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Populous’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – awe inspiring

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Rupert Bickersteth visits the newly completed north London football stadium, a building that dominates the surrounding area, both physically and culturally

Populous, the international practice responsible for more than 100 football stadiums has completed its biggest project yet. Following delays and escalating costs, the £1 billion Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is finally here – all 62,062 seats of it. At its peak, Populous had more than 60 staff on the project – architects, designers, landscaping, wayfinding – while more than 3,800 builders were employed, working in 24-hour shifts. The club remains the second biggest employer in Tottenham after the council.

Arriving at White Hart Lane Overground Station and seeing extensive works in progress at the station itself, as well as the newly surfaced roads and landscaped pavements while walking to the stadium, one quickly understands that this project is not only about providing football fans with a place to watch the game. The club’s executive director Donna-Maria Cullen later mentions in passing that talks with the government, the mayor and Transport for London (TfL) prompted a £100 million pledge for upgrade works across the TfL network in Haringey. You realise this is big business, and politics. Local MP David Lammy pops up in a video presentation to expound what a monumental moment this is – not just for Spurs, but for the whole of Tottenham.

Populous tottenham hotspur stadium ©hufton+crow 003

Populous tottenham hotspur stadium ©hufton+crow 003

The stadium is certainly huge. It dominates the high street and is visible from the station and for a good stretch of the approaching train journey. Inside, it has been finished with care (the old White Hart Lane stadium saved and crumbled into the aggregate of the general area concourses) and, at points, beauty and even architectural wonder – namely the two steel ‘trees’ holding up the south stand. The grey louvred cladding of the façade is dull, clunky and uninspiring in daylight but looks to achieve dramatic nocturnal effects trimmed with blue lighting.

From the inside, it is undeniably awe-inspiring – a wonder of technology and engineering, designed and finished with elegance

In many ways it doesn’t really even matter what the stadium looks like though. They are always completely oversized and impossible to meaningfully relate to the scale of the street – plus it’s 2019; it’s expected that it has all the latest tech. And it does; the turf pitch is in three steel trays each weighing more than 3,000 tonnes which retract under the south stand to reveal the UK’s first purpose-built NFL pitch, it has the fastest internet speed of any stadium in Europe, it also claims Europe’s longest bar – 68m (pints are impressively priced at £4), not to mention the much-lauded ‘Bottoms-up’ draught beer system and the in-house Beavertown brewery.

But what is immediately fascinating is the labyrinthine and far-reaching effects of a colossal flagship project within the urban grain of a historically deprived area and its subsequent regeneration. Cullen rattles off the ‘associated features’ that flank the star attraction of the stadium: a state-funded sixth form; a primary school; 258 new affordable homes with further schemes planned to take it to 1,000 homes with between 30 and 40 per cent affordable; a northern terrace development for art and culture; and a recording studio on top of the ticket hall to recognise and promote the musical heritage of the area, which is home to Adele, Wretch 32 and Skepta amongst others. Everything with the aim of creating jobs.

Populous tottenham hotspur stadium ©hufton+crow 004

Populous tottenham hotspur stadium ©hufton+crow 004

Understandably as the wealthy client that has made unprecedented levels of investment, the club is very proud to be responsible for ‘the ripple effect’ as it sees it. ‘The stadium is the stone you drop in the centre – it is the flagship of Tottenham regeneration,’ it says. And to a greater degree than other clubs, corporate social responsibility is in Tottenham Hotspur’s DNA – unavoidably so; the ward on which the club sits is the fifth most deprived in London and the occupants of 75 per cent of the surrounding housing are on social benefits. It’s hard not to be drawn into the wonder of it all and start to believe the club is responsible for ‘giving hope to the area’ and creating ‘a new destination’.

But, more cynically, it is also hard not to doubt the ‘democratic’ intentions Populous director Chris Lee espouses – expanded general access and no corporate level halfway up, for example – when everything has clearly been designed to maximise revenue, including the largest football club shop in Europe. Not many pennies from the average fan’s match-day spend will land in local trader’s pockets. With 60 food and drink outlets within the stadium, all served by official catering partner Levy UK, local restaurants and retailers will only get the scraps.

From the inside, it is undeniably awe-inspiring – a physical wonder of technology and engineering, designed and finished with elegance. From the outside; less so, but overwhelming enough in its size and associated spaces as to be impressive nonetheless. When viewed more holistically as a new contribution to the built environment of Tottenham and its surroundings, only time will tell if it remains a gilded nest for an arguably now luxury pastime, or continues to endeavour to engage and equip the local community and truly offer hope to the surrounding residents and businesses.

Architect’s view

This is a game changer. There is no doubt in my mind that the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the best stadium in the world, and has set an incredible benchmark to follow. Daniel Levy (Tottenham Hotspur Football Club chairman) has challenged us at every point in the journey, but this has led to a stadium that will be the crucible of the club’s passion for generations to come.

It is the only English Premier League stadium on a high road and so, from the very start, we had a responsibility to be civic-minded in our design. The public podium to the south is roughly the same size as Trafalgar Square and in time will host the tallest climbing wall in the UK as well as other attractions. The stadium itself is meant to have an architectural presence, to be transparent, welcoming – a great building for Tottenham. The façade is dynamic and has movement and directionality. The tilted louvres are about playing with light and transparency and creating textured changes in day and night.

We have achieved the most atmospheric seating bowl in the English Premier League, working very closely with acoustic engineers. It is designed almost like a concert venue. At 35 degrees the 17,500-seat single-tier ‘home end’ South Stand is not only the largest single stand in the UK but also the steepest under UK recommendations in order to put spectators as close to the action as possible. It is fantastically noisy, creating a wall of sound and a feeling of unity among home supporters. Specially designed reflective panels on the underside of the roof minimise the loss of crowd noise from the stadium bowl.

One of my favourite areas is the five-storey-high glass atrium at the south end – created under the South Stand, supported by two colossal steel ‘trees’. It provides a meeting place for home supporters before and after the match and includes an open food court bathed in natural light. This spectacular entrance provides a glimpse of life within the stadium and has been designed to create a sense of arrival from the station.

Christopher Lee, managing director, Populous (EMEA)

Project data

Start on site January 2015
Completion April 2019
Gross internal floor area 120,000m²
Form of contract Construction Management
Cost Confidential
Architect Populous 
Client Tottenham Hotspur FC
Landscape architect Populous
Planning consultant DP9
Structural engineers BuroHappold Engineering and Schlaich Bergermann Partner (roof design)
M&E consultant BuroHappold Engineering
Quantity surveyor Arcadis
Principal designer Populous
Lighting consultant BuroHappold Engineering
Main contractor Mace

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