Night Lights

When archrivals begin sharing a Munich soccer stadium, it will be the glowing facade that lets fans know who’s up.

Taking the American concept of sports rivalry to Europe is like bringing kiddie scissors to a gunfight. Last fall’s American League Championship series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox hinted at the acrimony that only archrivals can generate; and when fan violence threatened to erupt during game six, a few well-placed police officers crouching at the foul lines put an end to the threat. Cops on the field are an unusual sight in the United States. But in Europe no one is surprised to see fans in cages—protecting them, and the players, from themselves. The New York Giants and the New York Jets currently share a facility; so do the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers. And they’re all trying to separate. Imagine, then, the European sports mentality confronting an extremely trying task: two teams sharing a brand-new soccer stadium.

Next month two Munich soccer clubs, TSV 1860 and FC Bayern, will move into Allianz Arena. Fierce intracity competition will have to lie low in the face of sharing a grand new venue. The saving grace may be the bold, loud, and above all literal signing of which team is up. Designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron (no strangers to large-scale, lighting-intensive architecture) with help from the German firms Covertex and Siteco, the 66,000-seat stadium takes the exuberance of an LED Jumbotron and wraps it around the building.

Two thousand eight hundred and sixteen unique (except for one lonely matching pair) rhomboid cushions surround the bare-bones structure of the building, a 2,756-foot circumference. One thousand and fifty-six of these cushions—made of an estimated 600,000 square feet of fluororesin ETFE foil—enclose within their air-pressurized pockets up to 18 neon tubes. Each produces 58 watts of light and lasts for 8,000 hours—good for at least a few thousand games. The cushions are translucent enough to let 94 percent of ultraviolet light through, allowing the field grass to grow even when the pneumatic roof structure is closed. According to Japanese glass manufacturer Asahi, the foil has been used increasingly as a building material, particularly in Europe, thanks to its flexibility.

“Nearly half of the fixtures had to be installed by ‘industrial climbers,’” Siteco’s Karl-Fritz Roll says. “So we had to develop a fixture that was durable and easy to install.” The lights glow red, white, or blue depending on which team is playing: white for county matches, blue for TSV 1860, and red for FC Bayern. All signs point to a peaceful cohabitation of the two teams—but it remains to be seen if the die-hard European soccer fanatics can be won over by bright colors and shiny bubbles.

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