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Design & Development

Zaha Hadid’s ‘Arena of the Forest’ vision chosen for new Aarhus stadium

Images: City of Aarhus

London-based design studio Zaha Hadid Architects has landed the contract for a new football stadium in Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus, through its ‘Arena of the Forest’ masterplan.

The Zaha Hadid team, which also includes Danish firms Sweco and Tredje Natur, was today (Wednesday) announced as the winner of the design competition by the City of Aarhus.

Three teams had remained in contention to secure the contract to design Danish Superliga football club AGF’s new stadium after a further three proposals were jettisoned in May. The Zaha Hadid-led team has ultimately seen off competition from a proposal of Cobe, AFL Architects and Buro Happold; and another from Dorte Mandrup, Kristine Jensen Landskab & Arkitektur, Schlaich Bergermann Partner, Birkmose Consulting, AGN and Søren Jensen Rådgivende Ingeniørfirma.

The prior six teams in contention to land the contract were issued with the conditions they needed to meet back in January. The City of Aarhus selected six teams of architects and studios to submit final proposals for a new football stadium in December 2021, after 42 applied for prequalification for the tender.

Lind Invest and Salling Fondene will provide the majority of funds for the project, with Zaha Hadid’s design taking inspiration for the striking columns and wood as a material from the large, old tree trunks in the forests that surround the city’s existing stadium located in the Kongelunden area.

The Zaha Hadid proposal is reflected closely in the company’s Eco Park Stadium project for English League One football club Forest Green Rovers. AGF’s new stadium will have a one-tier bowl, with an intense football experience the focus.

Zaha Hadid’s winning project was praised for having understood and interpreted the special location in the old forests of Marselisborg, next to the iconic and historic Stadionhallerne building.

The evaluation report read: “The strong manifestation of the winning project is inviting and reaches out to the surroundings and connects very well with the context. The proposal is at the same time so distinctive and iconic that it will be remembered as a special stadium for Aarhus.”

The stadium will form part of the wider ‘Vision Kongelunden’ regeneration programme, which aims to redevelop the Aarhus Sports Park as a new sustainable recreational zone for locals.

The six teams had been told that the stadium’s budget is DKK 585m (£67.6m/€78.6m/$83.8m). Proposals needed to be submitted for a 20,000-seat venue, expandable to 24,000 with the addition of standing terraces. A provision for a further 2,000 seats was also required.

The victorious proposal for the new stadium will now be qualified during the first half of 2023 in collaboration between the City of Aarhus, the winning team and AGF. Parallel to that process, the contractor for the construction of the stadium will be chosen.

In the second half of 2023, the construction will be planned in detail, before the demolition of the current stadium gradually begins in 2024. The construction phase will proceed over four stages towards the expected inauguration of the new stadium in 2026.

AGF chairman, Lars Fournais, said: “Today is a day of joy – not just for AGF, but for the whole of Aarhus. It has been many years since we first started dreaming of a new, modern football stadium, and today we see the first visible results. 

“We can first of all thank the Salling Fondene and Lind Invest for that. Without their unique donations of DKK250m each, it would not have been possible. The whole city and AGF in particular owe them a big thank you.

“With Zaha Hadid’s project, we get a fantastically beautiful stadium that stands out, but at the same time also shows respect for Axel Høeg Hansen’s iconic stadium buildings and the unique location in Marselisskoven. I am sure that the new football stadium will be a focal point and a landmark for the city, and it will bring joy and pleasure to thousands of Aarhusians for many years to come.”

AGF also announced today that it has agreed a declaration of intent with the Danish Football Union (DBU) for international games to be held at the new stadium. AGF currently plays at Aarhus Idrætspark, which is comprised of a 19,400-capacity stadium and an arena.