‘It’s beyond beauty or ugliness’: Chelsea’s new stadium

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'It's beyond beauty or ugliness': Chelsea's new stadium
‘A castle, or a medieval walled village’ … the proposed view from Fulham Road of the West Stand.

If football is England’s national religion, the sport may soon have its very own majestic cathedral, courtesy of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who have unveiled plans for a gargantuan new home for Chelsea FC, “inspired by the design of Westminster Abbey”.

Depicted in a series of misty sepia renderings, on display in a dingy room beneath the East Stand at Stamford Bridge for a limited three-day consultation exercise this week, the design claims to take its cue from the gothic architecture of the Abbey, in whose diocese the stadium once stood. Commissioned by the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, the project is expected to cost at least £500m and will expand crowd capacity from 42,000 to 60,000, stepping up in a three-tiered stack of terraces.

Few details have been revealed so far, but the project appears to be making a drastic leap away from recent years’ lightweight approach to stadium design, instead opting for a massive masonry language of heavy brick piers and soaring vaults, recalling London’s Victorian railway viaducts.

It is a decidedly urban response to the dense, inner-city site, a powerful contrast to the freestanding object-in-the-landscape approach that most stadia adopt, often standing among industrial sheds on the outskirts of their cities. An elevated brick bridge will connect the stadium to nearby Fulham Road, bringing supporters directly into the stands above a world of bars, cafes and shops in the arches beneath the structure. It looks set to create a series of atmospheric spaces to explore, with a similar feeling to the passages of Camden market or the vaults beneath London Bridge station. []

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