The hub of the world of soccer

Ursula Herrling-Tusch
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The Home of FIFA in Zurich

The dream of goals and glory unites a whole world focused around a leather ball. The demand is great for heroes and cups, and international matches are now events on an intercontinental scale. More than 270 million people worldwide play soccer actively, and the World Cup in 2006 was watched on TV by around 27 billion people. The guardian of worldwide rules and activities is the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA. Like a part representing the whole, both structurally and architecturally the evolution of FIFA's permanent home reflects the highly colorful history that the international football association can look back on. Founded in Paris in 1904, its headquarters initially moved with each new general secretary. Finally, in 1932, in a crucial vote held in Stockholm, the permanent location was awarded to Switzerland. This is where the fusion of the original seven national associations of France, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland developed into the globally active governing body that today unites 208 member associations from all corners of the world.

Building a vision

Architecturally, too, the first home in Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse also started small. But in the decades that followed, FIFA grew so fast that in the end nearly 300 employees were scattered among six different buildings in the city. And so, in 2003, the executive committee of FIFA agreed on the construction of the association's new home. The foundation stone was laid with great ceremony in May 2004 on Zurich's Sonnenhang in the middle of a beautifully landscaped park, exactly 100 years after the original foundation in Paris. Just like the players on the world's pitches, the professionals involved in building the new Home of FIFA gave their very best: brilliant planning, perfect teamwork between the international players and virtuoso performances all combined to turn the vision into the reality of a unique site for central meetings and for the governing of the international world of football. Just 23 months after kick-off the players ran into the new building, which, for the first time since the mid-1970s, could accommodate all the employees under a single roof. In a spectacular round of additional time, the design of the park-like exterior was accomplished. As a reflection of the international activities of FIFA, it organically combines local and exotic vegetation to create an attractive landscape with dense woods and open meadows. The whole complex went operational at the end of May 2007.

Bold construction

Situated near the world-famous Zurich Zoo in the classy suburb of Hottingen, the shimmering monolith crouches low in a clearing surrounded by woodland. That this is a multi-story building and representative center of the world's biggest sports association, cleverly planned down to the last detail, only becomes apparent once inside the building. The reduction to a few, unpretentious yet at the same time elegant materials is the characteristic stylistic device used in the design. In this way, the renowned Zurich architect Tilla Theus has achieved a thoroughly athletic building whose architecture radiates outstanding strength and inner composure. Its magic and powerful harmony comes from its bold construction. Slanted on all sides, without a single right angle, with perspective lines that narrow or widen in every dimension, the building unites fascinating dynamics with a lightness that seems to defy gravity. "Dancing walls“ is how the architect describes her concept, a concept whose implementation called for top performances from all those involved in the construction work.

Functional planning

In deference to the unique landscape, five floors of the extended, rectangular building go down 20 meters underground, with another two floors above the surface. The entrance level is at the same time the first basement level. The 134 meter long and 41 meter wide building only rises up twelve meters out of the Zürichberg. The way the building is apportioned is consistently in line with functional principles and fulfills FIFA's specifications of an architecture that implements sustainability, flexibility and energy efficiency in a groundbreaking way. Straight ahead are the entrance hall, an auditorium with nearly 200 seats and the management offices; the conference rooms are located below ground level. The elongated building houses offices with windows for all 300 members of staff, and its basement levels accommodate an underground car park with 240 carports as well as storage and installation rooms. The integrated training center for trainers and referees is a sports ground with football and beach soccer fields including underground changing, massage and briefing rooms. True to FIFA's self-conception, its headquarters now bundles administration, sports, economy and ecology in an ideal alliance.

Mesh façade tensioned on a slant

The building gets its futuristic aura from the congenial interplay of precision and lightness. The sharp geometric edges of the slightly skewed, dynamic structure create a fascinating contrast to the organic forms of the woodland surrounding it. The monumental construction floats confidently in the middle of the clearing. On a recessed base, an outer skin of woven metal mesh type Omega 1847, specially developed for this application by the leading international technical weaver GKD – Gebr. Kufferath AG, clads the façade of all floors. Visible from afar, the mesh mantle symbolizes the netting of a goal and is the calling card of this hub of the world of soccer. The object-specific dynamics of the architecture are picked up by 312 mesh panels, each 18 meters long and 1.60 meters wide, which are tensioned on a slant in front of the glass façade and deflected through 90 degrees both at the top and at the bottom.

Multifunctional look

With spectacular visual effects, the textile-like cladding of the Home of FIFA communicates with the observer and with the surroundings. Depending on the point of view, the angle of incidence of light and the time of day, it reveals the view into the inside of the building, or conceals it and reflects the natural surroundings. As the sun crosses the sky, the metallic woven mantle constantly changes: monochrome gray in the early morning gives way to silvery coolness in the blazing midday sun and a warm golden shimmer in the glow of sunset. At night the mesh, with its warp cables of stainless steel and its weft wires of silver-colored, continuously anodized aluminum, becomes a luminous projection screen for an innovative lighting concept devised by the American light sculptor James Turrell. The outstanding high-tech aesthetics of the mesh are coupled with decisive functional advantages. The shimmering mantle constantly permits a view outside from the interior, provides full-value sun protection with room climate control capability, and, thanks to its absolute resistance to weather, has a practically unlimited service life. The chosen façade construction allowed the mesh panels to be suspended at the top using loops, a proven attachment technique applied in a number of projects. At the bottom, the mesh panels were friction-fitted to the substructure with Fusiofix – a special plastic adhesive technique that was especially suitable for this blended mesh composition of aluminum and stainless steel. This simplified the individual installation of the panels and made it possible to create the whole 9,000 square meter façade within just four weeks.

Zero-emission house

In terms of high-quality facility management, further arguments for the deployment of GKD stainless steel wire mesh were that the stainless steel used is fireproof, easy to clean and completely recyclable. It was the wish of FIFA that its new administrative building should be a so-called zero-emission house and should make a statement in terms of environmental protection. The use of energy-efficient building services engineering allows the building to do without energy from fossil fuels, with the result that it produces no CO2 emissions. Furthermore, when selecting the materials to be used priority was given to their sustainability and energy-efficiency, making the project groundbreaking in this respect, too.

Groundbreaking symbolic power

As a symbol for FIFA's worldwide center of activity, the foundation stone of the building contains a steel football 1.30 meters in diameter in which all 208 member associations deposited earth from their home countries. So the floating monolith sits literally on the soil of all its member countries – clad in a metallic netting which symbolizes its origin and its vision of soccer.

The hub of the world of soccer
The hub of the world of soccer

Visible from afar, the mesh mantle symbolizes the netting of a goal and is the calling card of this hub of the world of soccer. ©FIFA/Kurt Schorrer/GKD

The hub of the world of soccer

The elongated building houses offices for all 300 members of staff, and its basement levels accommodate an underground car park and a training center for trainers and referees. ©FIFA/Kurt Schorrer/GKD

The hub of the world of soccer

The GKD woven metal mesh type Omega 1847 is made of stainless steel and anodized aluminum.Itis tensioned on a slant in front of the glass façade and deflected through 90 degrees both at the top and at the bottom. ©FIFA/Kurt Schorrer/GKD

The hub of the world of soccer

The new FIFA headquarters crouches low in a clearing surrounded by woodlandin Zurich. At night, itbecomes a luminous projection screen for an innovative lighting concept devised by the American light sculptor James Turrell. ©FIFA/Kurt Schorrer/GKD

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