years, and none survive today.

Goodison Park was the first purpose-built association football stadium in the world. Walton-based building firm Kelly brothers were instructed to erect two uncovered stands that could each accommodate 4,000 spectators. A third covered stand accommodating 3,000 spectators was also requested.[8] Everton officials were impressed with the builder's workmanship and agreed two further contracts: exterior hoardings were constructed at a cost of 150 and 12 turnstiles were installed at a cost of 7 each.[9] The stadium was officially opened on 24 August 1892 by Lord Kinnaird and Frederick Wall of the Football Association. No football was played; instead the 12,000 crowd watched a short track and field event followed by music and a fireworks display.[8] Upon its completion the stadium was the first joint purpose-built football stadium in the world.[10]

The architect Archibald Leitch brought his experience with the construction of industrial buildings to bear on the design of functional stadiums up and down the country. His work encompassed the first 40 years of the 20th century. One of his most notable designs was Old Trafford in Manchester. The ground was originally designed with a capacity of 100,000 spectators and featured seating in the south stand under cover, while the remaining three stands were left as terraces and uncovered.[11] It was the first stadium to feature continuous seating along the contours of the stadium.[7]

These early venues, originally designed to host football matches, were adopted for use by the Olympic Games, the first one being held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The White City Stadium, built for the 1908 Summer Olympics in London is often cited as the first modern seater stadium, at least in the UK. Designed by the engineer J.J. Webster and completed in 10 months by George Wimpey,[12] on the site of the Franco-British Exhibition, this stadium with a seating capacity of 68,000 was opened by King Edward VII on 27 April 1908.[13] Upon completion, the stadium had a running track 24 ft wide (7.3 m) and three laps to the mile (536 m); outside there was a 35-foot-wide (11 m), 660-yard (600 m) cycle track. The infield included a swimming and diving pool. The London Highbury Stadium, built in 1913, was the first stadium in the UK to feature a two-tiered seating arrangement when it was redesigned in the Art Deco style in 1936.[7]

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During these decades, parallel stadium developments were taking place in the U.S. The Baker Bowl, a baseball park in Philadelphia that opened in its original form in 1887 but was completely rebuilt in 1895, broke new ground in stadium construction in two major ways. The stadium's second incarnation featured the world's first cantilevered second deck (tier) in a sports venue, and was the first baseball park to use steel and brick for the majority of its construction. Another influential venue was Boston's Harvard Stadium, built in 1903 by Harvard University for its American football team and track and field program. It was the world's first stadium to use concrete-and-steel construction. In 1909, concrete-and-steel construction came to baseball with the opening of Shibe Park in Philadelphia and, a few months later, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The latter was the world's first three-tiered sporting venue. The opening of these parks marked the start of the "jewel box" era of park construction. The largest stadium crowd ever was 199,854 people watching the final match of the 1950 World Cup at Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã on 16 July 1950.[14]

Stadiums in ancient Greece and Rome were built for different purposes, and at first only the Greeks built structures called "stadium"; Romans built structures called "circus". Greek stadia were for foot races, whereas the Roman circus was for horse races. Both had similar shapes and bowl-like areas around them for spectators. The Greeks also developed the theatre, with its seating arrangements foreshadowing those of modern stadiums. The Romans copied the theatre, then expanded it to accommodate larger crowds and more elaborate settings. The Romans also developed the double-sized round theatre called amphitheatre, seating crowds in the tens of thousands for gladiatorial combats and beast shows. The Greek stadium and theatre and the Roman circus and amphitheatre are all ancestral to the modern stadium.[15][16]

Domed stadiums are distinguished from conventional stadiums by their enclosing roofs. Many of these are not actually domes in the pure architectural sense, some being better described as vaults, some having truss-supported roofs and others having more exotic designs such as a tensegrity structure. But, in the context of sports stadiums, the term "dome" has become standard for all covered stadiums,[18] particularly because the first such enclosed stadium, the Houston Astrodome, was built with an actual dome-shaped roof. Some stadiums have partial roofs, and a few have even been designed to have moveable fields as part of the infrastructure. The Caesars Superdome in New Orleans is a true dome structure made of a lamellar multi-ringed frame and has a diameter of 680 feet (210 m). It is the largest fixed domed structure in the world.[19]

Even though enclosed, dome stadiums are called stadiums because they are large enough for, and designed for, what are generally considered to be outdoor sports such as athletics, American football, association football, rugby, and baseball. Those designed for what are usually indoor sports like basketball, ice hockey and volleyball are generally called arenas. Exceptions include:

Different sports require different playing surfaces of various size and shape. Some stadiums are designed primarily for a single sport while others can accommodate different events, particularly ones with retractable seating. Stadiums built specifically for association football are common in Europe; Gaelic games stadiums, such as Croke Park, are common in Ireland, while stadiums built specifically for baseball or American football are common in the United States. The most common multiple use design combines a football pitch with a running track, although certain compromises must be made. The major drawback is that the stands are necessarily set back a good distance from the pitch, especially at the ends of the pitch. In the case of some smaller stadiums, there are not stands at the ends. When there are stands all the way around, the stadium takes on an oval shape. When one end is open, the stadium has a horseshoe shape. All three configurations (open, oval and horseshoe) are common, especially in the case of American college football stadiums. Rectangular stadiums are more common in Europe, especially for football where many stadiums have four often distinct and very different stands on the four sides of the stadium. These are often all of different sizes and designs and have been erected at different periods in the stadium's history. The vastly differing character of European football stadiums has led to the growing hobby of ground hopping where spectators make a journey to visit the stadium for itself rather than for the event held there. In recent years the trend of building completely new oval stadiums in Europe has led to traditionalists criticising the designs as bland and lacking in the character of the old stadiums they replace.

In North America, where baseball and American football are the two most popular outdoor spectator sports, a number of football/baseball multi-use stadiums were built, especially during the 1960s, and some of them were successful.

Before more modern football stadiums were built in the United States, many baseball parks, including Fenway Park, the Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium, Griffith Stadium, Milwaukee County Stadium, Shibe Park, Forbes Field, Yankee Stadium, and Sportsman's Park were used by the National Football League or the American Football League. (To a certain extent, this continues in lower football leagues as well, with the venue now known as Charles Schwab Field Omaha being used as the home stadium of the United Football League's Omaha Nighthawks.) Along with today's single use stadiums is the trend for retro-style ballparks closer to downtown areas. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first such ballpark for Major League Baseball to be built, using early-20th-century styling with 21st-century amenities.


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