Wildlife of South Africa inspires stadium design ahead of World Cup kick off
The model of Mbombela Stadium in the foyer at R&L Architects in downtown Cape Town would look out of place almost anywhere else. True, the 1:333 scale is eccentric, the vivid patterning of the seats candidly mirrors zebra skin and the structural pylons resemble- to use their collective noun- a tower of giraffes.
But it is the bright weave of myriad tiny glass beads from which the model is made that positively locates it in South Africa. Mike Bell, a partner at the firm, gave an explanation of the making of this homespun model that could serve as an analogy for the architectural project it describes. The model-maker was found working on a Cape Town street corner. He was given the plans, sections and 3D images, a quick lesson with a scale rule and then left to work it out. The result is not only an accurate representation of the building in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga Province, but a beautiful work of art that captures something of its unusual evolution and distinctive character.
Superficially the African symbolism in the building is very explicit and that was always the intention. The zebra-patterned seats follow a rectilinear plan that is bevelled slightly at the corners to maintain an intimate sense of enclosure. In keeping with a very tight budget and a FIFA brief that requires a smaller, 40,000 seat capacity, the levels are very simple and the sight-lines clear throughout. Between the seating bowl and the roof a continuous six meter gap allows natural ventilation and frames a view of the surrounding bush and mountains.
Supporting the roof 18 four legged pylons are minutely modified to resemble a ring of abstracted giraffes standing smartly around a canopy of acacias. The design process reveals a correspondence between the architect's desire to “maximise the 'African-ness'” and the structural lessons of the form that inspires it, however contrived that may sound. “It's one of those great things where the form and the function really are not parting from one another and are in fact assisting each other. Quite quickly the form started to happen…and started screaming out 'I'm a giraffe!' It came together so nicely from there; we had to do very little to make it look like that. Even to the point where it was the engineer who wanted it to have four legs. It is a very stable structure and I guess so is a giraffe.”