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Bilbao's San Mames stadium triumphs at World Architecture Festival

Replacing the beloved 100-year old stadium of Atletico Bilbao – known in Spain as the “cathedral of football” – was quite a challenge for architect César Azcarate and engineering firm ACXT-IDOM.

Their effort has been rewarded, however, after the 53,000-capacity San Mames arena was judged the world's best new sports building at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore.

“One of our biggest challenges was maintaining the intense and magical football atmosphere of the old cathedral,” said Azcarate, speaking before the festival. “This effect has not only been sustained but increased, thoroughly satisfying the demands of one of the best fan bases in the world.”

Azcarate’s design featured thousands of ETFE plastic panels, which cover the stands, roof and facade and can be illuminated at night by “one of the most advanced dynamic lighting systems in the world”.

The architect said this has “created an urban landmark over the estuary, projecting a new image of Bilbao from within,” adding the effect has transformed the “traditionally worthless” circulation area around a stadium’s perimeter into something valuable and “intensely connected with the city and the surroundings.”

The structure was built on the site of the old stadium, which was gradually dismantled. The project took place in two phases over four years to minimise the impact on the football team, who were able to continue playing there during the Spanish La Liga season.

“The location of the new stadium at the end of the urban mesh of the expansion district of Bilbao – where it peeps over the estuary with privilege – turns the building into a piece of architecture that must be introduced categorically and with force while respecting the surrounding buildings,” said Azcarate.

“It had to look like an urban building related to the others, and not just as simple sports facility.”

The new Sam Mames stadium features a public sports centre, restaurants, cafes, a club museum and shop.

Several of Bilbao’s league rivals are also planning new stadiums, including Barcelona and Real Madrid, which also recently unveiled the design for its new corporate headquarters building.

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Replacing the beloved 100-year old stadium of Atletico Bilbao – known in Spain as the “cathedral of football” – was quite a challenge for architect César Azcarate and engineering firm ACXT-IDOM. Their effort has been rewarded, however, after the 53,000-capacity San Mames arena was judged the world's best new sports building at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore. “One of our biggest challenges was maintaining the intense and magical football
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The new San Mames is illuminated at night by a dynamic lighting system / ACXT-IDOM
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