Stadiums carry a message, says top architect | Arts | DW | 11.06.2012
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Stadiums carry a message, says top architect

Humans need to feel part of a crowd and stadiums meet that need, says architect Volkwin Marg. In designing the EURO 2012 stadiums in Warsaw and Kyiv, he made sure their deeper historical meaning was preserved.

DW: Stadiums are big, loud and crowded. What attracts people to them?

Volkwin Marg: People aren't just individuals that constantly protect themselves and shut out others. They are social beings that want to mesh with other people under the right circumstances. This ambivalence in human beings leads to a suppressed desire to be a part of a society and dissolve into it.

Do you enjoy going to stadiums?

I grew up during the Nazi period, with rhythmic chants and marching. Then I went to school in the GDR, where there were demonstrations - also with marching - and organized, rhythmic clapping. My experiences with crowds have made me skeptical. I experienced crowds in a negative way and I'm always completely amazed that cheerfulness can also bring a crowd together, like clapping together for example. I'm not passionate about visiting stadiums, but my grandchildren get me to go with them.

How have the requirements for a stadium changed over the years?

In the beginning, stadiums - like in antique Olympia - were places where the public gathered to see how the city-states faired against each other in paramilitary competitions. Since the gods were always involved in the outcomes, the games were also cultic then.

The next step came during the Roman Empire. There, the stadium evolved into a huge facility made out of stone. It was not only used for paramilitary competitions but also for huge spectacles. There were large amphitheaters where big events took place, with animal slayings and gladiatorial fights - even re-enacted ocean battles, since the stadiums could be filled with water. Huge horse-race tracks were also developed, like the Circus Maximus with space for over 250,000 people. The events sometimes lasted for more than a week and were meant to keep the people calm, to control the ordinary population.

Stadium in Warsaw

The design of a stadium choreographs the crowd

How have the games and the stadiums changed in more recent years?

When the colonial powers and nation states began competing for the globe, the idea for the Olympic Games as an international competition was brought up at the end of the 19th century - and led to a renaissance of the stadium. The Olympic idea very quickly became highly politicized in the 20th century: in fascist Italy, in national-socialist Germany, but also in other countries.

How different were the stadiums during the 1936 Olympic Games in National Socialist Berlin and during the 1972 Games in democratic Munich?

The previous government, the Weimar Republic, had applied for the 1936 Olympic Games in 1929. They were to take place where they had been cancelled in 1916 due to World War I - in Berlin. The plan was to rebuild the existing stadium. But when the National Socialists came to power in 1933, they saw it as an opportunity for self-presentation. The Reichssportsfeld was created, which was a facility of monumental proportions. In the middle was the stadium, which opened toward the so-called Maifeld, a gathering area that held 250,000 people. Even that was too small for Hitler. […] The whole lofty, monumental facility was designed for self-contained marches, for a society of equals marching in step.

The Munich 1972 facilities, by the Behnisch & Partner architecture firm, were the absolute opposite. They designed a free-form hilly landscape with a lake. The roofs of the stadiums and swimming halls were tent-like, even letting through light. The network of paths, the choreography of the crowds, was freely formed, like in an English park. You could almost compare it to choreographing a waltz.

You and your firm have designed several stadiums, in South Africa, Brazil, Poland and Ukraine. What role do politics play - or is the budget the most important factor?

Both are important. But when a city or a country presents itself, the political ramifications are decisive, that also applies to the budget. When a national stadium is built, the budget is usually based on psychological return. But the political influence goes much further. A stadium is symbolic. Just look at the most recent Olympic Games in China, where they agreed to make the birds nest a symbol of China's future.

Volkwin Marg

Volkwin Marg, based in Hamburg, has worked on stadiums all over the world

What kind of symbolism can be found in the stadiums in Poland and Ukraine, where the UEFA EURO 2012 is taking place?

The national stadium in Warsaw has tremendous meaning for the Poles. The stadium's predecessor across from the Old Town was erected out of the rubble which the Germans left behind when they bombarded the city to put down the Warsaw Uprising. So the massive earthwork stadium served as a memorial to the destruction. It was also located on the place where the Russian army stopped during its march into Warsaw to wait out the Warsaw Uprising and then cross the Vistula and occupy the city.

The new stadium was to be built on this very spot, with the condition that the old structure not be touched. Our firm won the bid by envisioning the new stadium as a kind of crown placed over the old one. We built up the arena like a braided basket, in the Polish national colors, white and red.

The stadium in Kyiv has a hundred-year history and used to be located in the middle of the historic part of the city. It had been rebuilt and renamed several times since the czarist period, eventually holding 100,000 spectators on bleachers, not individual seats. The stadium has now been refitted to meet commercial soccer standards. However, it is to be preserved as an architectural monument to Ukrainian history.

Volkwin Marg, 75, co-founded the architecture firm Gerkan, Marg & Partner. They have designed stadiums around the world, including the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and the Moses Mabhida Stadium in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Warsaw and Kyiv stadiums for the UEFA EURO 2012, and others. Marg also curated an exhibition on "Choreography of Crowds," currently showing at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

Interview: Klaudia Prevezanos / kjb
Editor: Helen Whittle

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