Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture, at the Soane Museum

6th July 2012

‘Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture’ exhibition at the Soane museum from 6 July – 22 September 2012

In a very short time, London’s amazing Olympic Park will be filled to capacity, but how did the tradition of the sports stadium begin? What were the origins of the thousands of stadia and sports arenas that can now be found on every continent?

In a ground-breaking exhibition, STADIA: Sport and Vision in Architecture, Sir John Soane’s Museum will trace the evolution of these iconic structures from ancient times to the state of the art London 2012 stadium in Stratford – a modern-day field of dreams.

Sir John Soane’s Museum will open its new temporary exhibition galleries with the first ever exhibition to explore what made stadia such inspirational cathedrals of sport, uniting people from all walks of life.

Sponsored by Populous, the official architectural and overlay design services provider
to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and designers of the main Olympic Stadium, Stadia starts with a look at the first, permanent structures – such as the ancient stadia at Olympia and Nemea in Greece.

Rome’s Colosseum is also examined, inspiring architects like Soane and artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi, taking us back to a time of circuses and amphitheatres, of chariot races and gladiatorial combats.

A Panathenaic amphora showing the ancient Greek armour race, terracotta lamps featuring gladiator fights, and even a large bronze goose that adorned the Hippodrome at Constantinople will all be on loan from the British Museum, celebrating the way art has been used to embellish and celebrate sports stadia throughout history.

By the Middle Ages temporary structures took the place of permanent stadia. The Palio in Siena and the Calcio Storico in Florence were just some of the sporting highlights played out in town squares, watched by fans on temporary grandstands, but architects still looked backwards for their inspiration.

The Colosseum still fired the creativity of designers and artists, and one of the greatest treasures featuring in Stadia is the Codex Coner, a Renaissance manuscript owned by Soane, which is the earliest archeologically correct record of the Colosseum, and was regularly consulted by Michelangelo.

Although fascinated by the Colosseum, Soane did not design any stadia during his long career. However, his near contemporary, the French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée, proposed the creation of a huge public circus for the centre of Paris, as part of a post-revolutionary rebuilding of the French capital.

The second half of the Stadia exhibition will bring us up to date with the design of the modern sports stadium, displayed in the new state-of-the-art Soane Gallery, designed by the architects Caruso St John.

Here, the London 2012 Stadium in Stratford will take centre stage, featuring a highly-detailed model of the twenty-first century sports arena and its legacy of environmental sustainability.

As sports fans from across the globe cheer on their athletes in London’s Olympic Park, the past will be firmly at the centre of today’s modern design.

Populous, currently working on 35 of the London 2012 competition venues has helped to bid, plan, manage and design more than 400 major event venues. The Olympic portfolio includes three main stadiums (Sydney 2000; London 2012 and Sochi 2014); 13 Games stadium and arena venues; overlay and master planning for 10 Games; and preparation of 12 Olympic Games Bids. In addition to facility design, Populous provides strategic guidance for members of the Organizing Committee on issues such as land acquisition, transportation and commodities. Beyond the Olympics, Populous event planning specialists have organized 26 NFL Super Bowls, 4 FIFA World Cup tournaments, 10 various World Games and Bids, 12 Major League Baseball All Star Games and 3 NCAA Final Four tournaments.

Tim Knox, Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum and the force behind its £7m restoration project, is delighted that the Cultural Olympiad has created the opportunity to bring ancient and modern stadia together and celebrate the Soane’s new galleries:-

“The great stadia of the ancient world like the Colosseum are the ancestors of the innovative sports architecture of today’s Olympiad” says Knox.

“Roman reliefs of chariot racing in a hippodrome, Soane’s drawings of the Colosseum, and the oval form, tiered seats, and retractable ‘velarium’ of the London 2012 Stadium, demonstrate the inexorable impact these ancient architectural design have had on modern forms.

By hosting this exhibition in our new exhibition galleries in the heart of Sir John Soane’s museum, we celebrate the ancient roots of today’s Olympics, whilst looking forward to architectural visions of the future”.

Rod Sheard, Senior Principal at Populous, the Olympic Stadium architect said: “Stadia have become the ‘cathedrals’ of the 21st century. In the summer of 2012, the London Olympic stadium will be one of the most viewed buildings in history, and will bring a pilgrimage of national and international athletes and spectators to celebrate a unique experience. We are at a point in which a stadium, more than any other building type in history, has the ability to shape a town or a city. It puts a community on the map –establishing an identity and providing a focal point in the landscape. It is by observing the past that we can move forward and create these catalysts that regenerate complete areas and become part of the legacy of a larger process. We are delighted to sponsor the first ever exhibition devoted to the subject of stadia design, which will give visitors some fascinating insights into the design of sporting venues.”

The Museum:

The architect Sir John Soane’s house, museum and library at No 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields has been a public museum since the early 19th century. On his appointment to the Royal Academy in 1806 Soane (1753-1837) began to arrange his collected books, classical antiquities casts and models so that students of architecture might benefit from access to them. In 1833 he negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve the house and collection after his death for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. Today Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of the country’s most unusual and significant museums with a continuing and developing commitment to education and creative inspiration. The museum is open free: Tuesday to Saturday inclusive, 10am-5pm. Also on the first Tuesday evening of each month, 6-9pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, bank holidays and Christmas Eve.

In March 2011 work started on the Museum’s £7m three-year programme of restoration and development, Opening up the Soane and launched a public appeal to raise the final £500,000 needed to complete the project. Opening up the Soane involves restoration work within the Museum’s Grade I listed interiors that will open up more areas and aspects of the collection to the public, including: Soane’s private apartments which have been closed to the public for 180 years; the Catacomb and Ante-Room; the Tivoli Recess, which was Britain’s first public gallery of contemporary sculpture, will be recreated; and Soane’s Model Room will be restored, allowing the display, for the first time since 1837, of 80 exquisite architectural models – the largest historical collection in the UK and used by Soane for teaching his students at the Royal Academy.

A new Soane Gallery and Shop will be created – designed by Caruso St John Architects. Conservation and visitor facilities will be improved and new oral history and outreach programmes will be developed. The project will also deliver improved access for people with disabilities for the first time with the provision of a new lift, cunningly located in a disused service shaft.

For more information about Opening up the Soane visit or call 020 7440 4263.

Sir John Soane’s Museum is a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) whose prime sponsor is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Stadia: Sports and Vision in Architecture is generously sponsored and contributed to by Populous, the Official Architectural and Overlay Design Services Provider to the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games