Athletic Club of Bilbao is one of both Spain’s and Europe’s biggest football clubs. With a rich history that stretches back over a century, the club is a source of immense pride for the people of Bilbao.
The club’s previous stadium, San Mamés, had a similarly impressive history and was popularly referred to as ‘the cathedral of football’. A project to replace this structure with a brand new stadium was a daunting task but since its inauguration in 2013, the new San Mamés has been widely heralded.
Located in practically the same place as the original ground, the new stadium was constructed in two phases to limit the impact on home games. It was designed by IDOM, with César A. Azcárate Gómez acting as the main architect.
The stadium’s 53,000 spectator capacity includes 3,000 hospitality seats and up to 100 sky boxes. It also encompasses the club’s museum, official shop, restaurants, cafes, meeting areas, a high performance centre and a sports centre and swimming pool that is open to the public. Construction began in June 2011.
Central to the design was a desire to make stadium areas that are traditionally worthless become more valuable. Such areas are located between the stadium’s perimeter and the rear part of the stands and constitute the circulation areas through which you can access and exit the stands. In order to give these areas an added value, the strategy of the project consisted of, not only giving them spatial features, but also making sure that they had a very intense connection with the city and the surroundings. The façade, for example, is illuminated at night thus creating an urban landmark over the estuary, projecting a new image of Bilbao from within, thanks to one of the most advanced dynamic lighting systems in the world.
The set-up of the stands is totally focused on the field, maximizing the pressure that the fans exert on the game, just like in the old San Mamés, known the world over for being like a pressure cooker where the public would be on top of the players. One of the main challenges in the design of the new San Mamés was maintaining the intense and magical football atmosphere of the old Cathedral. This effect has not only been sustained but increased, thoroughly satisfying the demands of one of the best fan bases in the world.
The stadium was created to be more than just another football ground but rather a piece of architecture. This is highlighted by the significant award recognition the development has received since its completion. Recent successes include winning first prize at the 2017 Structural Awards in the ‘Long Span Structure’ category, being named a finalist at the Architizer A+Awards and being shortlisted for the WAN Sport in Architecture Award 2017.
The stadium possesses the highest rating under UEFA standards, Elite, and is one of 13 European venues that will host matches at UEFA Euro 2020. Away from football, it will host the 2018 finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.