‘The Blues’ Stamford Bridge revamp hits investment speedbreaker



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Chelsea FC update April 2020 Image: Herzog and de Meuron

Soccer giants Chelsea – the English professional football club based in Fulham, London – has failed to begin work on construction of a new Stamford Bridge. They had three years of time since March 2017 in hand to begin work within the legal limit. They will have to start all over again from a scratch and reapply.

However, the soccer giants have time and again cited investment issues to be the reason behind work not getting kickstarted.

It was on March 31, 2017, that Chelsea was given the final thumbs-up to redevelop the 41,837-capacity Stamford Bridge. ‘The Blues’ had full three years in hand to begin works, like tearing down the close by structures.

Stamford Bridge is a football stadium in Fulham, adjacent to the borough of Chelsea in South West London, commonly referred to as The Bridge. It is the home of Chelsea Football Club, which competes in the Premier League, the highest division of English football.

Instead of bulldozers knocking down buildings, the hotel behind the south stand is being offered to medical workers. Chelsea had announced in 2018 that the club would not go forward with reconstruction at this time, justifying the move with unfriendly investment environment.

A statement sent out by the Chelsea Football Club in 2018 read that it has put its new stadium project on hold. No further pre-construction design and planning work will occur.

“The club does not have a time frame set for reconsideration of its decision. The decision has been made due to the current unfavorable investment climate,” the statement further read’ At that point of time, it looked like the investment climate formed due to Brexit consequences.

Very recently, the club admitted in a brief statement that the planning permission is expiring soon and work on the stadium is not expected to start any sooner.

The statement read, “Chelsea Football Club acknowledges that the planning permission we obtained for a new stadium expires on March 31, 2020. We are grateful to all our fans and stakeholders, especially Hammersmith & Fulham Council, for their patience and understanding in the matter. We will continue to consider our options for a new stadium, should economic conditions improve.”

This means that should ‘The Blues’ choose to rebuild Stamford Bridge in the coming years, they will have to reapply. While the whole process should not be a lengthy one the second time, it may still turn out to be a cumbersome task. The first process took roughly one-and-a-half years – between November 2015 and March 2017.

Officially, the incredible concept offered by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron hasn’t been scrapped, rather the lid has been put on it for a later date. If the concept finally takes wings, it would see Chelsea match steps with major London rivals in terms of scale, with roughly 60,000 seats and world class hospitality offer ensuring the cash registers jingle on matchday.

It is an open secret that the project’s cost has hugely outgrown estimates from the club. Initially expected to cost some £500 million, it skyrocketed to some £1 billion well before groundbreaking, threatening further rise, as seen in the case of Tottenham.

Londoners might have to wait for few more years to catch a glimpse of Chelsea’s reconfigured residence and Herzog and de Meuron’s masterpiece.
 

Redevelopment rewind

Forced by lack of suitable lands in their part of London, in 2014 Chelsea officials decided to completely redecorate their Stamford Bridge home, an idea they had previously rubbished. The architectural work was awarded to the famous Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron and the goal became clear: Increasing capacity from present 41,837 to 60,000, and boosting commercial potential.

Local constraints made the whole task very challenging, because the existing stadium is limited by two rail lines (both to be covered by public plazas) and thick residential fabric around with a number of listed buildings. The first version of the concept was created in April 2014 and had to undergo numerous modifications to ensure sunlight reached neighboring homes.

To this end, the field will be lowered and the arena’s outer shape had to become irregular. Consequently, the new stadium will only rise to 46.12m, even less than the old Stamford Bridge’s tallest point (west stand’s steel pylons).

Aesthetically, the stadium has several associations with historical architecture, be it residential, sports or sacral. The outer façade will be created by 246 brick columns with crozier decorations between many of them. The monumental structure will also be akin to a temple in some ways, while its roof may be considered a tribute to the “sheds” of early 20th century topping stadiums across England. All said and done, the stadium would make for a vision.

The arena will make room for up to 60,000 people divided into three tiers in a roughly symmetric manner (40percent/20 percent/40percent). The smallest tier will mostly be reserved for corporate clients, though Chelsea included fewer than 9,000 business seats in their planning applications. The entire floor space of the stadium could be close to 130,000 square meters, spread across seven floors (4-5 above ground).

The construction will take place in a phased manner and the project’s beginning is thought to include demolition of Chelsea’s freestanding buildings and the Chelsea Village adjoining the south end. Then the entire stadium would be pulled down. Additional excavation, piling and further enabling works would pave way for the main structure of the stadium, that could be put together in just over a year! Altogether the project, along with new surrounding infrastructure, might take less than four years.

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