Populous is an award-winning international architecture firm with offices around the world, specialized in the design of stadiums and architecture for events. In 2021 he won the tender for the new San Siro stadium, the official 'home' of the two teams Milan and Inter.
At the moment it is controversial: it is not clear if the city is in agreement with a new mega plant that would replace the old Meazza.
But the project is ready: a spectacular architecture designed for the future and solidly rooted in the Milanese architectural codes. We asked Silvia Prandelli, senior principal of the Populous Italy, what beauty is for a community of fans, citizens and sports and music enthusiasts.
What are the main themes in the design of large collective infrastructures from the point of view of the concept?
Sustainability is an imperative topic.
We know that the construction industry has a great impact on mining activities, on the production of Co2, on the intelligent disposal of demolition materials.
We design to build with responsible techniques and carbon safe materials. The logistics strategies are accurate, the technology is omnipresent to guarantee a pragmatically ecological calculation of times and resources.
One of the exemplary projects on this theme is the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, the first architecture of its kind to be net carbon zero certified by the Living Future Institute. It is fundamentally a place designed to have minimal impact, both in terms of construction and operations.
Speaking instead of safety, which is one of the problems that prompted the Milanese clubs to think about replacing the Meazza?
Safety is another key issue.
Today stadiums are used for different purposes, ideally every day of the year. But obviously there are peaks of turnout that must be managed with a flow and safety project in the event of an emergency.
Anyone attending a sporting event or concert must feel safe, know their way around and have an intuitive understanding of the place.
So do stadiums have functions other than hosting sporting or musical events?
It is impossible to relegate to sporadic use the function of such an architecture that requires important economic resources even in terms of maintenance.
You have to think of a place that lives within a city and a neighborhood. Where there are meeting places, spaces for social or educational activities, restaurants and bars.
Finally there is the issue of flexibility of use. For Tottenham Hotspur in London we have created a micro-brewery and a neighborhood pub.
And the building can host sporting events other than football, adapting from time to time.
About space, budget and usage: technology evolves very quickly. Doesn't a stadium, however monumental and spectacular, run the risk of premature obsolescence?
Any such design is meant to be used with technologies that will be around 10 to 15 years from now.
It is a job that depends on predictive capacity, but we know that any human environment changes rapidly, it is a figure of this era. And we work accordingly on open and updatable technological functions.
What does it mean to relate as well as with a client, with a community, with its codes and specific needs?
The stadium must be a living architecture, which fits into a pre-existing context as a social catalyst. The aesthetic codes are often borrowed from the culture of the area, its functions take into account the soul of the city that hosts it.
It is a job that we do together with the institutions, thinking about specific needs and an idea of regeneration that aims to transform the concept of community well-being.
We don't think only of fans and sportsmen, but of citizens, of those who visit the city, of the inhabitants of the surrounding area.
On many occasions, as happened with the Fulham stadium in London, new gathering spaces are created taking into account the master plan and the morphology of the territory.
How is the formal and aesthetic theme addressed?
In the recent past there has been a transition to designing stadiums that are functionally beautiful, iconic, sustainable, connected to the local context.
Populous has teams with very different backgrounds and origins, but we always work with people who know the area and its culture well.
People 'with the mind of the thief', as Carlo Scarpa said, who understand the past and project themselves into the future to design a work that be interesting in the years to come, but rooted in recognizable codes.
What is 'beautiful' today for a large multicultural and transgenerational community?
Each of our architectures is different depending on the context that surrounds it.
We try to make places gender neutral and transgenerational. We give space to a beauty that can be defined as evolutionary: for the place, for the people and their well-being, for the use.
We do social analyses, we compare ourselves with pre-existing visual signs and with communities. Ours is a work of civic architecture, in which the city must recognize itself in order to evolve.