A Wembley Stadium centenary guest snippet from local historian Philip Grant.
Euro 1996 football fans, heading for the future! (Image: Foster & Partners)
It’s 1996, and Wembley is staging the final games in the Euros football tournament. But the original stadium, built in 1923 for the British Empire Exhibition is showing its age, and it has been agreed that it needs to be replaced.
In April 1996, the “go ahead” Brent Council had launched its masterplan for the redevelopment of the area around the stadium, with improved public transport links and parking facilities, and more public open space around the stadium to improve pedestrian circulation. At the centre of this new Wembley Park would be ‘a world class Wembley Stadium for the 21st century’, designed by Foster and Partners for the English National Stadium Trust.
The logo of the old Wembley Stadium, up to 2000. (Image: Wembley Stadium Ltd)
But, of course, you could not demolish the iconic “twin towers”. They had been made a Grade II listed heritage asset in 1976, and English Heritage said that they must be retained. Many football fans, and many in the press and general public, agreed.
The stand-alone “twin towers”, in front of the new “Wembley Wave” stadium. (Image: Foster & Partners)
Sir Norman Foster’s solution was to demolish the rest of the old stadium, and move the twin towers northwards, by around 100metres, towards Wembley Park Station. They would still provide a gateway to the stadium precinct for spectators coming up Olympic Way, but moving them would create the space for the pitch to be turned through 90º, so that it would get the best natural light.
The new stadium would have a fully retractable roof, supported by a metal framework running above the top of its outer walls, and dubbed the “Wembley Wave”. It would seat 80,000 spectators for football and rugby matches, and 75,000 for athletics events (the track would be under retractable seating). The external skin of the stadium would provide a giant screen, on which pictures could be projected.
The new stadium lit up at night, with a large open space to its north-east.
(Image: Foster & Partners)
Those pictures could include moving images for the benefit of spectators outside the stadium, in a large square to the north-east of the new Wembley. This open space would allow fans to circulate more freely around the stadium, and avoid congestion, both before and after matches or concerts.
As we all know, this is not the new stadium Wembley actually got, in 2007. I think there are parts of the 1996 design, including the extra public space around the stadium, which would have been an improvement! [Others, like moving the “twin towers”, were probably impractical.] What do you think?
(With thanks to Paul, for the pictures)