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Foster axes 'circus tent' look and opts for Wembley arch

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Foster and Partners spiked its four-mast design for Wembley Stadium for this week's planning application because it resembled a circus tent and lacked uniqueness, Lord Foster told the AJ this week.

The £475 million 90,000-seater scheme is now crowned with a steel 'triumphal arch', half the height of Canary Wharf. The new design, done with hok Lobb, was unveiled this week in a 14kg application to Brent planners. They will pore over nearly 3km of drawings - enough to cover a third of the Wembley pitch.

Lord Foster overhauled the design with his 153m-high rim of steel little more than a week after the original design was unveiled in late July. He said: 'The arch is much more about permanence and less associated with temporary structures like circus tents, or with other stadia around the world like Paris, Munich and Turin which all have masts. The arch is also more economic, using two-thirds the steel of the masts.'

The uprights formed a barrier between the ground and the famous 1km Wembley walkway that now leads to the concrete twin towers, said Foster. The masts would have interfered with views down the approach from three banqueting halls on the Wembley facade.

The stadium will still feature a removable steel and concrete platform that will rise 6m above the football pitch to contain a 400m running track. This would take six months to bolt together and cost around £20 million, lowering capacity to 68,000 spectators and involving adding more seats at the back of the stadium or reconfiguring lower tiers. The latter option is preferred because it will keep fans closer to the action.

The roof will not cover the pitch but can move back and forth to overhang seating areas around it. The stadium was acoustically designed and hemmed the pitch edge to capture the 'inimitable Wembley roar', said Foster. It is due for completion in 2003 and will include 145,000m2 of support space totalling the area of Canary Wharf tower. This will include 2000 wcs (more than any other building in Britain), 27 escalators, three banqueting halls for 5000 people, 400 seats for wheelchair users, 400 media positions and 478 food and drink shops.

Sport England has granted £120 million towards the scheme by Wembley National Stadium Ltd. Chairman Ken Bates said leading the initiative was like managing the England football team: 'People are happy to tell you what to do, but they don't want the job.' He defended the modest 3500 car-parking spaces, arguing they tied in with Government policy to encourage people to use public transport.

Meanwhile, England boss Kevin Keegan is reported to have objected to the masts because they looked like the Stade de France, Paris. One commentator at the press launch, covered by more than 10 TV crews and all the national dailies, said the scheme had swapped Millennium Dome-like masts for Millennium Wheel-like curved steel.

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