“The stadium is at the heart of Welsh cultural life. On match days, its stands come alive with the cheers of rugby fans yet at other times it’s a modern space that can adapt to different types of events, with the acoustics of a premier concert venue.”
For Neil Thomas, Interior Design Team Head at Tetris UK, part of JLL, the Principality Stadium in Cardiff has the critical role of protecting and promoting Wales’ national sport – one that commands fervent support from the legions of rugby fans both living in the city and further afield, something he knows firsthand being Welsh and studying interior architecture in Cardiff.
With four masts 90 meters high, the stadium is visible from all parts of its low-rise home city, a geographical and cultural landmark finished in the colours of the Union Jack. Originally known as the Millennium Stadium, the building was purpose-built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup – and it replaced Wales’ previous “home of rugby”, the Cardiff Arms Park stadium.
“There was such a level of culture and history associated with the former stadium that the new stadium had big boots to fill – and that, it’s done plentifully,” Thomas says.
At the time of its construction, the redeveloped stadium showcased cutting-edge design. Its retractable roof, only the second of its kind for stadiums in Europe, can shelter spectators and players during bad weather – a regular occurrence in Wales – while a unique pitch made from over 7,400 pallets can be taken up to allow the stadium to be used for other events without damaging the grass.
In a forward-thinking shift, the redesign also dramatically enhanced the acoustic experience, positioning the stadium as a key destination in Cardiff’s dynamic live music scene.
“To hear the national anthem belted out in the stadium is an incredible experience,” Thomas says, “further enhanced when the roof is shut”. “There was a strong focus on creating a memorable live experience by maximising the use of the space and the acoustic considerations for many different types of events. These have also enhanced the quality of the footage broadcast from the stadium to TV screens.”
Along with rugby games and concerts with headline acts such as Beyonce and Robbie Williams, the Principality Stadium also hosts football games, the Monster Jam motorsport race and World Heavyweight boxing matches, as well as the odd corporate event. An arena partition drape system can vary the capacity from 10,000 people to 74,500.
This flexible design has since influenced landmark stadiums across the world such as London’s Emirates Stadium and Sochi’s Fisht Olympic stadium in their own designs to create multi-functional venues for use outside of sports season.
“In this day and age, stadiums cannot generate enough revenue as sports venues only – and designs like Principality Stadium show how large-scale builds can be adapted to maximize their long-term viability through diverse uses,” says Thomas.
It’s also set the standard for sustainable stadium design in recent years. “When the stadium was first built in 1999, its overall impact on the environment was not high on the agenda,” notes Thomas. That changed in 2011 after a comprehensive refurbishment towards a more sustainable design saw the Principality Stadium become the first certifiably sustainable event stadium, with better waste management, reduced energy consumption, rainwater harvesting, as well as a hybrid pitch of natural and synthetic grass that required less maintenance.
The impact on Cardiff
Set by Cardiff’s river Taff, the stadium has contributed to a revitalisation of the city, in part due to a radical move to turn the old pitch by 90 degrees in order to increase its size. This resulted in the destruction of several derelict or underused buildings, and Wales’ only Olympic-sized pool.
Last year, the stadium generated an estimated £130 million for the Welsh economy with a smorgasbord of events drawing crowds from around Wales and further afield. “The stadium’s adaptability has been integral in increasing economic support to Cardiff and supporting the local community,” Thomas says.
Its unique city centre location has meant that stadium is also an integral aspect of Cardiff life: “When Wales wins a game, people are ecstatic and this energy spills out towards the city. It’s amazing to see how much this enhances how the rest of the city feels,” says Thomas.
“It really is a Welsh urban icon – both for generations of rugby fans from around the world and people who live around the city itself. Evolution should enhance the environment and experience, as it has in this instance – just ask any Welsh rugby fan.”