In the fifth part of his series, JAMES EVANS examines the evolution of pairs of stadiums across the world; and it's back to Spain and the homes of Malaga and Valencia.
The Estadio La Rosaleda, home of Málaga CF. I recollect the football ground from Inglis’ great work, The Football Grounds of Europe, but it is much altered since that was published. You might come at it from a southerly direction, along either side of the Rio Guadalmedina. If it is summer this river will be dry, dusty, dormant. The area around the stadium itself is residential in nature, but the watercourse allows a clear view of the mountains to the north. La Rosaleda occupies its own space, contrary to the dense and moderately high-rise surroundings. Because of its riparian setting, you may regard it from a variety of angles.
The structure itself is fairly typical of many a Spanish stadium (although this may not hold true for those constructed over the past decade). It possesses a Modernist aesthetic: the rectilinear concrete struts attached to the two main stands support the roofs in the same way many mid-20th century buildings employ a series of reinforced concrete columns to bear their loads. Such a retrospective approach towards architecture – if you choose to see it that way – has precedence elsewhere. I am considering in particular Valencia's Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a concrete extravaganza, albeit one mantled in white paint. Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences is considered something of an architectural indulgence. Conceived of and built in the 1990s it should not be tied too neatly to the strain of thinking that elected to work so prominently with reinforced concrete in Malaga: José Segui Pérez, if it was indeed him who was responsible, did not opt to have La Rosaleda painted white – or painted at all.
It must be emphasised that these concrete abutments are primarily functional: they support the roofs and partition the executive boxes that run along underneath. We know this because prior to them being built between 2000 and 2005 the upper tiers adjacent to the touchlines were set lower than those fronting the goal-lines. Initially they weren’t. Instead, the curves of the second tier rose upward away from the main stands only to stop abruptly at the point where they might be expected to join the lower, shallower rake of the upper tiers overlooking the goal-lines. Were the curves culminating in anticipation that these banked terraces would be steepened later, thus completing the bowl effect that eventually became it? The ground was developed in tranches so we cannot be sure of what long-term vision the architects had in mind. In any case, they were. The upper tiers of the main stands could not be raised to the same height because of the road behind one of them and the river to the rear of the other. This is where these more solid concrete columns come in. The roofs could have been set at the lower height of these opposing tiers but would have then been subordinate in aspect to the rest of the stadium – you should be able to imagine why this was undesirable. To allow, then, for the height of the new roofs to correspond with the uncovered upper tiers behind each goal, the struts were angled outward to overcome the spatial restraints on the ground. Furthermore, this permitted the inclusion of the executive boxes in the newly created space between.
You sense these days that architects are a little bit funny about exposed concrete. Perhaps they think it looks cheap – cheaper than the rough paint or cladding commonly used to cover over it up. The point can be taken on board within a climate harsh upon the patina of this material, but Spain generally doesn’t have to worry about such precipitous scarring. The 38 concrete columns – 19 either side – at Estadio La Rosaleda have been left proudly exposed. The opportunity has been taken to build a concourse around the stadium using similar techniques, although the concrete supports in this instance have no reason to be anything other than perpendicular and are much more slender, conveying a sort of lattice-like quality to the surrounding colonnade.
With a capacity of 55,000, Valencia C.F.’s Mestalla Stadium is the fifth largest stadium in Spain. As at Estadio La Rosaleda, it comprises of a rectangular concrete bowl with rounded corners, and a roof covering what might be reasonably described as its ‘grandstand’. The lower tier is continuous, the second tier is not. The second tier of the grandstand recedes backward and upward to expose much of the tier that lies beneath (the Tribuna Baja) and therefore stands taller than the second tier sections overseeing the goal-lines (the north and south ends), but not the portion of the second tier facing it (the east side of the ground), which rises to approximately the same height.
This is how the stadium sat up until the year 1997. The logical thing then would have been to extend the north and south tiers backward so that they lined up with the already augmented east stand. Instead, a disjointed third tier was added following the existing edges of the north, east and south stands, thus replicating the irregularity that existed prior to expansion; it appears as if the third tier of the east stand has been cut away and moved diagonally backward by 15-odd rows. With just the two tiers and a shallower rake, the grandstand now rests subjacent to its immediate surroundings, yet a flimsy, brown corrugated roof detracts from the fact. Moreover, this shabby (cantilevered) canopy serves to improve upon its environment. Resting upon a dense trellis of metal, it is hard to make out exactly how it is supported – the two glass fronted pavilions (or ‘radio cabins’ as Inglis refers to them) that sit either side of the top tier look to have nothing to do with it.
Until relatively recently, the seating used to be mostly a tasteful shade of blue (the lower tier’s seats were white) which contrasted well with the brown of the roof (pale blue and rusty brown are quite complementary). These have since been replaced with predominantly orange ones: the grandstand is completely orange, the rest a mixture of orange and white, save for black chairs forming the image of a giant bat stretched over the three tiers of the Mestalla’s east side. The exterior of the stadium has been given a similar treatment. The breezeblock walls and concrete lattice structure have been painted black, the underside of the balconies and metal gates orange, and the railings lining said balconies white – as have those within the ground itself, of which there are many, especially among the seats of the very steeply raked third tier.
The Mestalla is an exercise in the economy of space. It’s also in thrall to the concrete that forms it, and probably why it’s been painted so exhaustively. Trees line its perimeter, roads run around it, and residential blocks sit opposite. It could not feasibly be made any bigger. But it is a wonderful stadium. The lack of space must make for a delightfully claustrophobic – and intimidating – atmosphere, especially after dark.
In 2007, Valencia C.F. began work on the ‘Nou Mestalla’ but it was abandoned soon after the financial collapse of 2008. It’s getting to the stage, apparently, where the structure may be unsalvageable: the concrete skeleton has been left exposed to the elements for too long. This new ground is/was intended to hold 61,500 spectators – just 6,500 more than the present stadium. One wonders whether it was ever really worth pursuing.
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