Port Elizabeth, one of South Africa’s largest cities, is located in Algoa Bay (Indian Ocean) in Eastern Cape Province, and is now part of Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. The third largest port in the country is economically dominated by its role as the principal center of the South African motor industry. In addition, “P. E.” attracts numerous visitors from home and abroad with its extensive range of water sports, all-year-round temperate climate and proximity to important national parks. With its selection as a venue for the 2010 World Cup, a new World Cup-quality stadium was needed. The quarterfinals stadium, with a crowd capacity of 46,000, is the largest venue space in P.E., and was conceived as a distinctive, new iconic landmark for the “Windy City”, as it is known.
The stadium is situated close to the center with good transport links, in the direct vicinity of North End Lake, a hitherto neglected part of the city with otherwise poor infrastructure. Lying between the sea and the lake with enormous development potential, it was a location ripe for the sports park scheme that has been developed. Apart from hosting football and rugby matches, it offers a variety of opportunities for water sports and cycling. As a leisure centre, it has a unique environmental quality and multifunctional capacity the city has hitherto lacked.
As a freestanding building, the stadium is situated on a raised podium in direct proximity to the lake, in the middle of the gently moving topography of the park. The stadium springs like a flower from the ground, offering a unique image with its reflection in the water. Its silhouette is notable for the curves of the roof girders and clear configuration of the concrete primary structure below, which forms a two-storey colonnaded gallery. This runs round the entire stadium, and is open to anyone visiting the park on non-match-days. The glazed suite level marks the horizontal termination of the colonnades on which the roof girders rest, their tips running down to floor level in the lounges. From here they unfurl upwards like leaves, towards the middle of the stadium.
The geometry of the roof is tailored to local conditions, and protects the crowd not only from the sun but particularly from the frequent strong winds. The distinctive design of the roof results from the alternating arrangement of clad girders and areas of membrane stretched between them. An external top chord with an elevated ridge was used to give the girders a more dramatic look. The PTFE-membrane zones in the intermediate fields are divided into two zones by a valley cable, producing an alternating pattern of rib shapes and hollows that is reinforced by the alternation of materials. The aluminum cladding of the triple parabolic girders is perforated in the lower area, giving varying degrees of transparency so as to allow VIPs and circulation areas a spectacular view of the park, lake and sea while still providing the necessary sun screening.
The clear articulation of the exposed roof trusses is obvious from the inside. The alternation between opaque and translucent roof coverings produces an interesting interplay of light and shadow in the interior. During the day, the membrane areas provide natural illumination beneath the roof. In order to soften the lines of shadow on the pitch, the translucent part of the roof membrane was maximized towards the inner edge of the roof.
On the inner edge of the roof, an encircling edge beam links the tips of the girders to form a platform for the technical equipment. Here, maintenance access, floodlighting and installations are located above the roof membrane and so are not in direct line of view from below. The installations for the stands are thus reduced to acoustic and surveillance equipment and integrated into the roof structure. The inner roof termination features as a sharp edge.
The two-tier stadium has a deep lower tier rising in a gentle parabola. At mid-height, it has openings leading directly to the external gallery. Inner circulation routes provide visitors with easy access to all service areas and somewhere to stretch their legs. The upper tier above the box level with the corporate entertainment gallery is divided into two zones, so as to allow flexible subsequent use of the intermediate floor thus created at upper gallery level. This will be used for event space of varying sizes while also providing a number of extra boxes, needed particularly for rugby matches. These rooms have fully glazed fronts facing the pitch, while the perforation of the roof covering offers magnificent views and good environmental quality. The remaining rows of the upper tier are accessed diagonally by wide stairways. Whereas the geometrical simplicity of the primary structure radiates calm clarity, the rounded stands of the arena offer optimal views of the pitch and guarantee a highly charged atmosphere.
The design fulfills all functional, technical and climatic conditions, but at the same time takes cultural aspects into account. Typical building materials that are available or used locally are reinterpreted in the color schemes and materials used. The dark red of the brick paving used for the access areas of the park and round the stadium is continued in the various shades of red of the seating inside and the polychrome slate floors of the VIP areas. During the day, the white roof rests on the fairfaced concrete of the primary structure like a lightweight garland of petals, while at night, with its large backlit membrane areas, it looks like a huge storm lamp. The façade enclosing the colonnaded gallery at the side of the stadium forms the backdrop to this vision, providing a symbolic reference to the man whose name adorns the stadium and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. With a graphic use of sayings by Nelson Mandela, the gallery (it is over 700m long) is interpreted as a “long walk” in the sense of sporting ambition and Fair Play among equals. The construction of the Nelson Mandela Bay Arena has given Port Elizabeth a high-quality sports facility that will revitalize a whole section of the city. That increases the chances that the stadium will be optimally utilized after the World Cup as well. All the press and office areas of the arena can for example be converted to facilities for sports and leisure use and voluntary work, while the area between the stadium and the water can be used for lakeside relaxation. A new cycle path round the stadium and lake rounds off the leisure facilities in the sports park, so that the district around Prince Alfred Park will attract visitors day in, day out as a place welcoming public space.