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A global arena

An exhibition of stadia and the launch of a book on the topic provide an opportunity to appraise sport and architecture

A new exhibition, due to open on 17 June at the RIBA, will feature a range of state-of-the-art drawings and detailed models of sports architecture across the world. Pride of place will go to the new Wembley Stadium, Ascot Racecourse and the Emirates Stadium (Arsenal's future home ground). The exhibition is a good excuse to view the work of HOK Sport and coincides with the launch of a new book entitled The Stadium: Architecture for the New Global Culture. * Ever since a conference on Sports Stadia and Regeneration in Cardiff in 2000, stadia have been promoted in terms of their symbiotic relationship with a growing tourist industry or commercial activity generally. This book builds on that, but also tries to argue that stadia are no longer simply catalysts for city regeneration. Author Rod Sheard asserts that a stadium is in fact 'the most important building a community can own'.

Sheard, the senior principal at HOK Sport, knows his stuff, but even for him it is not easy to pull off the 'community-centred stadium' argument.

Obviously, the economic impact of building a gigantic megastructure in any location is significant - whether a stadium, cinema or B&Q superstore.

All are massive impositions on the landscape, and the greatest of these is the sports stadium; to suggest otherwise, is a bit like saying that the Three Gorges Dam is a project about reinforcing local identity.

The book features 18 large-scale projects, a slightly mad introduction by Peter Cook and a reasonably interesting essay introducing each subject 'theme'. Not to demean its currency, but much of this stuff can be found elsewhere, most immediately in Charles Jencks' new book on icons.

However, while Jencks recognises the zeitgeist to be societal agnosticism, this book flags up sport as the global cultural currency that will fill the moral void. I'm not really convinced, although I recognise that for some people, Wembley is a cathedral, with ritual and mourning as parts of a communal act. But once again, one wonders whether it is the business of sport - or architects for that matter - to be restoring the moral fabric. Of stadia, it says ominously, 'we need to learn how to use them wisely.' That said, for HOK, there is a lot of work on the horizon. The Nanjing Sports Park in China is due for completion this year, Wembley in 2006 and Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium in 2007. If Sheard's wish that the 21st century 'will establish sport as the world's first truly global culture' comes true, the order books will be full for a while.

*The Stadium: Architecture for the New Global Culture. By Rod Sheard.

Pesaro Publishing, 2005. pp208

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