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Story - San Nicola Football Stadium
Bari, Italy, 1987/1990
In 1987 the city of Bari decided to construct a new stadium to replace its old Municipal Stadium (Victory Stadium), which by that time no longer satisfied the safety and functionality requirements to host the Italian World Cup, which was scheduled for the year 1990. For the World Cup tournament, in fact, 8 Italian stadiums were renovated and 3 new ones were built, including the Bari stadium, which would be named after the city’s patron saint, San Nicola (St. Nicholas). The stadium is situated in the zone south-west of the city, about 5 km from the centre, in the Carbonara district. While the initial project only included a football pitch, the City of Bari subsequently expanded the design to include an athletics track. With nearly 60,000 seats, the stadium is one of Italy’s largest along with Milan’s Meazza stadium, Rome’s Olympic stadium and Naples’ San Paolo stadium. The structure is located at the centre of an artificial depression reminiscent of a volcano’s crater; the upper terraces rise just 3.6 metres above ground level, while the playing field is situated 2 metres below the ground. The upper portion of the grandstand rises above the crater like a crown and is the only portion of the stadium that can be seen from a distance; a raised structure that includes the highest seating areas, as well as a semi-transparent canopy.
Safety was one of the determining factors of the project: in fact, a series of incidents had occurred in stadiums throughout Italy in the years prior to its construction. A number of general principles were therefore established: the goals were to ensure maximum visibility, to avoid concentrating too many fans within a single sector, and to ensure that each sector had an independent emergency exit route, which had to be free of any obstacles that might obstruct the flow of the crowd. Most stadiums were made up of stacked rings and horizontal dividers that used iron bars to separate the fans of the different teams, which had proven to be hazardous in panic situations. In the Bari stadium, the upper sectors are separated from the lower ones, extending upwards and projecting outwards, like flower petals. The passages between the “petals” represent the entry and exit routes: the stairways for accessing the stadium descend from these 8-metre wide openings, and are lowered like drawbridges. In this manner, each sector has its own independent emergency exit route. The stadium’s exit area, from the base of the stairways to the parking areas, it is entirely clear and has a slight downhill slope: this slope provides for an ample field of vision.
The ellipse that houses the terraces is comprised of 26 “petals”, which were built by manufacturing and assembling 310 crescent-shaped precast concrete elements on site. Below this level, each sector is supported by just 4 pillars. The roof is comprised of a tensile structure, made from steel and Teflon, which even extends over the fissures that separate the petals from one another. The various facilities – including the restrooms, ticket offices, information counters, etc. – are set out along the arcades, between the terraces and the embankment. The large area beneath the terraces provides access to the locker rooms, the machine rooms and the emergency exits. The stadium was inaugurated on 3 June 1990, with the match between Milan and Bari.
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