News24

Nelspruit's true African stadium

2010-02-27 13:01

Nelspruit – Glowing orange on the horizon, a herd of giant steel giraffes greets visitors as they enter Nelspruit – the roof supports for this World Cup host city's new 43 500-seat stadium.

Besides hosting four first-round matches, Nelspruit is the jumping-off point for Kruger National Park, South Africa's largest game reserve and one of the continent's most famous safari destinations.

The new stadium – a $132m monument to the region's wildlife – is the work of lead architect Mike Bell, a partner at Cape Town-based firm R & L Architects.

"What happened was as the design evolved, the roof supports just naturally started to sort of take the shape of a giraffe," Bell told AFP.

"We obviously then tailored it a little bit so it does look like a giraffe. But it's one of those beautiful mixes where you get total efficiency visually and structurally. Often you've got a visual image you're trying to create, and you've got to sometimes force it. This one came naturally."

Meticulous precision

Bell, a soft-spoken 47-year-old with a manner of meticulous precision, confessed that he didn't watch much football before his firm won the Nelspruit Stadium contract.

He said he has since begun watching the game – but less out of World Cup fever than to observe "the way that the game would interact with the stadium and the environment around," he said.

"You try to optimise the building always to serve its function," he added.

In the case of the Nelspruit Stadium, he said, that meant creating a tight design to contain the energy of the crowd and putting spectators' seats as close to the pitch as possible.

Close to the action

"I think we're going to get a lot of praise from the spectators because they are so close. You'll be able to see the expression on the players' faces," he said.

The Nelspruit stadium was the only one of South Africa's five new World Cup stadiums to be built by an all-South African design team.

The contracts for the three biggest stadiums all went to Hamburg, Germany-based GMP Architects, the firm behind Cologne's RheinEnergie Stadium and the reconstructed Olympic Stadium in Berlin – two much-praised projects from the 2006 World Cup.

Bell spoke admiringly of GMP's work, but said he wished World Cup organisers had given more of the design work to South Africans.

Foreign companies

"We think it's quite sad that the design was farmed out to, in the case of Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, one German firm," he said.

"They're a very capable firm. There's no doubt about that. They're forefront designers in the world. But it's a South African event, so spread it around a little bit."

Bell said it was important to him for his venue to have an authentically African feel.

Besides the giraffe-shaped columns, the stadium also sports a zebra-print interior and locker rooms decorated in patterns inspired by the designs of South Africa's Ndebele people.

"It looks totally at home where it is, which I think we feel proud of," he said.

"I think we've achieved our objective, which was to make an African stadium."