The 2018 FIFA World Cup is upon us, and most of Construction Week’s readers, listeners, and viewers are sure to be glued to their TV sets for the coming month.

The tournament’s first fixture, Russia versus Saudi Arabia, will help to shine a light on the Middle East, home to numerous passionate footballing communities. For architects and designers in the region, this publicity affords an opportunity to showcase the ways that football – which is both an interest and an industry – has helped them to shape the built environment of their markets.

IN PICTURES: Top 10 stadiums for football matches in the Middle East

While modern entertainment facilities such as malls and theme parks are receiving a transformative overhaul in the Middle East, its stadiums are also evolving to become more than just traditional community hubs. For example, a refurbishment programme was recently completed at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium – one of the oldest sports facilities in the country – to prepare it for the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup UAE.

The scheme saw the facility kitted out with sustainable components such as intelligent lighting, and air-conditioning units that are connected to the building management system, allowing for air flow to be monitored and controlled.

In fact, stadiums are among the most consistent customers for refurb firms: a series of renovations in 2002 saw the architectural design of the UAE’s Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium remodelled to reflect modern sports development. The facility was also furnished with new seats to accommodate 12,000 spectators.

READ: Abu Dhabi firm to fund Real Madrid stadium revamp

Bahrain National Stadium in Manama was renovated in 1998 for the 14th Gulf Cup football tournament, and again for the country’s hosting of the 21st Gulf Cup in 2013. And, in January 2017, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Sports awarded a contract to Schiattarella Associati for the modification of the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh

With the Middle East, and in particular the UAE, gearing up to host several international football events, architects will have the opportunity to get creative in their stadium design programmes. As industry experts told Construction Week earlier this year, global stadiums now focus on versatility and the need to create an “immersive” experience for spectators, so the Middle East’s facilities must follow suit. 

As Avinash Kumar, a partner at Godwin Austen Johnson, pointed out: “Sports stadiums are no longer spaces where you simply sit and watch the game; they now need to provide a completely immersive experience. Some football clubs use retractable turf, [...] while the back-of-house and guest experiences are designed [...] to allow spectators to enjoy the space before and after the games. Modern stadiums have to be designed to improve the customer experience, not only for sporting purposes, but overall.”

Designers must deliver the stadiums that the Middle East’s enthusiastic football spectators deserve. Egyptian footballer Mo Salah has played his role in globally raising the profile of Middle Eastern football, and architects must now look to emulate this through the cultural impact of their work.