A Stadium in Greenland That’s More Than a Stadium

An architect’s rendering of the proposed stadium.

From the DAC exhibition.

On my recent trip to Copenhagen, Jennifer and I had the pleasure of visiting the Danish Architecture Centre, which sits near the quays of Nyhavn, surrounded by gleaming, angular buildings and the brick and timber structures of the old dock area. The Centre featured an exhibition on attempts by a quorum of Danish architects and their Greenlander cousins to develop homes and civic buildings for Greenland, which included a wonderfully bold cruciform airport and a multipurpose civic centre, which would include both space for theatre and local government, along with sports facilities. Much has been made of Iceland’s recent run in World Cup qualifying to an ultimately unsuccessful play-off place against Croatia. Iceland, like Greenland, struggles with bitter temperatures and frozen pitches, which can stymie attempts to play football all year round. The boon of indoor pitches, developed alongside a systematic approach to youth coaching and the acquisition of UEFA coaching badges, is largely credited with the strides made by the Icelandic game. It has allowed youth team players to showcase their skills and work on technical play indoors over the winter, increasing their uptake by larger European league teams, which in turn develops their quality and, by extension, that of the Icelandic national side.

A cold place to practice.

From the DAC exhibition.

The beautiful video played in the DAC showed architects struggling to adjust their preconceptions of Greenlander life, to match their own architectural ambitions to the harsh and unforgiving climate, and to work alongside their Greenlander colleagues against a historic backdrop of mistrust and colonialism. It made for fascinating viewing and was pleasingly honest about the conflicts and difficulties faced by the project. One of the most engaging outcomes of the project was the civic centre mentioned above. The concept of a multi-purpose space for the arts and sports, providing a focal point for the community, makes a huge amount of sense. By centralising various functions in one building, cost is reduced and community impact is lessened, as there is only one development site. Many parts of the community are embraced and the spend benefits a wider group than a single use building would do.

It reminds me of some of the thoughts Michael Sorkin had on the positioning and functions of stadia, which he addressed against a backdrop of plans for New York to bid for the Olympics in 2016. Sorkin rightly warns of the potentially negative impact on stadia and, indeed, the sometimes unwholesome fixation with them in the first place. He writes that stadia are “industrial objects” and notes that they “have come to be represented not just as premiere emblems of American civic culture (all hail the steroid-bloated millionaires at play!) but as drivers of urban economic revitalization…as the development paradigm shifts decisively to so-called pubic-private partnerships”. He cautions too that “virtually none of these subsidies is ever recouped, and such subventions for the powerful always rob the poor – those at the bottom of the list of municipal priorities, for whom housing, education, transportation, and healthcare are of somewhat greater importance than football”. Here he means American football, of course, but the same could just as easily be argued for recent projects like Wembley or the Olympic Park in Stratford. Sorkin does, however, add a caveat, that “a stadium can add élan, jobs, and secondary commerce to neighborhoods that are struggling for economic help ”. For Sorkin, though, the ideal is a mixed-bag object, a stadium that increases its utility and functionality to the wider civic body by marrying a sporting function to some other, exactly as the Greenland project envisages. Sorkin’s own studio came up with a plan for a stadium on Governor’s Island, part of Manhattan and just across the water from Brooklyn. He sketched out a plan that combines a football stadium with a pedestrian park area, a marina, and an enclave for the United Nations housing a ‘diplomatic arena’ for “intense negotiations over the beating of swords into plowshares”. This various building has strong echoes of the Greenland plan, a space with water-borne access that could serve as a focal point for community activities and discussion. Being indoors, it would also be a year round facility for sport. This might allow for the development of football in Greenland in much the same way that similar developments did in Iceland. This would, hopefully, provide another income stream for a nation that, while blessed with natural resources and extraordinary beauty, has struggled with the decline of indigenous industries and the hardships of climate and location at the periphery of areas of global commerce. It is, at the very least, an exploration of the best aspects of sports facility development and, hopefully, the wider benefits of the beautiful game.


Exhibition – ‘Greenland: Head for the Centre of the World’ at DAC – details on http://www.dac.dk/en/

Michael Sorkin, essays ‘Ten Better Places for a Football Stadium’ – pp. 195-205 and ‘Finding a Dramatic Home for a Political Football’ – pp. 206-208, from All Over The Map (London: Verso, 2013)