“If some of the world’s larger football stadia are sometimes referred to as cathedrals, then Wembley is the Vatican.” – El País Semanal.


Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet1
The Wembley National Stadium, 2007_©www.fosterandpartners.com/media/2634093/img4_1015_fp152001.jpg?width=1920&quality=85

Wembley National Stadium, designed by Norman Foster, ushered in a new era for Britain’s renowned arena. The stadium’s rich tradition continues for millions of sports and music fans, thanks to world-class amenities and unsurpassed attention to spectator comfort. The former Wembley Stadium, constructed for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, was Britain’s most important sports arena. It later hosted the Olympic Games in 1948 and the football World Cup Final in 1966. The new stadium, reintroduced in 2007, is the world’s largest covered arena with 90,000 seats, nearly four times the height and twice the size of the original.

Appointment : 1996
Completion : 2007
Area: 170,000m²
Capacity: 90,000
Client: Wembley National Stadium Ltd.
Collaborating Architect: Populous

A peek in the past

The original Wembley Stadium was one of many concrete structures constructed for the 1924 British Empire Exhibit that was meant to restore national confidence following World War I devastation. Known colloquially as the Empire Stadium, the Wembley Stadium was created by architect Simpson & Ayrton with engineer Owen Williams and loved by the people of London from 1924 to 2000 as the home of English football and the ultimate dream of every English boy. The concrete edifice was designated as the national stadium, and the twin towers became a symbol of the country. The original Wembley Stadium was the major site for the 1948 Olympic Games in London, and it was still in operation until 2000. Until 2002 when the stadium was demolished to make way for its successor, the ancient Wembley Stadium, with its much-loved twin towers, existed as a living memorial to British athletic history.

Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet2
“Wembley in 1924”_©pixels.com/featured/wembley-stadium-glenn-harvey.html

The stadium’s overall shape was simply created by encircling a running track — two fairways connected by semi-circular ends. The formal design of the main façade, with its twin towers flanking the main entrance, expressed the significance of the front ‘winning’ fairway.  Williams took inspiration for the inside from stadium architecture in the United States. The lower terraces were supported by earth scooped out of the core area, while the upper terraces were constructed using a steel framework and a combination of radially-positioned precast and in situ concrete components running from the earth mounds to the external walls. The overall design seemed almost quirky. It blended reinforced concrete’s discipline with an architectural style that comprised piers, columns, parapets, and arched openings. 

The concept behind the dream & design

The new stadium has quite a pragmatic and architecturally noteworthy design. The arch and roof structure was designed by Sir Norman Foster, while the rest of the stadium was designed by Foster & Partners and Populous (formerly known as HOK Sport). The stadium is shaped like a bowl, with movable roof panels and an arch as prominent elements. These were created in response to the stadium’s specific needs, including the demand for a high-quality grass field in order to earn UEFA five-star stadium accreditation. It provides as much daylight and airflow to reach pitch level as needed by employing retractable roof panels that retract to the south. 

The arch is more than just a decorative element; it involves facilitating the support of the north roof and a significant portion of the south roof. The new stadium’s partially retractable roof is a standout feature. When completely open, it allows sunshine to reach every seat on the pitch, yet when the weather is bad, the roof can be closed in about an hour, giving protection for all seats. The roof is physically supported by a magnificent arch kept in place by wires reaching up to 110 mm in diameter. The arch rises over the stadium, reaching a height of 135 meters and spanning 315 meters, making it the world’s biggest clear span stadium roof structure.

Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet3
Wembley Stadium at night_©arquitecturaviva.com/assets/uploads/obras/39981/av_imagen.jpeg?h=2c2ffeac

The arch was raised in six weeks with the help of five turning struts that helped lift the 1,700-ton arch and rotate it to its final tilted position. A prismatic perimeter truss system distributes roof loads onto the seating bowl and encircles the whole sitting area, serving as a ring structure to connect the upper-outer tier’s edges. From whatever position, this system of iron structures and tight wires provides unimpeded vistas. The amenities are designed to maximize spectator enjoyment; the seats are bigger than previously, with significantly more legroom; the upper decks are accessible by escalators; and the concourse, which wraps around the structure, can accommodate up to 40,000 people at any given time.

Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet4
concept behind the arches of the stadium_©arquitecturaviva.com/assets/uploads/obras/39981/av_109579.jpeg?h=2c2ffeac
Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet5
Concept behind the arches of the stadium_©arquitecturaviva.com/assets/uploads/obras/39981/av_109579.jpeg?h=2c2ffeac

The seats are as near to the pitch as possible to provide an intimate environment during games. The new stadium’s higher roofline and custom-built sound system is to decrease the amount of noise from the venue. Simultaneously, acoustic performance has received special attention in order to maintain the exhilarating Wembley roar that energizes this magnificent auditorium. Furthermore, the venue’s adaptable architecture allows it to readily accommodate big music and entertainment events. The arch is a powerful sign for Wembley and an easily recognized London landmark; floodlit at night, it is a strong emblem for Wembley and an instantly visible London landmark.

Iconic Moments at Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium, a world-famous facility full of legendary concerts and nail-biting sports, has played host to many of England’s landmark moments in entertainment. It’s the arch now, but it was the famed twin towers that helped make the English national stadium one of the most recognizable in the world back in the day. It hosted plenty of memorable moments, including pop concerts and stunts, during its prime. Let us take a look back at some of its most memorable events. 

1948 Summer Olympics

Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet6
1948 Summer Olympics_©abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/fanny-blankers-koen-shattered-myths-1948-olympics-72122022

The 1948 Summer Olympics were a defining moment not just for Wembley Stadium, but also for the whole world, since they marked the end of a 12-year halt caused by World War II.

1966 England World Cup Win

Wembley National Stadium by Norman Foster: Largest covered Arena - Sheet7
The most iconic Wembley picture of them all as England celebrate the 1966 World Cup win_©www.dailystar.co.uk/sport/football/10-most-iconic-moments-old-22100735

Wembley Stadium has hosted a number of nail-biting football matches in the past. The 1966 World Cup final is remembered as one of the most iconic sporting moments in English history. This is England’s lone big event victory to this day. The squad, headed by Bobby Moore, won a disputed match against West Germany.

1985 Live Aid

Queen at Live Aid, 1985_©www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/live-aid-anniversary-queen-freddie-mercury-performances-bob-geldof-a9612071.html

Sir Bob Geldof organized large-scale fundraising events, including one at Wembley Stadium in the light of the breakout of famine in Ethiopia. David Bowie, U2, The Who, Paul McCartney, Sting, and Phil Collins were among the iconic performances on that day. However, Queen, headed by iconic vocalist Freddie Mercury, undoubtedly stole the event. Mercury’s performance continues to set the bar high for subsequent lead vocalists to this day

“Every band should study Queen at Live Aid,” Dave Grohl says. You become Freddie Mercury if you truly believe the barrier has vanished. He’s the best front man of all time in my opinion.” – Quote from Wembley Park

Wembley National Stadium is not just a stadium, it’s an emotion.


  1. Arquitectura Viva. 2022. Wembley Stadium, London – Norman Foster. [online] Available at: https://arquitecturaviva.com/works/estadio-de-wembley-8  
  2. dailystar.co.uk. 2022. 1o most iconic moments. [online] Available at: https://www.dailystar.co.uk/sport/football/10-most-iconic-moments-old-22100735  
  3. Design Build Network. 2022. Wembley Stadium, London. [online] Available at: https://www.designbuild-network.com/projects/wembley/#:~:text=Sir%20Norman%20Foster%20designed%20the,roof%20panels%20and%20the%20arch. 
  4. wembleypark.com. 2022. Historic Moments Wembley Stadium. [online] Available at: https://wembleypark.com/things-to-do/historic-moments-wembley-stadium/ 
  5. www.fosterandpartners.com, F., 2022. Wembley Stadium | Foster + Partners. [online] Fosterandpartners.com. Available at: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/wembley-stadium/ 

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