The Miracle of Madrid

Ursula Herrling-Tusch
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Estadio Santiago Bernabéu: a true synthesis of architecture, sport and communication

The sky over Madrid is an endless blue and has an infectious brightness. This bustling city in the middle of the Iberian peninsula is a modern, creative metropolis with a medieval town centre which stands in picturesque contrast to the loud and hectic character of the surrounding city with its three million inhabitants. This is where the world-famous "El Prado" art museum is to be found, but the kickers of the renowned football club Real Madrid C.F. are also doing their bit to increase the fame of this city on the River Manzanares.

Over the years, their home stadium, the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, built in 1947, has grown into one of the most prominent football grounds, and not just in Spain. As the venue for two UEFA Cup and three Champions League finals, for the final of the European Championship in 1964 and for the World Cup in 1982 as well as innumerable national and international matches with Real Madrid, the stadium has become an internationally recognized emblem of top-quality football. With its 77,300 seats – 3,300 of them VIP seats – it is also one of the biggest stadium constructions in the world.

Stadium architecture reflects the history of the club

Real Madrid took its first steps while still under the name "Madrid Futbol Club" in 1900 on the "Campo de la Estrada". Officially founded in 1902, until 1912 it's home games were played on an earthen pitch between a racing track and a bullring in Madrid's Narvaez district. The club's first real pitch, in O'Donnell Street, was bought in 1912 for just 6,000 pesetas – and immediately set standards: it was the first football pitch in Spain with a fence.

In the same year, a 17-year-old forward made his debut in the first eleven, a man who had joined the football club at the age of 14 in 1909 and who would stay in it until the day he died, at 83, in 1978: Santiago Bernabéu. At first as a player, later as its president, he would lead this previously hardly known football club to world prominence. The unstoppable rise to fame began with an act of enthusiasm by the then King of Spain, Alfonso XIII. A keen fan of the team, in 1920 he awarded the club its honorary regal title ("real" = "royal"). And so the club's previously unspectacular name was changed to "Real Madrid".

It was not long before the rapidly increasing number of spectators began to make the conditions under which the matches took place more and more intolerable, both for players and for fans. So, in 1923, the club moved to the "Campo de la Ciudad Lineal" stadium, which had a capacity of 8,000 spectators and was Real's first grass pitch. But the exponential rise of spectator numbers forced the club to move again just twelve months later. Real Madrid inaugurated the Chamartín stadium, with a capacity of 22,500 fans and the first stadium to belong wholly to the club. Finally, in 1943, planning began for a new, even larger stadium, which was completed in 1947. This was the most modern football stadium in Spain and had a capacity of 75,342 fans, 47,500 of them standing.

The capacity was increased again just a few years later. By allowing standing only, the stadium could accommodate 100,000 fans. In January, 1955, the stadium was given its present name: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. In late 1957, its capacity was increased to 125,000 spectators (27,900 seated and 97,100 standing).

For the World Cup in 1982, more stringent safety standards and a need for more stadium comfort brought an end to this inflationary development of spectator numbers. A major refurbishment reduced capacity to 90,200 fans (50,200 seated and 40,000 standing). Ten years later, the stadium was completely renovated. This was followed just a decade later by the next and so far latest construction phase, which is due to be completed in 2005. This refurbishment will turn the home grounds of Real Madrid into a nine-star stadium, and thus into one of the best and most comfortable football stadiums in the world. When finished, the stadium's capacity will be reduced by a further 10,000 to about 80,000, all of them covered seats with cushions and radiator heating.

Stainless steel wire mesh as a tool for sponsor relations

This current direction of stadium design marks the birth of a new generation of football stadiums which, because of the increasing medialization of the sport, must meet a variety of new demands on a scale so far unknown. In Madrid, this is patently evident in the extension of press and media facilities, the integration of a congress and event centre as well as two restaurants, an enlarged VIP area with access via eight ultra-modern lifts, and a club museum.

The essential cornerstone for these plans was the roofing over of the eastern stand containing the press and media facilities. Since this stand is also the main entrance to the stadium, it had to be of a representative and spectacular design. At a very early stage, the architects of the Estudio Carlos Lamela, Madrid, decided to use stainless steel wire mesh made by GKD – Gebr. Kufferath AG as a both integrative and interactive module of a visionary architecture. The textile-like structure of CreativeWEAVE®, the woven metallic architectural fabric manufactured by this internationally leading technical weaving mill, transforms constructional elements into an elegant, subtly shimmering integral component of the whole building complex while at the same time reflecting the surrounding environment in light, colours and movement. The first enquiry submitted to the company, based in Düren, Germany, was for the façade cladding of the access towers which flank the eastern stand. However, since these towers are very close to the stand construction, a complicated and expensive subconstruction would have had to be developed for the attachment of the stainless steel wire mesh. As an alternative solution, the idea of an optically attractive and at the same time protective façade for the whole of the eastern tribune was developed. This façade would also be used as a projection screen for sponsors' promotion films. In Madrid, too, the battle of the gladiators has long since been about more than just victory or defeat; it is also about income from advertising. The fame and attraction of Real Madrid's exceptional football team has to be converted into advertising successes which keep the sponsors satisfied. The sponsors want to get the most out of their investment and are thus always on the lookout for new, eye-catching platforms for their promotional messages. The number of official banner ads which can be caught by the TV cameras is naturally limited. This is where the architects' idea started, with the aim of opening up new dimensions of advertising space. For them, GKD was an experienced partner whose achievements included a widely acclaimed projection screen façade made of stainless steel wire mesh at the Sony Center in Berlin.

Brilliant aesthetics

The extraordinary aesthetics of CreativeWEAVE® provided the initial impetus for the planners in Madrid to use this material in their visionary project. Suppleness, flexibility, transparency and reflectiveness, rhythm and tension are the classic, repeatedly proven qualities of the stainless steel wire mesh. Through its two-dimensionality, the spiral mesh used in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Escale 7x1, combines this visual dynamism with an absolutely astounding three-dimensional grace. The extraordinary clarity of projected images is also due to the large surface area of the 7 mm wide stainless steel spirals. The façade, covering a total of 3,300 m², acts like a curtain which allows the onlooker to identify the schematic outlines of the game going on behind it, while at the same time functioning as a fascinating screen for crystal-clear projection of adverts and films. In this way, the representative signpost is transformed into a communicative entrance for the streams of fans flowing into the stadium.

Convincing functionality

The functional properties of stainless steel wire mesh were also convincing arguments for its use in this project. Fire-resistant, easy to clean, practically unlimited in its service life, resistant to vandalism, permeable to air and light, the material is the perfect choice for stadium structures, where robustness, safety and durability are particularly called for. The chosen material type, Escale 7x1, is a wire mesh woven of spirals. This gives Escale mesh the special characteristic of having no limits to its width and length. Theoretically, the spirals can be woven endlessly. For the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, GKD produced 57 wire mesh elements ranging in length between 7.50 m and 9.10 m – at a constant width of 6.80 m – as well as three trapezoidal special elements each for the two corners of the access towers. It was possible to create the complete façade through easy installation of the individual elements without having to interrupt the normal operations of the stadium.

Spectacular interplay of architecture and communications

Three 18,000 Lumen projectors installed on adjacent buildings can now project stills and advertising spots from a distance of 100 meters as 30 x 10 m images. Thanks to the density of the surface and simultaneous three-dimensional relief effect of the Escale wire mesh, even moving images are reflected with crystal clarity. This effect is reinforced by the fact that the matches at Real Madrid are normally played in the evenings. A special trick is that the whole façade is tilted by 32 degrees, which further intensifies the visual experience for the arriving fans. The planners exploited the enormously greater potential for attracting attention with moving images by linking this innovative advertising platform with the channeling of the streams of arriving spectators. Since the majority of the fans pass through this façade, sponsors and independent advertisers can address their target groups with a maximum of efficiency. This combination of close proximity yet visibility from afar of brilliant projection quality adds a new form of achievement to the theme of "media façades". This spectacular synthesis of fascination for sport, architectural aesthetics and communicative functionality has caught everyone's attention in Madrid since it was completed.

On the threshold to the new millennium, FIFA voted Real Madrid the world's best football club of the past century. The development of the club's stadium reflects this fact architecturally. The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu stands for visionary perspectives in identity-creating architecture – in Madrid and in every other football-loving place in the world. For GKD, this project is a further achievement in a series of other, prestigeous stadium constructions which have been and are being accomplished using CreativeWEAVE®. After the pilot projects, the Cycling Arena and Indoor Swimming Pool in Berlin and the Stade de France, the latest examples of such achievements are the Nad-Al-Sheba camel race track in Dubai, the Formula One racing circuit in Shanghai, Wembley Stadium in London, the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern and the ski stadium in Oestersund.

The Miracle of Madrid
The Miracle of Madrid

Cladding and projection screen of Escale 7x1 mesh at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid © GKD

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