The New Camp Nou

Images have come out this week of the architectural project for the ‘nou’ Camp Nou. The winning design is a collaboration by the Japanese engineering firm Nikken Sekkei and local architects Joan Pascual and Ramon Ausió (who were responsible for hotel Diagonal Zero and the Electra school in Terrassa). It could be ready in about four years’ time, depending on the Ajuntament’s willingness to back it (more of that later).

In the meantime the club has issued a statement celebrating Nikken Sekkei’s project as ‘open, elegant, serene, timeless, Mediterranean and democratic.’ The club announced it wished to evoke through the stadium a sense of ‘transparency,’ with the club keen to distance itself from recent ‘capricious’ makeovers of other emblematic sporting stadia.

Like which? Like Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, designed by Herzog & De Meuron, which looks like a giant, kaleidoscopic tyre. Or Zaha Hadid’s bicycle helmet stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Or Wembley’s oddly flat ferris wheel.

To achieve this concept of ‘transparency’ (quick pause; in the light of recent investigations for transfer irregularities, is the club really trying to claim it’s got nothing to hide?) the club is ready to make do with the shut-off, fenced-in, blocked-out nature of the current complex and open it up into one of those giant ‘diaphanous’ open-plan things interior designers are always simpering about into the camera in every home renovation program on the telly. So there’ll more space for fans to mill about in. Gone will be all the blocky obstacles one finds when entering the club’s grounds; instead there will be uncluttered views of the city surrounds and the diaphanously diaphanous stadium itself, which will no longer be coated in a ‘skin’ but with parts of its interior visible from the outside. And you'll be able to talk to your guests in the lounge while you sauteee mushrooms in the kitchen.

The rabbit’s warren of dark passages leading to the stands will witness something similar to what happened at the beginning of Watership Down and into their place will rise spacious wooden decks where fans can enjoy uninterrupted views of the city. (Presumably they can do also something about those dreadful underground seats behind the goals where you have to stand on tiptoe to see the ball at Suarez’s feet. Or the pillars blocking the view all the way around the stadium. Or the foodstands and their cardboard-dry butifarra bocadillos.)

All in all it’s a significant departure from the previous plans to remodel the stadium by Sir Norman Foster. The British architect, who designed Barcelona’s uber-visible Torre de Collserola, favoured an ‘iconic’, formalistic landmark with a funky scaly skin reminiscent of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and illuminated with the colours of Barça’s strip, with a bit of La Senyera, the Catalonian flag, thrown in for good measure. It was a design which belonged to the flashy, Ronaldinho-inspired era of Joan Laporta’s reign as Club President.

The new project, under Bartomeu’s rather more pragmatic presidency (‘Vorsprung durch Messi’ – advancement through Messi), showed a clearer preference for solid engineering over showy global landmarks and a concept which best (and most abstractly) communicates the club’s identity, while offering a significant increase in capacity and offering the means to put in place updated security measures. All of this was included in a 100-page dossier of conditions presented to all the candidates hoping to win the project.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Ada Colau’s Ajuntament will rubber stamp Nikken Sekkei’s design. The council isn’t ready to commit itself to the new idea just yet, until it has conferred with local residents, who have been known to put up fierce opposition to any changes to the landscape of the stadium in the past. The council said it was ‘looking at new ways to access the Camp Nou and improve mobility on match days.’ If Barça can satisfy the council and convince local residents all this ‘transparency’ is in their benefit too, then they could have a new stadium. Until then they’ll just have to keep a diaphanous attitude.

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