Built in 1990 specifically for the World Cup, the Stadio delle Alpi, although an impressive structure in and of itself, made for a bad football stadium. The usual thing: poor sight-lines, a running track, remote location, no atmosphere. Juventus and Torino persisted in playing there until 2006, by which point Juventus were averaging crowds of about 25,000 across all competitions – Torino marginally less – in a ground with room enough for 69,000, compared to the approximate 47,000 thousand they’d been drawing in at the Stadio Comunale in 1998 (although it should be noted that attendances began to decline throughout all of Italy over the same period).
Actually, the delle Alpi’s number was up as early as 2002 when Juventus purchased the property off the city council for €25 million with a view to knocking it down and constructing something more modest in its place – the same year a Coppa Italia encounter between Juventus and Sampdoria attracted a mere 237 supporters. In November 2008, plans for a new 41,000-seater stadium were finally unveiled with the project scheduled to commence the following year. In the meantime, both Juventus and Torino were able to return to the Stadio Comunale – now known as the Stadio Olimpico – after it had been substantially renovated ahead of the 2006 Winter Olympics. By September 2011 the Juventus Stadium was complete.
Stadio delle Alpi
Stadio delle Alpi was essentially pre-fabricated, meaning it was manufactured off-site and then pieced together on location. It follows that such a structure is easier to take down, and that much of its material is recoverable. Accordingly, in developing the new stadium a ‘sustainable construction policy’ was adopted that is reckoned to have recouped around €2.3 million in costs: the redundant terracing, for example, was reduced to aggregate and used to shore up the new ground’s foundations; something like 6,000 tons of various metals were recycled. Numerous energy-saving strategies were also incorporated into the design – solar energy, district heating, the trapping of rainwater, and so on. Consider too that by scaling downward Juventus were able to sell off some off the land they’d acquired to retail outlet Conad for around €20.25 million. Not only did this nearly cover the cost of the site itself, but the Area 12 Shopping Centre that Conad subsequently constructed, in partnership with French Hypermarket chain E. Leclerc, provided the sort of amenities that were beyond the football club’s reach: shops, bars, restaurants, as well as 2,000 parking spaces.
All in all, then, the new stadium appears to represent a neat piece of business. It looks like a neat piece of business. Comprised of a continuous, curved rectangular bowl, its simplicity is almost the most striking thing about it; only the row of the executive boxes squeezed between the two tiers of the west side and the ‘premium club’ seats directly in front break the monotony. But look up and you’ll notice two inverted V-shaped pylons at either end of the ground pulling on steel tensioning cables attached to the trusses that support the roof. This is surely a nod to the old Stadio delle Alpi, whose roof was upheld in a similar fashion. Even the canopy itself bears some similarity, divided into sections with translucent gaps in-between letting in light.
The lower tier is about twice as deep as the upper ring of seating and is as tight to the pitch as the available space will allow. Seats are mostly white but fade to black towards the rear, with three yellow stars behind each goal denoting over 30 scudetti won. The 56 concrete monoliths that anchored the cables that supported the delle Alpi’s roof have been left in situ, as has the landscaped mound that encircled them – formed to diminish the ground’s profile against the backdrop of the Alps. As such the lower tier is indiscernible from without. The visible, upper stratum has been swathed in a skirt of grey panelling, save for a ring horizontal green, white and red panels around the stadium’s rim. Although in the main cosmetic, this façade gives protection against the elements for spectators congregating around the concourse that surrounds the top tier, which is uncluttered and with plenty of room to move about in.
Some have argued that the ground’s capacity should have been higher. Project manager and chief architect Gino Zavanella has pointed out that Juventus are currently averaging crowds of between 38,000 and 39,000, so it's about right. In any case, the club stipulated that they’d sooner sell out than have 10,000-odd seats left empty. More bothersome is the charge that, against minor opposition, the Juventus Stadium can be an uninspiring place; that the hardcore fans save themselves for bigger games and at other times the home support can be fairly sedate.
The Stadio Olimpico was built for the 1933’s Littoriali del Sport – an event set up by the National Fascist Party to celebrate itself – and the International University Games to be held that same year. The prospect of hosting the 1934 FIFA World Cup may also have been a factor, although work on the stadium had already begun when the tournament was awarded to Italy, after much deliberation, in October 1932.
Although still rotten, Mussolini was a very different egg to Hitler and allowed Italian architects to build pretty much however they liked (out of indifference rather than benevolence). In 1927, Umberto Costanzini wrapped Bologna’s Stadio Littoriale, as it was then called, in a red-bricked neoclassical façade. Just three years later and Pier Luigi Nervi was experimenting with raw, reinforced concrete at the Stadio Giovanni Berta – named after a Florentine fascist – in a manner that all but anticipated Brutalism. Thus, it’s not so remarkable that Raffaello Fagnoni’s stadium in Turin ended up having something of the International Style about it, or even that it originally bore Mussolini’s name: Stadio Municipale Benito Mussolini.
The ground’s frontage comprised of a wall painted terracotta red with a concertinaed grill of concrete and glass running on top of it. Above that, slender stanchions with two-story high tessellated glass screens in between. Finally, the overarching underside of the upper tier, finished in a smooth layer of raw cement – the height of modernity. Inside the stadium consisted of two tiers with the obligatory parterre providing access via a series of bridged stairways. As was usual for the period, only one side of the ground was covered. Although not as striking as the roof Nervi erected in Florence, the elliptical nature of the Stadio Municipale made for an attractive canopy, even if it didn’t offer much in the way of protection.
Juventus moved in first, in 1933, while Torino continued to play at Stadio Filadelfia until 1963, whereupon they joined Juventus at what had by now been rechristened Stadio Comunale, for obvious reasons. The stadium saw much success: Juventus were crowned champions 16 times, Torino six. By the time both clubs left to play at the Stadio delle Alpi, the parterre had been removed to accommodate a moat and the terracing was dangerously decrepit.
If the Stadio Comunale hadn’t been listed as a building of interest by the 'Superintendency for Environmental and Architectural Heritage' its transformation into the Stadio Olimpico could have taken a very different turn. The temptation might have been to strip the whole thing back to its foundations, build on top of it and then re-face the exterior in a more contemporaneous manner. Instead, the architectural practices tasked with refurbishing the stadium – Giovanni Cenna Architetto and Arteco – were obliged to retain the ground’s integrity whilst increasing its capacity and covering it completely.
The new roof was assembled upon concrete pillars positioned equidistantly around the perimeter of the second tier. These same pillars also supported a newly added third tier, albeit just five rows deep, completely separate from the existing structure and indiscernible when viewed from outside (excepting the glass-fronted corridor that ran along the back of the executive boxes that occupy the Tribuna Granata). The steel beams the roof rested upon were fixed to the stadium itself by way of slender steel masts – painted white – that reached diagonally downward and attached themselves unobtrusively to the building’s supporting stanchions. Seats were installed throughout, the moat filled in and the parterre reinstated.
Such enhancements, geared primarily towards the Winter Olympics, were probably enough to satisfy the demands of Torino. However, when Juventus qualified for the Champions League in 2008 the capacity of 25,500 was deemed inadequate and work began on extending the lower tier by another four rows to accommodate another 1,350 seats. In 2009 the parterre was removed to make room for three more rows adding an additional 444 places. Further modifications in 2012 – after Juventus had moved out – freed up a bit of extra space here and there, raising the capacity to just over 28,000, which is where it currently stands.
Stadio Olimpico lower terrace.
In April 2016, The Stadio Olimpico was renamed the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in honour of the team that perished in the 1949 Superga air disaster. In July 2017, Juventus's ground was rebranded as the Allianz Stadium in a deal with its sponsors set to run until July 2023. One club takes inspiration from the past, the other looks to the future.
Yet both grounds serve same purpose; the difference between them is found in the architectural detail. The Stadio Olimpico is distinct both as a building and as a stadium, while the Juventus Stadium is amorphous and easily mistaken for something else. Where the former's glass-and-concrete external wall leave an impression, the grassy banks and grey panels that surround the latter barely register. The Stadio Olimpico was devised to be seen, whereas the Juventus Stadium attempts to blend in – only those pylons give it away. Whether this makes the Olimpico more aesthetically pleasing is moot, for it is a distinction most football watchers won't care to make. But just as the Hammersmith Apollo, built in the early 1930s, is a far more arresting structure than the O2 Arena, so it also makes for a better live music venue. The Juventus Stadium presents as a cinema, the Stadio Olimpico as an amphitheatre. At Juventus the arrangement is one of intimacy and of concentration. When the performance begins, you remain in your place. Conversely, the open environment at Torino encourages movement and a greater appreciation of the setting. The staff won’t mind if you’d like to stand up, move seats, or maybe just hang out around the back of that top tier and watch the game from there.
How much of this has to do with architecture and how much to do with a differing approach towards health and safety is unclear. But there’s a lot to be said for grounds – and of buildings in general – that are adapted to perform a function, as opposed to those designed to satisfy a specific remit. The old is not beholden to the present, and by making concessions to allow for it throws up all sorts of idiosyncrasies that an architect would never conceive of. Which is not to say that the Juventus Stadium is a bad stadium, just that the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino is a more interesting and convivial one.