MARSEILLE – Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome hasn’t been a true velodrome since 1986, but it has gone by the same name – often simply ‘le Vel’ – since it was built in 1937. What began as an open-air, 35,000 seat arena has grown and changed shape dramatically over the years, all the while hosting a wide variety of sports, matches in two World Cups, and of course, the home football team, Olympique de Marseille. In anticipation of the 2016 European Championship, the stadium has been transformed once again, this time by Paris-based architects SCAU, and local architect Didier Rogeon.
Football rules ‘le Vel’ today, but the architects made several important changes that will maintain the stadium’s versatility. They’ve added a stage, dressing rooms, and large reception spaces, creating an interior equipped to support a wider variety of athletes and performers. In attracting new event types and spectators, the architects hope the stadium will be not only the athletic centre of Marseille, but also a cultural icon.
In fact, SCAU considers the stadium ‘a monumental artwork that forms part of the overall landscape’. No aspect of the renovation reflects that sentiment more that the new roof canopy, now one of the city’s most recognizable objects. Concentric rings of shallow vaults texturise the roof’s undulating surface. At the stadium’s edges, a twenty-five-metre ‘skirt’ hangs over the façades, rising and falling with the stands inside to form a wind barrier.
The milky, translucent outer shell is a Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric that, in addition to providing shade and rain protection, requires very little maintenance. The skin is stretched over a web-like, steel substructure, in turn supported by four ‘mega posts’ that preserve the unencumbered views ‘le Vel’ is known for.