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.

AS&P/ hhvision

Interview Conducted by Maik Grossekathöfer and

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.

Related Topics

Discuss this issue with other readers!
4 total posts
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dalton500 01/18/2015
1. Qatar
The UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman are busy spending hundreds of billions $ on glorious resorts, sporting events and museums. The West is spending trillions on fighting Qatar's fellow religious followers in a clash of civilizations. Along with Turkey, these countries should focus on this globally destructive war and forget the cultural bling.
spon-facebook-10000264936 01/23/2015
2. Muslim
yes, it s our right to host this events, no to racism in sport ..... western media
hellemunchhardy 08/02/2015
3. albert speer and partners
Congratulations. This excellent firm deserves 2022 !
hellemunchhardy 08/02/2015
4. albert speer
Excellent and interesting article with Speer and Partners!
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