With the building work at Stamford Bridge done and dusted, next season will finally see Chelsea playing at a completed stadium. Stephen Cordina casts an analytical eye around the surroundings.
There is no doubt that the metamorphosis at Stamford Bridge over the past fifteen years or so has been profound. It is a striking and remarkable improvement on the almost cricket-sized pitch and potpourri of structures that once dotted the outskirts of the playing arena in past eras. The massive investment, and let us not forget the concerted effort by Master Bates to avoid the temptation of undertaking this make-over job on the cheap, has paid off for all and sundry.
We may now be the proud owners of technically the most superior all-round facility inEngland. Surely this is fitting for an affluent club such as CFC, not to mention its equally affluent supporters. The webcam on the Blues official website gives an invaluable aesthetic insight into the intricacies of the new and now complete construction of Stamford Bridge. It is, finally, a proper football arena with declivitous seating structures ominously straddling the sidelines.
I am sure that the sense of closure now apparent may in fact be the most contrasting, and therefore the most significant difference, of the now completed project. It may also bring with it some advantageous results. The Bridge should serve its purpose well now and extend the atmosphere we as fans of the club are already so proud of to a new and more exciting level.
Nevertheless, a few of the more apparent flaws, although few and far between, are worthy of a mention as they are now indelible characteristics of the finished article. From an architectural standpoint I cannot ignore the obvious failures of the stadium’s designers. Central to this claim is their stark failure to integrate the West Stand with its surroundings as well as the three other stands.
Of course, there may have been obstacles to the construction, but the design brief should have included a clear aim of giving an impression that the stadium was built all at once. However, it is clear that whatever the conditions were, the result is a stadium that in some areas looks like it was designed by different architects at various times with seemingly separate agendas.
The disparity between the West Stand and the Matthew Harding Stand is shocking, to put it mildly. The dimensions and the design of both the upper and lower tiers of the Matthew Harding Stand have not been referred to in the final design of the West Stand. There is a plethora of formulae for building multi-tiered grandstands in such an arena. The final choice for the West Stand was incorrect as it fails to continue the theme of the stands on either side of it.
That is not to say that the West Stand is not an excellent structure. It is a beautiful, efficient and pragmatic design in both form and function, and clearly shows up the others by its meticulous detail and aesthetic ambience. Ideally, the other three should be demolished and redone to follow its form and dimensions.
However, the others were erected much earlier so the simple solution would have been to have the West stand match the East stand in terms of tier configuration and dimensions. This would have been preferable to going out and designing an almost foreign piece of architecture, with regards to the pitch side of the structure, which was initially meant to finish the jigsaw with great aplomb.
The East Stand at least fits in with the make up of Stamford Bridge, although money needs to be spent on it for it to maintain its purpose. It achieves a far more pragmatic result and place than the new stand opposite. The concrete wall that protrudes from the West Stand at the northern end upper tier is, in my opinion, a total eyesore that could easily have been avoided. Similarly, the alignment between the southern side of the West Stand and the Shed End is equally non-existent.
What causes me the most consternation over this issue is the time that elapsed between the completion of the northern and southern ends and the start of work on the upper tiers of the West Stand. Surely this was enough time for designers to deliberate over the intricacies of lining up the stands for all the structures to feel and look as though they belong together and form one complete stadium.
It is such a shame as the West Stand is undoubtedly an incredible building because of both its facilities and its pitch-side attributes. But it gives such a clear impression of a foreign body, craned in and lowered down into a gap almost as an afterthought to plug-up a gaping hole. Well, at least it successfully achieves that. It is not as if there was an overwhelming rush, or that all concerned with the project were void of the time needed to complete the task flawlessly. The local council made sure of that.
At this point in time I cannot comprehend an excuse for these faults. Perhaps they are pedantic and somewhat minor, but one look at the connections of the structures in question illustrates all too well the shortcomings I refer to. At some points, the gaps are so yawning and so obvious that an outsider might call the design half-baked. This would be a completely unfair accusation though and it is clearly not the case. One look at the new structure itself will show that as a grandstand it has few parallels.
But the most critical aspect of a design brief for such a project should surely have been integration. This is where the West Stand project fails quite acutely. To squint the eyes and look from a lofted angle it is indeed a breathtaking site to behold, particularly for fans who remember what the Bridge was like at its worst. But nevertheless, an opportunity was there to unequivocally finish the job as though the stadium had been demolished and rebuilt in one single stroke.
We have much to be proud of in the redevelopment of the ground, as it is quite clearly a fine piece of architecture. However, given the high standards of the club it falls short of perfection when the opportunity was there for perfection to have been attained with relative ease. All I can say is it’s a bloody good thing they chose royal blue seats to use in the West Stand.