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Millwall’s new den revealed by AFL Architects

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AFL Architects has revealed its vision for a ‘fluid’ new stadium for Millwall Football Club in south-east London

The proposal would see The Den in South Bermondsey increase in size with a new upper tier on each side of the ground, as well as infilling at the corners between the stands.

Its current practical capacity of 18,000 would rise to a maximum of 34,000 via the ‘incremental, phased expansion’ of the existing stadium.

The Championship club appointed Manchester-based AFL in summer 2018 and the design is being worked on by its London office. The firm is the latest in a string of practices to draw up plans for the stadium expansion. 

But progress was hampered by a long-running dispute between Lewisham Council and the football club over a Studio Egret West-designed regeneration plan involving the sale of the site.

The council owns the freehold of The Den, which is leased to the club, and Millwall feared this project would force it to leave the Den.

But in October 2019 the council terminated its agreement to sell the land around the ground to property developer Renewal, opening the way for a compromise. Under the new plan, Millwall are able to redevelop their ground while Renewal carries out the regeneration scheme, called New Bermondsey.

AFL says that it has held constructive talks with both the football club and Renewal about the redevelopment and that its plan can now go ahead.

The existing stadium, completed in 1993, was the first new all-seater stadium in England to be completed after the Taylor Report on the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

Afl architects millwall fc the den (3)

Afl architects millwall fc the den (3)

While the design adds 16,500 seats to the ground, the average attendance of a game this season stands at 13,981 – well under the current capacity.

Under the plan, the largest increase in capacity would be in the redeveloped west stand, which will also accommodate new press and player facilities needed to comply with Premier League requirements.

A curving roof will cover the west, south and east stands ‘as and when additional upper tier seating is required’, according to the architect. 

The design includes brickwork arches to reference the railway viaducts and industrial past that surround the current site, as well as at its old home of Millwall Park on the Isle of Dogs, which was home to the club more than a century ago.

As much of the internal stadium infrastructure will be retained as possible, to ensure the ‘unique atmosphere of the Den’ is retained, the architects say.

The scheme also creates an elevated public plaza, providing a large traffic-free area for a fan zone on match days outside the main west stand. The overall aim is to encourage activity within and around the stadium seven days a week, with flexible phasing that will allow the ground to be kept in use during construction while minimising demolition and waste.

The plan also envisages better facilities for Millwall Community Trust, such as a new sports centre and community café.

AFL Architects senior associate Bruce Caldwell said the expansion plan would not be completed in ‘one go’. Instead of building space and seats that might not be needed, there was flexibility built into the design so that the club could expand as and when they need to, such as on being promoted to the Premier League. Millwall have not been in the top tier of English football since 1990. 

‘The exact sequence and phasing of this is yet to be determined,’ Caldwell said. ‘So potentially there is a possibility that not all of the additional seating and roof will be constructed at the same time. We are working through various phasing options with the club to make sure that in each phase the ground will not only look its best architecturally but is also a fully functioning certifiable venue for football and can give fans the best possible experience.’

The site, squeezed between railway lines and industrial units, presented special challenges, Caldwell said.

‘It’s quite constrained and we had to design the additional seating capacity and facilities carefully to fit within tight site boundaries – however, we wanted to unify these with a single roof to tie the whole development together.

‘The roof form is primarily derived from the line at the back of the enlarged seating bowl below, and was seen as being a fluid, lightweight counterpoint to the more linear, regimented language of the brick arches at the base.’

He said that the scheme’s retention of much of the existing stadium meant AFL was aligning the scheme with the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign and was committed to using locally sourced traditional materials, such as London Stock Brick for the stadium façades.

A series of plans have come and gone over the past 15 years. In 2008 the club appointed architect Will Alsop, who proposed building a series of towers on and around the stadium.

Following that, the club commissioned Squire & Partners in 2010 for a ‘more modest’ scheme that also foundered. 

Millwall FC said a planning application would be submitted for the scheme after leases had been finalised. 

Afl architects millwall fc the den (4)

Afl architects millwall fc the den (4) 

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