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Interview with Architect Albert Speer The Search for Sustainability at the Qatar World Cup

Does it make sense for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup? German architect Albert Speer, whose office is in charge of the project, says yes -- and is doing all he can to ensure sustainability. In a SPIEGEL interview, he says how.

Albert Speer has done much to change the world's appearance. The 80-year-old architect designed a satellite city near Cairo for 3 million people, the Chinese automotive city of Anting, a new capital for Nigeria and the 2000 Expo in Hanover. He also developed the Olympic bids for Leipzig for 2012 and Munich for 2018. Speer's stadium designs are a significant reason why Qatar was awarded the 2022 football World Cup.

Speer is a reserved, almost shy man. He hesitated for a long time before agreeing to an interview with SPIEGEL. In the conference room where the discussion ultimately took place, Speer lounged way back in his chair at a long, white table. "Large events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup make the inconceivable conceivable," he says. "There are no taboos."

Speer's father was also named Albert. At the peak of his powers, he was minister of armaments and war production for the Third Reich and, as Adolf Hitler's favorite architect, transformed the Führer's megalomaniacal fantasies into monumental structures. Albert Speer, Jr. learned carpentry and studied at the Technical University in Munich. In 1984, he founded AS&P -- Albert Speer & Partner in Frankfurt, which today employs 160 people. "We are not a dictatorial company," Speer says. "It is not as though I have the final say and everyone stands at attention when Mr. Speer walks through the halls." Which is why he brings along three co-workers to the interview: Friedbert Greif, managing partner and urban planner; Axel Bienhaus, responsible for architecture and construction planning; and Stefan Klos, project manager.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Speer, where is the most beautiful stadium in the world?

Speer: We didn't build it, but I am of the opinion that the most beautiful football stadium is Allianz Arena in Munich.

SPIEGEL: That's not an entirely objective answer.

Speer: That is true, we participated in the project. We found the site in Munich and helped choose the architects. And we convinced FC Bayern of the project. They were totally appalled when they saw the model for the first time. (Senior team officials Uli) Hoeness and (Franz) Beckenbauer said: That's not a stadium, that's an inflatable raft. Now, they are all proud of it, but that wasn't the case at the beginning.

SPIEGEL: Many fans have the feeling in modern stadiums of being in high-end shopping centers. Everything is clean, optimized and well organized. But hasn't everything started to look more or less the same?

Speer: I am not familiar with that feeling. And that isn't just true of stadiums. Take the construction of apartment complexes in China, for example. The demands there are the same as they are here. The world is globalized; there are the same shops and the same office buildings. But there are exceptions. In Brazil, for example, the stadium in Salvador, the Arena Fonte Nova. It was built to open up to the city. It has extremely thin supports allowing a view into the city.

SPIEGEL: Your Hamburg competitor gmp is well known for saying that football stadiums are "modern cathedrals." You have called Olympic arenas "architectural monuments."

Speer: I also said that you can maybe do it once for the Olympic Games. But at the same time it is a horrific waste of resources. The steel used in the construction of the stadium in Beijing, for example, was sufficient for the construction of three stadiums.

SPIEGEL: It is indeed surprising the speed with which these stadiums are declared to be icons. The Bird's Nest in Beijing, the stadium at Table Mountain in Cape Town ...

Speer: ... not so fast, wait a few years! Cathedrals of football have little to do with the aesthetics of the stadium. Take Anfield in Liverpool. Or Dortmund. You can't really speak of them as being pinnacles of architectural quality, but they are cathedrals just the same.

SPIEGEL: The new stadium in Manaus could be anywhere.

Greif: An almost exact copy of that stadium, of course, was built in Poland. You can criticize that. But worse is the issue of subsequent use. The stadium is in the middle of the Brazilian jungle, where nobody needs it. It now stands empty.

SPIEGEL: Just like the one in Cape Town, at the foot of Table Mountain ...

Klos: ... yes, Green Point Stadium was one of the most beautiful of the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, they are thinking of tearing it down for economic reasons. That would be cheaper than paying the millions in annual upkeep costs. In South Africa, an average of less than 7,000 fans come to top league games.

SPIEGEL: The fact that the stadiums in Manaus and Cape Town are now largely empty shouldn't come as a surprise. The one in Manaus cost $250 million. Now, so that it is used at all, games from Rio are held there.

Speer: I find that to be a much greater scandal than the question as to whether a stadium is architecturally pleasing or not. There are still a number of dinosaurs active in our industry who are currently, for upcoming world championships, building stadiums everywhere in the world. That isn't modern. Our office isn't just made up of architects. At least half of us are regional and urban planners and, in the background, also political consultants. We don't want to be thrown into the same pot with architects who only see their own buildings that are nothing but fancy, fancy and in the end are white elephants in the desert. The worst thing that could happen to us would be if we were linked to such an elephant.

SPIEGEL: So the famous architectural firm Albert Speer & Partner would have rejected the contract to build a stadium in Manaus?

Greif: No, it's not like that. If someone had asked us to build a stadium there, we would have been happy, but we would have done everything we could to ensure that something was built that had a use after the World Cup. We wouldn't have merely asked that question, we would have fought for it.

SPIEGEL: Your office has developed the master plan for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The concept calls for 12 stadiums to be built in the desert, some of them within sight of each other. Each seat is to be cooled and the temperature at the center of the field is to be 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), even if outside temperatures rise to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). And all this is to be built in a country that has as many residents as Augsburg, Germany (population: 276,542) Weren't we just talking about sustainability?

Speer: But of course we were. Here, too, sustainability has been a priority from the very beginning.

SPIEGEL: The insistence on an ecologically viable World Cup on the Arabian Peninsula doesn't sound particularly credible. Just look at Abu Dhabi, which has announced its intention to build a new carbon neutral city -- right next to a Formula One race track.

Speer: We intend to do things better and don't want to be connected to projects like those in Sochi, for example. Qatar is planned so that most of it can be disassembled afterwards and that, in the end, is of a dimension that suits the country. The upper levels are modular and can be removed to make a total of 22 smaller football stadiums, which will then be given to developing countries after the World Cup. Individual modules can also be used for track and field stadiums with room for 5,000 people. And for the cooling, we have developed a concept that is based on solar power.

SPIEGEL: One stadium in Doha is already being cooled today.

Klos: Yes, but unfortunately a strange complex is right next door that is almost as big as the stadium itself. Inside is the power plant that drives the cooling system. You can't do that at a World Cup.

SPIEGEL: Does the idea of having all teams live and train in a single complex come from you?

Klos: Yes, we wanted to create a kind of Olympic Village at the World Cup. But we developed the concept in parallel because FIFA has extremely strict specifications.

SPIEGEL: For example?

Klos: Among other things, FIFA requires 12 stadiums and a total of 112 training grounds -- 64 located where teams are accommodated and a further 48 at the game sites. In addition, 88 hotels.

SPIEGEL: Qatar is supposed to have 112 training grounds that conform to FIFA standards? That is crazy.

Klos: The Qataris told us they were being monitored closely, so we carefully developed two plans for each chapter of requirements. In the first, we precisely fulfilled the demands listed. In the second, we make suggestions that make sense from our perspective. So, one for FIFA and ...

SPIEGEL: ... one for common sense. What if Germany wants another purpose-built training resort like Campo Bahia in Brazil?

Klos: Then they can have one. The team accommodations, by the way, also won't stand empty following the World Cup. They will be partially disassembled and then used as apartments.

SPIEGEL: How did you get the Qatar World Cup contract in the first place? Did people there know who you were?

Speer: No, they had no idea. The first contact was established at the SportAccord Convention in Denver in 2009.

Klos: A couple of young Qataris came up to us. I don't know what kind of a stand we had at the time. I am guessing that there was a picture of a stadium on it. Then they said: We want the World Cup. Could you build us a stadium? And we asked: One stadium? One of 12? Who is doing the other ones? Answer: We don't know, 11 other architects. And where are you putting the stadiums? Answer: No idea, the architects should tell us. And how are the people supposed to get to the stadiums? How are you planning on managing the traffic? They were starting from zero. It was a pure cold call.

SPIEGEL: So the Qataris wanted the 12 best architects that money could buy and each one was to build a stadium. Their idea called for the country to have the 12 best possible stadiums after the World Cup ended?

Speer: Exactly. We said we had to think things over. They didn't have the slightest idea how they wanted to do things. Then we traveled to Doha.

SPIEGEL: There, you met with Sheikh Mohammed, a son of the Emir. How old was he at the time?

Klos: Twenty-one, I think, but a young man with perfect Western manners who speaks four languages: The exact opposite of the cliché of an Arabian monarch. Not the kind who says: "I have money and I will tell you how things are to be done." He is someone who listens.

Speer: I was impressed by the intensity and the intelligence of this man, and also by his desire to know everything. It went so far that we had to send our English interpreter -- there are just a handful in the world who can translate such plans -- home. He wasn't good enough for the sheikh.

SPIEGEL: Those who pay for the music determine what is to be played.

Klos: No, it wasn't like that. They listened. You know what was on our first slide? "Too hot, too small, too boring." We told them, this is how we see you and this is how the entire world sees you. Changing this image, that was our task.

SPIEGEL: Why? The description is accurate.

'Ahead of Each of Our Projects, We Ask: Is It Acceptable?'

Greif: We had to develop answers to the questions that would be asked of our client. That is how Qatar's presumed disadvantage, its size, became an advantage. It will be a World Cup of short distances between venues. At the World Cup in Germany, Franz Beckenbauer was able to attend midday and evening games, but only by using a helicopter. In Qatar, everyone will be able to do so.

SPIEGEL: But the summer won't be any cooler in the desert as a result.

Greif: Of course not, but for the players, the temperatures will be much more comfortable at this World Cup than they were recently in Brazil. And we didn't have to convince the Qataris. They came to us with ambitious demands. We didn't head down there as architects, rather as urban planners. We didn't get overexcited because we were working for a client who can theoretically make anything happen. We were focused on questions like: We have to get from A to B, which means that we can't build the three stadiums too close to each other because it would be problematic from a traffic point of view. Architectural questions came at the very end.

SPIEGEL: Still, one can wonder if it makes any sense at all for a World Cup to be held in a tiny desert country like Qatar.

Greif: What kind of a question is that? Of course it is legitimate for a country like Qatar, and thus, the Arab world, to get the World Cup. It is arrogant to believe that football belongs to us Europeans. Furthermore, I don't believe that what the Russians are doing (eds. note: The 2018 World Cup is to be held in Russia) is any more efficient. Venues there are up to 2,400 kilometers (1,491 miles) from each other. The amount of resources and energy that are being wasted to bring spectators from A to B is crazy. Russia, in this regard, is the opposite extreme.

SPIEGEL: Qatar isn't a democracy, there is no labor union for immigrant workers and there have been numerous reports of people dying at the construction sites . In the past, the country was also a safe harbor for leaders of Islamist organizations.

Speer: I think it is fantastic that, with the help of media reports -- and well in advance of the World Cup -- people are taking a closer look. And that things are changing. Ahead of each of our projects, we ask: Is it acceptable? For many years we have had good business relations with Saudi Arabia. There is trust there, and people there listen to us as well. We really do have the feeling that we are doing something positive for the country and the people there. That is our benchmark. For Qatar as well.

SPIEGEL: Would you refuse to work in a country that keeps political prisoners and has the death penalty?

Klos: You are referring to the US and Guantanamo?

SPIEGEL: No, that wasn't a reference to the US.

Speer: We look at each country individually and we look at each situation carefully. We have to have the feeling that the project makes sense.

SPIEGEL: For who?

Speer: For the country. It has to make sense and it has to be sustainable.

SPIEGEL: Give us an example of a project you walked away from due to such concerns.

Speer: "The Palm" in Dubai. That project is simply idiotic. Fundamentally idiotic. We could have made a lot of money there, but from the perspective of sustainability, from all perspectives, it is just wrong. Putting something like that in the water, we thought it was just stupid. And the offer came at a time when we really could have used the job.

SPIEGEL: So you really don't understand the debate as to whether Qatar was the correct choice for the World Cup?

Speer: Of course I do. What bothers me, though, is that the standards are not applied all the time and in all places, just in Qatar. And it bothers me the degree to which some journalists focus on the German point of view. We Germans, and we Europeans, are -- from a global perspective -- becoming less numerous and are playing a decreasingly significant role. And yet the only ones that are always against everything are the Europeans. The rest of the world sees things differently.

SPIEGEL: Yes, it's not easy in democracies where there is freedom of opinion. There are even public referenda that frequently go against large events. Munich doesn't want the Olympics, neither does Stockholm, Oslo or the Swiss town of Graubünden. People are saying: take that nonsense somewhere else!

Speer: I think it is absolutely right to ask critical questions. But you have to always ask them, and not just in Qatar. Take the 2004 European Championship in Portugal. Seven new stadiums. You should go there now. There are three teams in the country that are able to fill up a stadium. The average number of spectators is 9,500. Or even France, where the Euro 2016 is being held. Because of the expanded number of participants, huge amounts of overcapacity are being established there.

SPIEGEL: And people know that and resist such mega-events that they have to pay for in the end.

Speer: There has indeed been lots of misconduct in the past, but we want to do things better -- and are being measured by the garbage that took place in Sochi. FIFA really is a bit behind the times, but the International Olympic Committee has recognized reality. Democratic countries are no longer willing to accept many things. Adhesion contracts, corruption, tax relief, opaque tendering procedures: Those are exactly the things that the new IOC President Thomas Bach has addressed. Otherwise, the IOC would have a problem in the long term.

SPIEGEL: Is it not more comfortable to build in a dictatorship? Decisions are quicker, there aren't too many onerous regulations, there are no referenda….

Speer: No, it's not.

Greif: The problem is a different one in Germany. There, it's not just about the Olympic Games, that issue just makes things particularly obvious. Decisions of national importance are made at the smallest local level. There, personal interests of individuals, who feel inconvenienced for three weeks, play the decisive role. We plan other things too: high-voltage power lines for the Energiewende (eds. note: Germany's switch to reliance on renewable energies), for example. People support the shift, but not if a cable runs past their front door. Many have it too good in Germany.

SPIEGEL: Where, exactly?

Greif: Take Inzell, for example. Prior to the decision for the 2018 Olympics, the (Bavarian) town fought to be part of the planning process for Munich's bid. Then, (once Munich didn't win) they became part of the process ahead of the decision for 2022. Then, following an initiative started by the local ice sports club, the municipality held a referendum in which it decided against supporting the Olympic bid. The argument: Their facility would have been unavailable for youth training for a time.

SPIEGEL: Your office has been involved in stadium construction for some time. What will a visit to a stadium look like in the future?

Bienhaus: That is difficult to say. Recently, Germany's Bundesliga has seen one attendance record after the next. Nobody knows if it will remain so in the future.

SPIEGEL: Why not? In the past, people were just fans. Now, we are participating in an event. That seems to be the future.

Bienhaus: We don't know if our children will really continue going to the stadium. What we do know is that the utilization of a stadium will be an important issue. Allianz Arena in Munich, which is used by two teams, is operational almost 360 days of the year and hosts around 1,200 events. It is the absolute exception. As a rule, such a stadium is a facility that is used every 14 days for 90 minutes. It's crazy actually. At the same time, such arenas are quite welcome as a public viewing venue. As such, it is worth thinking about whether one could increase utilization by making it possible to watch a team's away games in the home stadium by way of hologram technology. The technology is basically available already.

SPIEGEL: Every game as a home game?

Bienhaus: Yes, everything is a home game. The idea goes so far that you can project in some spectators, including their cheers and songs, from the stadium where the game is actually being played.

Speer: You can do that without me. I turned 80 in July.

SPIEGEL: Are you actually a football fan?

Speer: I watch the English league a bit, not so much the Bundesliga. When we did the project for Bayern I went to Olympic Stadium (eds. note: where Bayern Munich used to play) a few times. But I found it kind of boring.

SPIEGEL: To what degree are architects taken advantage of by people in power? By people who are more interested in creating a monument to themselves rather than the structure or facility as such?

Speer: That has always been the case. And not just in the Arab world. Of course the new airport in Dubai is totally overdone. Or what Turkish President Erdogan is doing with the airport in Istanbul. But do you really think that the office of the Bavarian governor  in Munich, commissioned by then-Governor Franz Josef Strauss, was really necessary? The differences between people down there and ourselves are really not that great.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Speer, Mr. Klos, Mr. Greif, Mr. Bienhaus, we thank you for this interview.

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