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Community spirit

REVIEW: Sightlines: A Stadium Odyssey By Simon Inglis. Yellow Jersey Press, 2001. 309pp. £8

It's not the best time to be launching a book about stadium design.

With the ongoing saga of Wembley attracting yet more criticisms of architects, builders and meddling politicians, and the ever-increasing budgets they generate, public perception of the craft is at something of a low.

But then again, in the background, there is press adulation of Cardiff 's new 'home' for the FA Cup final, Arup Associates' emerging Commonwealth Games athletics stadium in Manchester, and a steady succession of clubs expanding, finding new sites or building allseater stadia, 12 years on from the Hillsborough disaster.

It was just after Hillsborough that Simon Inglis joined the select few who drew up guidelines for the future design of stadia - it was a tragedy which launched a thousand new schemes. Now Sightlines, Inglis' latest book on stadia, encapsulates all that is good about these buildings, with asides on their enormous potential for regeneration and (hopefully) the resultant fostering of local community spirit. That is in contrast to bland, soulless, heavily branded, could-beanywhere arenas for big business, replete with banks of hospitality suites.

The book is an enjoyable romp around Ireland, Australia, North America and India, but mostly around Buenos Aires, where the author visited a staggering 25 of the area's 50-plus football grounds - inside six days. It reads like a picaresque novel in which Inglis and his faithful Sancho Panza figure, Mariano, pay homage to each ground, unearthing as they do so tales from locals showing pride in their community's main building.

'By their stadia you shall know them' is a favourite phrase, and it is clear that Inglis believes that each is a microcosm of its environs. Fans of the most successful designs have a strong sense of ownership, which is often expressed in unorthodox ways. At Chicago's Wrigley Field, for example, Inglis shows how the baseball arena has spawned a mini economic boom in local businesses, with refreshment facilities and extra viewing tiers springing up on buildings outside the ground, thanks to canny landlords. For Inglis, 'Wrigleyville', with this community involvement, is an admirable model in an age where stadia worldwide tend to be run by accountants.

The book also takes us to the sights and sounds of hurling in Ireland, cricket in India, rugby in New Zealand, the Olympics in Australia, and the now ailing but once pioneering Astrodome in Houston, Texas.

Then there is a look at the building peculiarities of a host of Argentinian clubs, and a fascinating insight into stadium design over a bottle or two of chilled Chardonnay on board the yacht of architect Lobb in Sydney.

Rod Sheard - the man behind the Wembley project - is the HOK Lobb architect often cited as the stadium expert, and here he expounds his views. 'I think the stadium is possibly the only building left where we actually relate to each other as a community, ' he says. 'In a stadium we still share this common desire to be uplifted.'

But Sheard goes on to talk about so-called 'fourth generation' stadia, born out of the Internet revolution. And Inglis is worried that crowds will be 'individualised' by what Sheard's future holds, responding at different times to action replays and the like which they might call up as they please on their onseat displays. (Another stadium designer tells me, on the other hand, that seat technology is likely to be overtaken by hand-held hi-tech gadgetry).

At the heart of this book, though, is a 'humanistic' approach. It is, Inglis infers, exactly that which is needed to avoid stadia design-by-numbers, and to keep a sense of ownership for those most appreciative of users - the fans themselves.

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