Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Sports City Stadium is an elegant, respectful and versatile complex that combines traditional Islamic architecture with innovative design to form a highly functional, sustainable and flexible building. 

The Stadium reflects its location in two ways, in its response to the geology and climate in which its situated and in recognising that it is in one of the world’s most devout Muslim societies. It is home to two Saudi premier-league football teams based in Jeddah, AL Ittihad and Al Ahli, and with 60,000 seats, the stadium is far larger than any other in the country. It not only facilitates larger crowds, but for the first time enables the country to host events such as AFC Asian Cup. The stadium therefore has been designed to comply with FIFA, Green Guide and IBC guides and codes.

As well as giving people a place to watch sport, the hope is to inspire participation to improve fitness within the Kingdom with state-of-the-art facilities. In addition to the stadium, there is a 10,000-seat indoor sports hall that can be reconfigured for a wide range of sports, a 1,000-seat outdoor athletics stadium and track, as well as three football pitches, four five-a-side pitches, six tennis courts, and athletics warm-up facilities. 

Applying our sports architecture expertise

Arup’s architects have used geometric patterns, forming a rich part of Islamic culture to help define the stadium’s look. They drew on the traditions of the openwork mashrabiya screens, providing privacy and keeping the sun out whilst still permitting ventilation. In a climate that is extremely hot for much of the year, getting the right approach to shading and ventilation was crucial. 

The designers wanted to provide as much shade as possible to spectators, but not to shade the grass. Bermuda-type grass was used, the best of its kind to survive in the hot conditions.

To achieve excellent sightlines, from all parts of the bowl, and comfort with natural ventilation through three seasons of the year, Arup came up with a solution of an angled layout on the lower levels that becomes rounded at the top. This solution provides a combination of intimacy at the lower layers and the best possible sightlines. The roof is formed from cantilevered trusses, creating a series of isosceles triangles that reference the tessellation of traditional Islamic designs. 

The building includes PTFE insertions, referring to the Bedouin tradition. This aesthetic and functional choice makes the stadium unique. With its faceted geometry, formalist setting and harsh environment, it has been described as a ‘Jewel in the desert’.

The cladding plays a vital part in ventilation, allowing air to be drawn in and – as it heats up – rise up and exit the bowl. This was carefully modelled and should provide sufficient movement of cool air at times of stadium usage. Almost all matches will be played at night when the perforations will also allow light to escape through them.