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NeuroArchitecture in the World Cup: Stadiums Identity

By Andréa de Paiva and Fabio Menezes

The FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia final is coming and, since we were there, we will start now a serie of articles about the architecture of the stadiums and Russian architecture

Have you ever had the chance to visit the Vila Belmiro Stadium in Santos, Brazil, or the Camp Nou in Barcelona or any stadium that was specifically built for the World Cup? Was the experience  of watching a match or a show different depending on the stadium where it happened? The World Cup final is coming and there are many discussions about the architecture of the stadiums. In the article “Estádios da Copa perdem a alma por semelhanças exigidas pela Fifa” (‘World Cup stadiums lose their soul due to similarities demanded by Fifa’) [1], there are criticisms about the recently built stadiums attending to FIFA's specifications for the World Cup (not only in Russia in 2018, but also in Brazil in 2014). The article points that such stadiums tend to have a lack of identity. In today's article we will discuss stadiums identity and its relation with NeuroArchitecture.

 Spartak Stadium, Moscow
Spartak Stadium, Moscow. Source: NeuroAU

Originally, the stadiums were (and many still are) built to belong either to a team, like the Morumbi Stadium that belongs to São Paulo, or to a city or federation, like Wembley, in London, that is owned by the Football Association. The private stadiums are designed considering the identity of its club, its history, its supporters, its players. Very often the facade and/or the stalls have the colors of the team, for instance. A very peculiar case is the Arena Allianz in Munich. It is used by Bayern Munich, by TSV 1860 Munich and the german national team. The stadium changes the colors of the facade according to the team that will play there.

That is why the atmosphere in each stadium is so different from the others. This is the reason why there is a feeling of identification from the clubs, the supporters and visitors with such stadiums. Even when the same stadium is used by rival teams, like the San Siro in Millan, that is used by Millan and Inter, traditional rivals in Italy. Although both teams use the same stadium, the occupation of the space by its supporters is very distinct: the ultras (the most fanatic supporters) from each team stay in opposite stands, even when those teams are not competing with each other. Milan's supporters occupies the sud curve and Inter's, the nord curve. This shows identification and appropriation of the space by its users.

San Siro Stadium, Milan. Source: Wikipedia

In one of the stadiums we visited in Moscow, the Spartak in Moscow, the club’s identity was shown on the facade colors (red and white) and on the stalls (all seats in red colour red and written "95 Years Spartak" in white). There was also statues in tribute to the founders of the club, to the former player Cherenkov and to the roman gladiator Spartacus, whose name inspired the team's name. All such features contribute to strengthen identification between supporters and the space as well as making a nice touristic spot for outside visitors.

Spartak Stadium, Moscow. Source:

The feeling of identification with the space creates a rich and complex relation between individuals and architecture. And, as it has been proved by NeuroArchitecture, places that create this feeling will impact the brain in a completely different way than standardised places without any identity.  A stadium that generates identification creates deeper emotional reactions in the brain. This generates stronger links, space appreciation instead of depreciation, involvement with the history and the team it represents. An example of a strong affective relation with a stadium is the Highbury (Arsenal's stadium) in London. The team moved to another stadium (the Emirates Stadium) in 2006 and its old "home" was demolished in order to build an apartment complex. However, the stadium facade was preserved and kept as part of the complex's facade due to its affective importance to the city.

Nevertheless, stadiums architecture has been changing, due to new safety standards, FIFA standards or even due to the technological evolution that impacts on the design and construction techniques. On the last few years, teams like Juventus in Italy, Atlético Madrid in Spain and Peñarol in Uruguay have inaugurated their new stadiums and several other teams are doing the same all over the world.  But in such cases, since they are private stadiums, the creation of identity is present since the beginning of the architecture design.

However, other interests have influenced the construction of new stadiums. The World Cup is an event that moves billions of dollars and it is natural that FIFA worries about the consumers. In offering standardisation of the experience of the space, FIFA helps to raise a feeling of "home" in the public, recognising most of the stimuli on the design, like the boards of direction and publicity and the location and shape of the stores. This makes the emotional experience more predictable, facilitating adherence and consume. On the other hand, when we are "at home", we swap new experiences and the chance to be surprised for comfort and predictability.

As NeuroArchitecture has been highlighting, the process of being surprised is fundamental to attention and memory formation. It is much easier to remember the day we got home and were welcomed with a surprise dinner than any other day that we just got home and followed with our routine. Surprises are one of the main tools to alter emotional state (this can be good and bad, depending on the situation). As the neuroscientist David Eagleman said: “awareness of your surroundings occurs only when sensory inputs violate expectations. When the world is successfully predicted away, awareness is not needed because the brain is doing its job well” [2]. Without emotion and attention, the experience and the memories are weaker [3]. And on stadiums, this is the opposite of what people look for. They want to be thrilled, interact and remember.

That is why it is common that some clubs, even when offered a more modern stadium, still prefer to occupy their old ones, like in Brazil when teams like Santa Cruz and Sport refused to move to Arena Pernambuco, a new stadium that was built for the World Cup in 2014. This situation happens quite often and the reason, as said by most team leaders, is not only monetary but also the relation between the supporters and the stadium. This might result in underused stadiums [4]. 

After all, what is the solution to the lack of identity on the new stadiums? The answer is simple. It is up to the stakeholders, from architects and neuroarchitects to federations, teams and supporters, to try to find balance between the interests regarding all the people that use the stadiums. In this regard, NeuroArchitecture can help not only as a design tool to make more amazing stadiums, but also as a tool to help comprehension and convincing. It is necessary to comprehend the impact that identification among supporters, teams and architecture can have on the experience of each stadium. It is necessary to be able to convince all the stakeholders about the importance and the benefits of stadiums that evoke emotions, that surprise and involve their visitors. The teams will have not only a monetary gain, but also more cheerful and involved supporters and on the supporters side, they will have a unique and unforgettable experience beyond the match itself.

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Fabio Menezes dos Anjos, this article's invited co-author, is a psychoanalyst, has a masters degree in clinical psychology at the University of São Paulo, has had a clinical practice for the last 8 years and has experience in the fields of social work (NGOs), rehabilitation, sport psychology, among others. His main research focus are the areas of sport, society and discourses.


[2] EAGLEMAN, D. (2011) Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. New York: Pantheon Books

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