New stadium's halo of light will tower over the skyline

Click to follow
CRAMPED SEATS and poor sight lines, with columns blocking the view, the only plus Sir Norman Foster could find in the old Wembley Stadium was the fantastic atmosphere, which he yesterday admitted was "immeasurable".

The new stadium, which will hold a crowd of up to 90,000, looks as if a halo has landed over the tired old site. Lit up at night, the ring that holds the colossal roof with four main masts on the north side will be visible from central London. It was, said a stunned Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith "like something out of this world".

But a question mark hangs over this dazzling new entrance to Wembley stadium, designed by Sir Norman and which was unveiled yesterday in final designs that are still to go for planning permission.

Four dazzling white steeltowers, that will replace the much loved twin towers built in 1923, need Civil Aviation Authority clearance if they are to be built. Unlike the decorative, stubby twin towers,these masts are structurally essential to hold the roof, which will be partly retractable, on tension cables. For fans, this will mean there will be no columns to block sight lines.

Designs for the new stadium, shown yesterday to Mr Smith and Bob Stubbs, the chief executive of Wembley National Stadium, show the new masts standing at 130m to meet air traffic control requirements. But at least another 20m will be needed to support the roof, so the masts will have to top 150 metres, only 90m less than the Canary Wharf tower.

Sir Norman has angled the four masts like outstretched arms so that their axial point, traced down into the stadium meets exactly at kick- off point. He has kept the East -West orientation of the pitch, and the processional route past the Royal Box and designed the bowl to re-create the "immeasurable" feel and noise levels of the original stadium.

When completed, the stadium, which will hold the huge crowd in three tiers of seating, will have 478 catering facilities, 23 escalators, six times the number of toilets. Only car parking will be reduced, from 7,500 spaces to 3,000, most of which will be for coaches.

Concerns that this will not be sufficient are being met by the Wembley Task Force set up yesterday to advise on the area and its infrastructure.

"Not only the pitch is green," Sir Norman reveals. "We have our own green agenda to meet. Photovoltaics on the retractable roof will generate solar energy and we shall harness water and recycle it."

Profits from the new five star 200-bedroom hotel and Britain's biggest banqueting suite for 2,000 guests and three restaurants will go into grassroots football. Project costs have risen from pounds 480m to pounds 140m, so these commercial aspects and corporate entertaining facilities are needed.