Brentford Community Stadium set for Championship debut

English Championship football club Brentford is poised to host the first league game at its new stadium, with the very name of the venue reflecting the ethos of the facility.

Huddersfield Town will be the visitors to Brentford Community Stadium tomorrow (Saturday), with the facility having been inaugurated earlier this month as the home team recorded a victory over Wycombe Wanderers in the EFL Cup first round.

Ground-breaking at the site took place in March 2018 and the 17,250 stadium is located less than a mile from Griffin Park, the London club’s home since 1904. AFL Architects have designed Brentford Community Stadium and believe they have delivered a venue that retains the intimacy and familiarity of Griffin Park, while futureproofing the club – which last season reached the Championship play-off final – for its ambitions of promotion to the Premier League.

Griffin Park was popular among both home and away fans and was one of the few grounds in English football to still feature terraced stands. It was also known for having a pub on each corner of the ground.

Rita Ochoa, senior associate of AFL Architects and project lead for Brentford Community Stadium, told TheStadiumBusiness.com: “We’ve spent a lot of time in Griffin Park during matches and in non-event days. We’ve consulted the fans and spent time with them in the different stands and researched the history of the club and the stadium.

“During this process we discovered how diverse the fans are, how four generations of the same family visited Griffin Park every weekend, and we understood the colours of the club throughout its history and replicated them in several areas of the new building.

“We also discovered memorabilia that has been transported to the new stadium and displayed respectfully in the entrance to the hospitality lounges. Visitors can walk by and see this cabinet from the outside.

“Every stand at Griffin Park was different, had its own personality and demographics. We have applied that concept in the new stadium by creating different concourses, lounge areas and atmosphere.”

Brentford Community Stadium will not solely host football matches, with Premiership rugby union team London Irish set to move in as well. In December 2018, it was announced that Irish would return to the English capital in 2020 following the completion of a deal with Brentford.

Irish had played at Madejski Stadium, home of Brentford’s fellow Championship team Reading, for the past two decades, but will become the secondary tenant at Brentford Community Stadium from the 2020-21 season. The club had held an agreement to play at Madejski Stadium through to 2025-26, but a break clause was exercised to leave this deal early.

Commenting on the main design aspects of the new stadium that will make it a good host for both sports, Ochoa said: “Firstly, the pitch is optimised for dual use while ensuring spectators are as close as possible to the action. This is one of many stadia we’ve used this technique on, so it was a very familiar process for us.

“The two sports also incur distinct fan and ticket strategies. Rugby fans use a stadium differently from football fans; they circulate and mix in the concourse more, have less demand for boxes, and stay longer once a game is over. For this reason, the first level of hospitality – the Dugout – has space for a band stage. It can also be extended into the concourse to double the circa 950 capacity.

“Similarly, the six boxes provided in the south stand can be transformed to either provide a more intimate atmosphere for football, or larger to accommodate more rugby fans.

“Branding wise, we’ve kept it neutral for both sets of fans and for events. Hospitality lounges have their own distinct personalities, yet you will know for sure who is playing that day. The concourse lights are able to switch instantly from London Irish green to Brentford FC red.

“On a subtle note, we’ve also specified high doorways in dressing rooms and first aid areas, as rugby players tend to be taller than the average person!”

Rita Ochoa, Senior Associate, AFL Architects

The tight, triangular nature of the site and its dramatic effect on the stadium footprint serves as a clear motif throughout the design. Triangular forms are found throughout the hospitality areas, in the shape of the floodlights and roof, and within the massing itself. These angular shapes aim to create a consistent language across the stadium, along with unique touches that distinguish it from all others.

Ochoa said: “We have played with quite a few angular forms throughout, all directly related to the geometric forms in the Bees’ branding, the triangular nature of the site and the rail tracks running adjacent.

“Functionally, the shape marries form with best practice guidance. The angular roof in the East and West stands was designed as low as possible to maximise intimacy and atmosphere during matches, in line with Premier League guidance and regulations for camera positions and high ball heights. 

“The seating was designed to be as close as possible to the pitch, to give an immersive experience to the fans, while providing them with shelter from the weather. The form also allows Brentford’s Pump House Tower to feature prominently between the dip in the stands. This looks fantastic in all the match-day photos and really grounds the stadium in its location.”

Externally, the aluminium façade plays with size and tone. AFL states the effect is of a less industrial, broken up massing and a varied texture to create interest. The semi-opaque polycarbonate on the higher elevation has been designed for night-time matches. The material allows a controlled amount of light to break out of the stadium bowl.

While observers may claim the stadium’s appearance from the outside is rather austere, Ochoa argues against this. “The fact is, the full site is incredibly interesting itself, being highly visible by traffic on the motorway, the rail lines and of course the surrounding residential towers, currently under construction,” she said.

“At some angles, commuters can see the giant screens within the stadium, and at night the higher elevations will softly glow from the flood lights on match days.

“You have to sensitively consider the impact of the design on all these neighbouring developments and infrastructure, and experience steers us away from an overtly dominating aesthetic. The colours on the façade are muted with enough variation to stay interesting, but the silhouette is unmistakably Brentford Community Stadium.

“We’re meeting the fans where they are – on the main boulevard walk up to the stadium, the industrial themed concourses and of course the bowl itself. That’s where you get your wow factor – where it really matters.”

AFL believes the delivered design drives forward a new model for the future – a medium-capacity stadium with almost 2,000 premium seats, joint-tenancy and a sustainable player base. Regarding the hospitality and non-matchday offering, Ochoa said: “There are four levels of hospitality. The Dugout for GA fans, and three sets of lounges with different offerings.

“On level two, the Legends (734) and Fortress (513) lounges are contemporary and informal. This is where some of the Griffin Park history makes an appearance – a deep blue has been added to the interior palette, referencing the Bees’ historic past. This commemorative blue was also worn for some of Brentford’s biggest games in their last season at Griffin Park.

“On level three, the Railway (372) and Orchard (219) lounges are designed for comfort and flexibility, with additional touches to seating and lighting that enhances the space. This is also where the six boxes are located, able to hold a total capacity of 44.

“The Orchard lounge is able to extend into these boxes if required. Like all lounges, the internals retain a brand neutrality while being unmistakeably unique to Brentford Stadium. Luminaires are prominent, dramatic and continue the triangular motif.

“On level four, the exclusive Oxford and Cambridge lounges (79) enjoy a full panorama of the pitch. All motifs carried throughout the design are brought into full alignment here, with angular references in the furnishings, the timber slats and floor, to the railway lines in the glasswork. Indirect light creates an intimate, luxurious atmosphere.

“As for non-matchday, directly adjacent to the stadium lies the new Brentford FC community centre. Located within a few minutes’ walk from the east stand, the club plans to open the east concourse for sport and other activities. The new centre is also accessible via a new pedestrian bridge, part of the wider residential masterplan.”

As with any major stadium development, Brentford Community Stadium has encountered challenges and problems along the way. In August 2017, the club was forced to modify its plans, reducing capacity from 20,000 to 17,250.

COVID-19 also affected the latter stages of the development, but Ochoa believes Brentford now has a new home it can be proud of. Commenting on the hurdles AFL has had to overcome, she added: “Above all, that tight site. We have managed to deliver a four-sided stadium in a three-sided footprint, surrounded on all sides by the M4 and two railway lines. We’ve had to consult closely with Network Rail on that arrangement and to assemble the land needed. Buckingham Group did a great job on construction within that space.

“It was important to secure that area so the fans could stay local and connected. That obviously has been one of our biggest challenges: ensuring fans – all fans, from all demographics – felt listened to and included throughout. It’s why we’ve placed such a big focus on accessibility and inclusivity throughout the design.

“The stadium has a sensory room away from the crowds but with great views of the match, a dedicated family concourse and fully wheelchair accessible lounges. Wheelchair provision is not segregated, rather distributed throughout all stands with flexible seating provision for friends and family.

“We’ve really considered the entire community with this stadium, and I hope they’ll get to experience it soon.”

Stadium images: Buckingham Group