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Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture

An exhibition tracing the evolution of stadium design from antiquity to the present

by Karen Day in Design on 10 July 2012

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Welcoming more than four million visitors a year, Rome's massive Colosseum still remains a mesmerizing architectural feat. Many of today's sports arenas are no less impressive, and a new exhibition at London's Soane Museum traces the evolution of these structures from antiquity to the present in "Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture."

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From the Hippodrome of Constantinople to ancient Greek amphitheaters, the exhibition—sponsored by architecture collective Populous—looks at the origin of these colossal venues and how architects continue to use some of these design elements as the foundation for contemporary stadia, such as the ultra-sophisticated 2012 Olympic Stadium in Stratford. The display includes original blueprints, highly-detailed models and intriguing stadium relics like terra cotta lamps featuring gladiator fights. One of the most notable items on view is Michaelangelo's Codex Coner, a pared down architectural sketchbook and the "earliest archeologically correct record of the Colosseum."

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The exhibition also looks at temporary stadia, a concept that evolved around the Middle Ages when sporting events began playing out in town squares, such as Florence's Calcio Storico competition still held annually in Piazza Santa Croce. These structures really reflect the communal aspect of athletic games, and ways in which a venue's architecture allows for social activity.

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The aspect of how stadium design can affect the population is best seen in Populous' Sports City, commissioned by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Comprised of a 100,000-seat stadium, an arena, aquatic center, multi-sport complex, golf complex and a women's sport facility, the immense sports complex is conveniently connected to housing, schools, a mosque and a hospital, serving as more of a way of improving the residents' health.

An exhaustive look at the legacy of sports venues, "Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture" is currently on view at London's Soane Museum through 22 September 2012.

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