Soccer City: enduring symbol of a hospitable and safe South Africa?

June 2010 -

A 'calabash' that reflects the melting pot of the African population: this is what Soccer City, the recently totally renovated soccer stadium in Johannesburg, is being called. The South African architect's firm Boogertman + Partners – that designed the stadium in collaboration with Populous – is referring to an African cooking pot (calabash) that is placed on a fire pit. At night the pot 'glows', because the transparent parts of the stadium 'skin's' mosaic, which consists of glazed components in earthen colours, lets light through. The building design plays an important role in communicating an optimistic message.


Soccer City by night (Photo: Boogertman + Partners / Populous)

Boogertman + Partners have been involved in the stadium's renovation since 2001. When it was announced in 2004 that the world cup soccer matches would be held in South Africa, the architects were able to make concrete plans to raise the stadium to the level of a World Cup main stadium. The newly renovated 90,000 seat stadium shows few traces of the original stadium.

Both the architect and the customer were looking for a form that was truly South African, so as to generate broad-based support among the populace. A typical African design also contributes to the Nation Branding, which is one of the objectives of hosting the World Cup. The calabash is a symbol of solidarity; that aspect is also emphasised in the design of both the façade and the interior. There are ten grey vertical slots, nine of which represent the geographical link with the other nine stadiums being used for the soccer events. The tenth slot 'refers' to Berlin, the city in which the World Cup finals were played four years ago.

Primary architect Bob van Bebber of Boogertman + Partners explains that the South African population is proud of the stadium. "Because the building refers to the local population, many people feel that they are “co-owners." As part of a social program, 900 unemployed people were trained on site as construction workers. The expansion of the cheap bus rapid transport system, which provides better access to the stadium, benefits everyone.

If South Africa succeeds in organising the soccer tournament without any incidents, the 'calabash' will be imprinted in the minds of millions of television viewers and visitors as a symbol of a hospitable and safe South Africa. The scope and importance of this legacy will only become apparent after 11 July 2010, when the final match is played in Soccer City.