‘The Cathedral’ – ode to Milan heritage


Christopher Lee at Coliseum Europe Image: Christopher Lee & Populous

Christopher Lee, a top-rung executive of the celebrated design practice Populous, is an accomplished person. Christopher has degrees in both Design and Architecture. He has worked around the world for major international sports clients and has designed over 30 stadia on five continents.

Lee has been involved in the design of large-scale masterplans that seek to integrate the design requirements of stadia into the wider public realm. Lee sits on Populous’ Global Board of Directors, the EMEA Board, and on the practice’s Global Strategic Committee.

He is presently involved with Italy’s top-flights – AC Milan and Inter Milan’s new venue project – ‘The Cathedral’.

‘The Cathedral’

‘The Cathedral’ is a celebration of the artistic and cultural heritage of Milan (Italy). Its design has been inspired by two of the most famous buildings in the City – the Duomo di Milano and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele – and will result in a unique stadium that will stand out from any other sporting arena in the world and will serve as the home venue of Italy’s top-rung clubs – A.C. Milan and Inter Milan.


Missouri (US)-based Populous is a global architectural and design practice specializing in sports facilities, arenas and convention centers, as well as the planning and design of major special events. Populous believes in designing places where people love to be together. The renowned design firm has developed more than 3,200 sport-focused projects, giving life to some of the world’s most iconic sporting arenas.

A.C. Milan

A.C. Milan is a professional football club in Milan, Italy, founded in 1899. The club has spent its entire history, with the exception of the 1980-1981 and 1982-1983 seasons, in the top flight of Italian football, known as Serie A since 1929-1930.

Inter Milan

Inter Milan is an Italian professional football club based in Milan, Lombardy (Italy). Inter is the only Italian side to have always competed in the top flight of Italian football since its debut in 1909.

San Siro

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, commonly known as the San Siro, is a football stadium in the San Siro district of Milan, Italy, which is the home of A.C. Milan and Inter Milan. It has a seating capacity of 80,018, making it one of the largest stadiums in Europe, and the largest in Italy.

On June 24th, 2019, A.C. Milan and Inter Milan announced their intention to build a new stadium to replace San Siro. The new 60,000-capacity stadium, which would be constructed next to San Siro, is anticipated to cost US$800 million and was earlier expected to be ready for the 2022-2023 seasons.

In December 2021, the top-notch clubs announced that Populous’ project – ‘The Cathedral’ – has been selected for their new stadium.

In an exclusive with ‘Coliseum’, Christopher Lee, Managing Director, EMEA, Populous, UK, dishes out details of ‘The Cathedral’ project and gives impetus on the fact that stadia are “democratic spaces which has an emotional connect with the people and the community on which it sits”.

The stadium for Milano

Christopher Lee averred that ‘The Cathedral’ is a “Very exciting project. It is a new stadium for the two teams in Milan. It will become one of the most iconic stadiums in world football. It will create a world-class, modern and truly bespoke home for the legendary clubs of A.C. Milan and Inter Milan and form the beating heart of a new civic district. It will be a stadium for all Milanese to enjoy for generations to come that is true to the City and honors its heritage. A stadium of Milano and for Milano.”

‘The Cathedral’ features:

  • Bespoke seating bowl that will bring fans close to the pitch action;
  • The centerpiece of a new mixed-use masterplan development;
  • A sustainable 365-days-a-year destination;
  • A sunlit galleria will encircle the stadium enveloped by an elegant glass façade, providing a democratic space for all supporters and the citizens of Milano;
  • Food and beverage outlets inspired by the world-renowned food culture of Milano will leave fans spoilt for choice;
  • Lounge spaces and bars will cater to all visitors; and
  • The district will be pedestrian-only, with over 110,000 sqm of green areas (40 percent of the total square footage).


Inspired by Milano

Observed Lee, “The project is really an intriguing one for an architectural group to replace one of the mystical stadiums – San Siro – in a City like Milan. We started with this project in the City itself. I think the San Siro has been developed over a long period of time and it has become embedded both in culture and the architectural fabric.”

The planned world-class home for A.C. Milan and Inter Milan has been so designed so as to incorporate their identities into the architectural warp and weft of the structure.

As an architect, Lee is interested in producing venues that “resonate with the local environment” and he said that the planned venue is very much “size-specific”.

Sustainability first

  • It is designed to be the most sustainable stadium in Europe;
  • The galleria will be naturally cooled and passively heated;
  • Photovoltaic panels will line the stadium roof to generate electricity that will be stored in battery banks for later use;
  • Rainwater will be collected from the roof and reused;
  • The stadium will be surrounded by 22 acres of green space which will help reduce water runoff and counteract the ‘heat island’ effect; and
  • The entire district will be connected to a central heating and cooling system.

Added Lee, “Milan is one of the most aggressive cities in Europe when it comes to environmental matters – incredibly focused on sustainability – and how we produce a building and fit it within that context is quite a challenging task.”

Emotional connect

Lee believes in producing a building “That is much loved and much cherished. A piece of architecture – one that sits on the landscape and is very much present in people’s hearts and minds.”

As far as the San Siro is concerned, “We will try to make a comfortable replacement of the original iconic San Siro Stadium.”


He maintained, “The nomenclature – ‘The Cathedral’ – has a natural grandeur and will provide fantastic opportunity to the two teams to produce really ‘The Cathedral of Sport’ for Milan.”

Color identity

He informed that ‘The Cathedral’ has been designed to create a unique home for the fans and supporters of the top-flights with “Bespoke installations that dramatically change the appearance of the architecture and incorporate the clubs’ unique identities into the building fabric. For Inter Milan, a coiled viper of blue light wraps itself around the stadium, while for A.C. Milan, the vertical buttresses glow a smoldering red emanating from the depths of the building.”

Democratic space

He asserted that a stadium should be a democratic space and ‘The Cathedral’ will exactly be that. That space is for everybody no matter where you are in the stadium, where you are in the City. I would like to produce ‘The Cathedral’ as a piece of architecture which belongs to both the teams as well as it belongs to the fans when the teams are playing in the arena. This is a kind of space which does not differentiate between the haves and the have-nots and ‘The Cathedral’ will be just that – a democratic space which belongs to all sections of the society. I believe in producing democratic architecture and architecture for everyone.”

Added Lee, “Democratic spaces are for everybody and the reason we love stadiums is because they are in many ways a democratic structure – the stadium embraces people coming from all sections of the society irrespective of caste and creed, rich or poor.”

Authentic structure

‘The Cathedral’ will retain its own pristine sheen and will be a celebration of the artistic and cultural heritage of Milan. It will not borrow ideas from any other stadium and the elements of the original San Siro Stadium will be retained in the new venue.”

Community first

The above development will be a new district dedicated to sport and leisure. The parking lot, which represents 27 percent of the total area in the current scheme, will be moved to a dedicated underground area. ‘The Cathedral’ will not only be an incredible sporting arena to watch football but it will revitalize the whole area to better serve Milano’s citizens, visitors, fans, and their families. And it will accord topmost priority to the community on which it sits.”

Informed Lee, “A whole series of community sporting facilities will be introduced that will be run by the community and will produce an environment where people can engage in all kinds of activities around the stadium.”

He added, “‘The Cathedral’ is a stadium of Milano and for Milano, an iconic and enduring piece of architecture that draws on the history and aspirations of this great City. It will be the greatest football stadium in Europe, with the tightest and most atmospheric seating bowl and best-in-class sustainability credentials. It will be a stadium for all Milanese to enjoy for generations to come.”

The beauty of stadia

Lee noted, “‘The Cathedral’ promises to be people’s stadium and we will create the design as such that there will be an incredible relationship between the spectators and the players, between the spectators and the away fans, between the spectators and the other spectators. With a highly designed seating bowl, the fans will be able to chant and sing together without any sharp divide. Noise is an important part of the stadium atmosphere.”

Lee also stated that though the venue will come armed with tech bells and whistles but the “Chanting of 50,000 to 60,000 fans in unison is something which is almost irreplaceable by technology.”

The stadium is a place where we share experiences with the community on which it sits and everything around the sport and pitch – “Though a tricky piece of architecture but the stadium should be so designed that it is open and accessible to everyone even on a non-event day. ‘The Cathedral’ will definitely be owned by the people of Milano. Stadiums are owned by people, owned by the community and they are owned by individuals and that is the fantastic relationship between football, football stadiums and we as the fans emotionally own these buildings.”

He summed up, “‘The Cathedral’ will be true to the City and will honor its heritage. A stadium of Milano and for Milano.”

Christopher Lee’s passion for ‘The Cathedral’ project is palpable and he is firm on making it a democratic space with a nod to Milan’s rich culture and heritage.

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