John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Architects want to build a soccer venue in Abu Dhabi that's sited inside a hollowed-out mountain.
Even in the world of ridiculously grandiose petroleum-country architecture, this one's a humdinger: a sports stadium meant to seat 40,000 people, carved deep into the bowels of a rugged mountain range.
Is this Dr. Evil's newest secret lair? Actually, the "Rock Stadium" is a real concept for a sporting venue at Jebel Hafeet, a prominent crag located about 14 miles south of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi city of Al Ain. It's not as ridiculous an idea as it initially may seem. Jebel Hafeet is not a barren, menacing peak like K2, but a popular tourist spot with a luxury hotel and pools fed by a natural hot spring. A stadium might fit right in geographically and socially: After all, the Emirati people love soccer (fine, football) just as much as anyone, welcoming the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2010 and the organization's under-17 players this fall.
The stadium was designed by MZ Architects, a Middle Eastern firm with offices in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Lebanon and elsewhere. The architects started out wanting to build a stadium in the Al Ain desert, but once they visited the area they were struck by the imposing and regal form of the mountain, which reminded them of a Greek amphitheatre. So they decided the best plan would be to hollow out the stone, using natural hills for seating and a grand entrance that sinks into the ground like one of the mountain's many caves.
The result would be an unusual structure that's half stadium, half land art. Here's how the architects envision it:
The project not only gracefully blends itself into its surrounding but plays on the notion of distance to alternate between a strong camouflage at distance and a forceful presence at close range. A sculpted landscape or a defined void, the project becomes a jewel in the desert which lights up at night allowing the active evenings to turn the stadium into a massive light beam that emerges from the ground straight to the higher sky and creates a symbol, a sign, a guiding agent to the national event and place of activity in an otherwise sign-less desert environment.
One might question the wisdom of carving one of the most recognizable landmarks in the region to make way for a huge commercial venue. At least the architects have plotted out steps to make the project seem more natural. They plan to save the rock they dig out and grind it up with an adhesive to form a new kind of building medium. This re-purposed material would form the stadium's main tiers. They also want to cover the roof with sand taken from the desert, helping the imposing building blend into the scenery.
The Rock Stadium today is but a glimmer in MZ Architects' eye, with no scheduled date of construction. But for a country that likes to rearrange the face of the earth to form a palm tree visible from space, it's not inconceivable that one day it will get built: