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Proposed demolition of Milan’s San Siro stadium prompts outcry

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Plans to flatten the San Siro stadium, the iconic shared home of AC Milan and Inter Milan, have been met with outrage

Last month the two Milan-based football clubs agreed to knock down the 80,000-seat stadium, which is owned by the local council, and replace it with a £630 million smaller 60,000-seat stadium.

The new stadium would be just to the east of the current site, with additional plans for a smaller 5,000-seat concert venue and shopping centre.

The landmark football ground was built in 1925 but had 19 ramps added to it in the 1950s followed by 11 concrete cylindrical towers (designed by Ragazzi and Partners 1987-1990) as part of a major overhaul ahead of Italy’s World Cup in 1990. 

Catherine Slessor,  AR contributing editor and interim architecture correspon‎dent for The Observer, was among the scores of critics to hit out at the demolition plans, describing the stadium as ‘wonderfully muscular architecture’.

She said: ‘Italian football is like opera and the San Siro is La Scala. It seems a travesty to pull it down, both culturally and in terms of sustainability. When Arsenal moved, Highbury was converted into flats, very successfully. But this is Italy and who knows whose palms are being greased.’

Although the architects are currently unknown, Italian newspapers have suggested the new stadium will be built in a bowl, below street level, to reduce the impact from construction.

According to the AJ’s sister publication New Civil Engineer, it is understood that it will be modelled on the Metlife Stadium, which hosts NFL teams the New York Giants and New York Jets.

Eddy Rhead, co-founder of the Manchester Modernist Society, said: ‘There seems to be little sentimentality from owners of sports teams across the world towards their homes and it now seems the San Siro is no exception.

‘The needs and demands of modern fans have outgrown the facilities, and the commercial pressure to demolish and rebuild outweighs any architectural or cultural arguments for preservation.’

From a sustainability standpoint it would surely be better to refurbish the current stadium

He added: ‘From a sustainability standpoint alone it would surely be better to refurbish the current San Siro stadium. but clearly the owners, presented with plenty of land around the current stadium to build on, have done the calculations and decided a new stadium is the better option.’

Ben Hopkins, associate at Bennetts Associates, agreed. ‘Assuming the existing building isn’t fundamentally structurally unsound, in a climate emergency it just shouldn’t be possible to start from scratch with a project like this. Even if the new project applied the best possible practice it would still have a huge carbon footprint compared to any continued use.

‘It will be interesting to see how many practices who have signed up to Architects Declare will consider boycotting the project if it goes to an international competition. Alternatively, could there be a competition for a low-carbon re-working of the existing building?’

Milan mayor Beppe Sala has warned both of the clubs that building a new San Siro will be a ’very expensive’ project.

‘Building a new stadium will be a very expensive undertaking, but I don’t want to influence anything,’ he said.

‘I’m waiting to see the proposal from Inter and Milan. Hopefully it’ll arrive before the holidays. In my opinion, San Siro is a wonderful facility.’

AC Milan have been playing at the ground since it was built in 1925, and have shared it with rivals Inter Milan since 1947.

The new stadium, which will be built while the San Siro remains in use, is expected to be completed for the start of the 2022/23 campaign.

Shutterstock arcansel aerial panoramic view of milan cityscape with san siro stadium

Shutterstock arcansel aerial panoramic view of milan cityscape with san siro stadium


Jon Wright, heritage consultant, Purcell
Whether you appreciate large-scale concrete buildings or not, the demolition of them to make way for shiny new ones is getting pretty indefensible as a design option.

When you combine that fact with the potential loss of the most historic football grounds in Italy, then you’ve got some pretty powerful testimony for clever adaption and reuse. The recent announcement, therefore, of the demolition of the San Siro, or the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium to give it its proper title, sounds as needless as it is wasteful.

The demolition of concrete building to make way for shiny new ones is getting pretty indefensible

While the Bernabeau, another concrete stadium of similar design, gets a conversion, the San Siro falls, taking with it millions of tonnes of embodied energy and the architectural and footballing heritage that stretches back to 1925. The San Siro has been adapted before, for changing times. Never were the times changing as fast as they are now, with consideration of the planet and its resources being paramount concerns.

Buildings like this, which are highly visible totems of change, need to lead the way in showing how buildings of all forms can be kept and reused. This is a dated decision and a considerable own goal for Italy. It needs a rethink.

sketch s.siro ragazzi and partners 1 (1)

Sketch of San Siro stadium by Ragazzi and Partners (1990)

Sketch of San Siro stadium by Ragazzi and Partners (1990)

Francesco Ragazzi, Ragazzi and Partners 
I personally think that San Siro is an iconic building - it is included in many renowned books as one of the best architecture of Milan. So it is not just a football stadium it is a symbol and a landmark in Milan’s skyline and an important part of the history of the town. I really don’t see the opportunity to demolish San Siro to build next to it a new and smaller stadium shared by the two teams again.

If the two teams want to build a new stadium fair enough, but for me, they should find another area and San Siro could become the perfect location for international events of any kind, as the Stade de France in Paris.

San Siro has always been compared with other iconic stadiums such as Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and Camp Nou in Barcelona and they are renovating and enlarging them rather than destroy them. So for me, San Siro represents a great opportunity for the football teams and for the municipality and not a problem to cope with.

Simon Inglis, editor of the Played in Britain series and a writer on sporting heritage and architecture
Yes the San Siro is an icon, a stunning one, almost overpowering in its sheer bulk. But this brutal solidity is also, sadly, its weakness. Facilities for most fans are poor and, in some parts of the stadium, difficult to access. Even its corporate areas – which in other modern stadiums underpin the business plan – fall way below more recent counterparts, such as Bayern Munich and Tottenham.

From what I understand the two tenant clubs and the city council have investigated every way of modernising the San Siro in its existing form but concluded that in the end, the concrete shell (some of which at ground level dates back to the 1920s) is just too inflexible.

In an ideal world I’d like to have seen the San Siro reconfigured as an indoor arena, but plans for a new one in the Santa Giulia area of Milan, for the 2026 Winter Olympics, seemingly rule that out.

San Siro’s demise should also be seen in the context of the 1990 World Cup. Architectural critics were falling over themselves to praise the Italians for their new crop of signature stadiums back then, especially in contrast with the more functional approach taken in the UK. But just to take two examples, the new stadium in Turin was reviled by fans and lasted just 26 years, while the once-hailed Bari Stadium by Renzo Piano is now crumbling and discredited. Let us also not forget that that once-great icon of English football, the Empire Stadium, Wembley, was also revered, and yet it was an appalling design.

Wherever functionality evolves, as it has done so rapidly in stadium design, older forms are bound to face obsolescence. We sometimes call stadiums ‘cathedrals’, but unlike cathedrals, stadiums are built on revenues, not faith.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    I think they couldn't get the grass to grow after the Italia 90 re-modelling.
    Maybe if they just took the very heavy roof off, it would all work better.

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