(Text by Nayla Al-Akl)
Set in the desert landscape, the Rock Stadium celebrates the game it hosts as much as it celebrates the site in which it lays. Recognizing the powerful language of its surrounding and intelligently approaching the issue of scale and the intermittent use of the stadium architecture, the project sinks its 200,000sqm structure into the ground and turns the Jebel Hafeet rocky mountain into one of its main features.
When MZ Architects were approached to design a stadium at the heart of Al Ain in the UAE, the designers were so inspired by the site that they were led to intricately work with it in order to achieve a visionary design that merges architecture and landscape, blurring the boundaries of the built and the natural and creating a space that allows the visitor to interact with the desert landscape as much as with the stadium activity.
Sunken into the cooler depth of the desert sand, the Rock Stadium, like a hidden treasure, presents itself to the visitor as a series of sharply inclined planes emerging from the ground. These planes, in addition to the volcanic mountain backdrop in front of which they lay, define the space of the stadium and its related activities and create a magnificent place that allows for the conglomeration of a large number of visitors in the heart of the vast landscape.
Inspired by ancient examples of amphitheatres and temples, the project refers to the first greek amphitheatre that worked with the topographic landscape of its site, taking it a step further and challenging the site to new measures by sculpting it, refining its elements and playing with the mass and void relationship. Its grand entrance into the underground creates a monumental approach to the space of events, similar to the imposing entrance of the Temple of Anahita. Whether it is the long and narrow corridors connecting the parking space to the stadium through scattered openings and perforations into the main rock façade, or the breaking planes emerging from the ground and creating at their fractured intersections carved out passageways that lead the visitor into its underground heart, the entrance to the stadium is a magnificent one.
Working with the existing site and using the local materials, the architects find themselves playing with a carefully studied palette of rock and sand that not only lead to the main façade/visual panels system adhering to the site but also create a more sustainable approach to construction and design where no material is forgotten or displaced and where all is reused.
Careful patterns are created with the recuperated stone, creating interestingly designed man-made strata patterns that emphasize the natural characteristic of the site.
Issues of scale, timing and activity were highly investigated by the architects and by forcing the stadium into the ground, the designers were strategically able to deal with the challenging issue of massiveness of scale and of the often voided space. 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 Rock Stadium 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.
This simple yet majestic design hides great achievements and brilliant experimentations with issues of scale, monumentality and locality, hence allowing the project to create a strong sense of place in an otherwise homogenous area of the vast expanding desert.
The Rock Stadium project has won the “Retail and Leisure Award” at the 2012 MIPIM Architectural Review Future Project Awards and the “Best Future Building of the Year” Award at the 2012 Emirates Glass LEAF Awards.
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