Mark Fenwick, partner at Fenwick Iribarren Architects, analyzed for EFE the strengths and weaknesses of Spanish stadiums for the 2030 World Cup and said he believes that work on the New Mestalla will resume next year and that it will be one of the major stadiums for the World Cup.
The capacity of Spain to host a World Cup, the strongest cities to host a World Cup, or the importance of multidisciplinary sports venues such as the new Santiago Bernabeu in Spain… Fenwick does not avoid any topic, including the importance of AI, the implementation of a greener architecture or the situation of the New Mestalla, which he promises will be “one of the benchmarks of the World Cup 2030”.
The firm founded by Mark Fenwick and Javier Iribarren in 1990 was in charge of building three stadiums for Qatar 2022 and advising FIFA on five others. Among them is 974, the world’s first dismountable stadium. They manage projects in Serbia and are vying to build more stadiums in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and even the next super stadium that Morocco wants to build in Casablanca.
Question: What are the strengths and areas for improvement of the stadiums in Spain with a view to the 2030 World Cup?
Answer. I think that in general Spanish stadiums are in a splendid moment. There are a number of stadiums that have been recently refurbished, there are stadiums that are going to finish being refurbished now, such as Real Madrid’s stadium. So I think that the selection of stadiums that we have on the list and that we know of for FIFA are ideal for a World Cup in 2030.
Q. What is the difference between the candidatures of Spain, Portugal and Morocco with respect to previous editions?
R. It is a very different World Cup from the previous one. Let’s remember that it was held in just one city and now the 2030 bid is going to be held in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and also in South American countries, so it is a more complex World Cup, more complex in terms of distance. But I believe that Spain and Portugal, of course, are undoubtedly among the best possibilities for a World Cup, not only because of the stadiums. The league may be the best in the world, the country itself has good gastronomy, hotels… it has everything. Really the choice of Spain is unbeatable.
Q. Who should host the 2030 World Cup Final? Morocco is bidding hard for it.
R. I think Spain is the country that should host the final, in my opinion, because it is obviously the country with the longest tradition in soccer. It seems to me that we haven’t had a World Cup here in Spain since 82. There are new stadiums and, of course, the new Bernabeu is a new icon for world soccer, so a final at the Bernabeu seems fair to me and it seems to me the stadium that should host the World Cup final.
P. Based on your experience in Qatar 2022: What can we look to for the organization of our World Cup?
R. We, as you know, had a very strong participation in the 2022 World Cup with three stadiums and the role of advisors for FIFA issues in five of the stadiums, so our participation in FIFA’s knowledge is very large.
Therefore, being able to advise and participate in the stadiums in Spain is very important. What is needed right now is that the existing stadiums have the necessary adjustments to be FIFA stadiums, but it is not only the stadium itself. What surrounds a stadium in a World Cup is very complicated and very complex, so the stadiums have to seek not only to meet FIFA requirements, but also to adapt a fairly large environment around the stadium.
Q. What needs to be improved in Spain before the 2030 World Cup?
R. Spain is in an unbeatable position because I think the airport structures, the trains and the urban structures are magnificent. In almost all the cities where there are stadiums there is a large volume of tourism, such as Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Seville, and they have everything really well prepared. There is a need in the years leading up to 2030 to improve these structures, but I really don’t think that much is needed to have brilliant infrastructures for the 2030 World Cup.
P. Stadiums are now more entertainment and spectacle centers. How does that affect the design?
R. Stadiums today have to have variable uses, uses that can really make the stadium work every day of the year, not just on match days. For example, in Real Madrid’s stadium, as you know, the roof is closed, the field disappears into the ground, to allow for concerts and events of any kind.
A stadium has to be able to host large and small events, as well as any recreational event, or even other sports such as tennis, American soccer or any other sport.
Q. Can the innovative Las Vegas sphere venue be a future reference for multidisciplinary spaces?
R. I think the Las Vegas Sphere is very Las Vegas, it’s something that I don’t really think can be transferred to many other places. What is special about it is that it is spectacular, I have seen that dome and that space, but I think it is not a traditional stadium because it is an indoor space. We need outdoor spaces. The soccer tradition needs some rain and possibly less spectacular aspects.
P. It’s changing the way people attend and watch sports, a soccer stadium already hosts other sports, such as NFL games. Are all stadiums destined to move toward that model?
R. Yes, I believe that without a doubt, but it is not only to host other sports, but also to provide other uses and services to the surrounding community. The stadium has to change from being an aggressive building in the city to being a building that improves the city and even improves the people surrounding that same community.
P. Urban planning in cities is evolving towards more ecological, more proximity-based models. How do you approach this challenge from an architectural point of view?
R. Each community is different, so we have to analyze what the community is and what it may need. We are putting into stadiums medical uses, including culture, education and spaces so that children who want to play can also be in the stadium on a day-to-day basis. We have to integrate commercial spaces so that the community can use restaurants, a stadium can create very special spaces, because eating while watching Real Madrid or Atlético de Madrid’s soccer field is something spectacular.
Q. What ideas and sketches do you have in the studio for the 2030 World Cup?
R. We are looking at many projects, we are looking at projects in Spain, we are looking at options abroad. We have already launched the Belgrade National Stadium project in Serbia. We are now starting to look at three or four projects in Saudi Arabia. We also have a project open in Malaysia for the Asian Football Federation. We’re really reaching out to the world and to different countries. We are even looking at the possibility of being in the competition for the Casablanca Stadium.
Q. Now that Artificial Intelligence is growing so fast, what applications does it have in architecture and more specifically in the construction of sports venues?
R. Artificial intelligence has great applications and provides good resources but we have made really innovative designs, we have made the first detachable stadium in the world. I don’t think artificial intelligence can do that, although we can use it to help us in our applications and our designs.
Q. At what point is the New Mestalla, will it be one of the references of the World Cup 2030?
R. We have been working on it for many years, but right now I am optimistic that possibly next year we will finally start the works and that we can have the stadium finished before the 2030 World Cup. I think it will be one of the great stadiums of the 2030 World Cup, it is undoubtedly a magnificent stadium, one of the largest that will be in the selection of Spanish stadiums. Valencia is a magnificent city, so Valencia’s stadium has to be one of the benchmarks in 2030.
Q. Which will be the strongest Spanish venues for the 2030 World Cup?
R. Obviously the big cities Madrid and Barcelona are the two main cities. I think Bilbao and Valencia are magnificent places to host a World Cup. Seville is also a fantastic city in the south. The stadiums have to be in almost all the main autonomous regions of Spain, giving that diversity as well, which is very interesting.