What with all the fuss over Wembley, you could be forgiven for forgetting that a certain other north London stadium is under construction. We went to the new Highbury to check the state of play
Multiplex, the contractor building the national stadium at Wembley, is barely out of the news from one week to the next. Whereas a bus ride away to the east in Highbury, contractor Sir Robert McAlpine is quietly getting on with the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal. This suits Rolv Kristiansen, McAlpine’s project director, perfectly. “We just want to get on with the job,” he says.
The two stadiums could not be more different. Wembley shouts “landmark” with its distinctive 133 m arch visible from the other side of London. Arsenal’s stadium is designed to do exactly the opposite. “This stadium is all about being discreet. It is one of the smallest, most discreet 60,000-seater stadiums there is,” says Christopher Lee, the project’s design director at HOK Sport. “You could get three of these under the Wembley arch with space to spare.” The reason for uncharacteristic understatement is that Islington’s planners wanted to limit the impact of the stadium in a largely residential area, and its low height also allowed more light to reach the pitch.
To continue our list of dissimilarities, the progress of Emirates Stadium’s construction also bears no resemblance to Wembley. As you will probably know if you’ve read Building in the past year, Wembley was delayed for two months after Multiplex sacked Cleveland Bridge, its steelwork contractor.
Sir Robert McAlpine has had none of these problems. “At the moment we are managing to stick to the programme,” says Kristiansen.
Still, Kristiansen has had his share of Wembley moments in the past. “The pressure is on. We don’t underestimate this task, as it’s so easy for a building to be late. I have been involved in a few of those. We are trying to avoid a Millennium Dome. I was the construction director for that.”
His job at Highbury has not been plain sailing. “The construction hasn’t been easy here. We had a public road and a fully operational waste transfer station in the middle of the site,” he says. “If this had been a greenfield site we could have been three or four months further on.” McAlpine had to phase the construction of the stadium to suit the operation of the waste transfer station. Now a new waste transfer station has been built nearby, it has been able to press on with the work.
The shape of the final stadium can now be seen at the north side. The concrete structure and the roof structure are completed. Two huge trusses span 204 m along the length of the stadium. These have been built in two halves – the northern one is in position and the secondary and tertiary trusses that make up
the roof structure are all in place. The primary trusses for the southern side are being assembled on the pitch and will be craned into place in one piece in April or May. The stadium is due for completion in August 2006, three months after Wembley – providing everything continues to go to plan.