Expressing ‘Collective Identity’

Originally published in Panstadia magazine, Q1, 2015

Paul Hyett of Vickery Hyett explains the importance of designing host stadia that are conducive not only to the global sporting event but more importantly to their local community; reflecting their environs.

Music, Food, Language, Poetry, Literature, Song, Dance, Clothes and Furniture: these are just some of the essential ingredients that define a culture…… that imbue a people with a collective  ‘identity’  – a sense of belonging, and a sense of place. Architecture has a central role in this process – at once shifting and shaping space and informing “space making” through the varied agendas contingent to context. 

But traditional identity is being increasingly challenged by the processes of globalization. Modern products of media and manufacturing are constantly effacing the characteristics of ‘place’ and ‘back-drop’ that evoke the “particular”.   Modern mass production of   cars, planes and the hamburger each, in their way, contribute towards a process of ‘cultural unification’ – as do corporate hotels and denim trousers. “There” as a concept in “place making” is lost to the point of becoming “everywhere”.  

 The Challenge

 Invited many years ago as RIBA President to address the Sri Lankan Institute of Architects’ annual conference on the topic of ‘Traditional Identity in a Global Context’, I became pre-occupied with making “there” special yet particular. Against that endeavour,  architects can indeed challenge the processes of globalization and, through our work,  imbue  projects with a character that is relevant  to  making an ‘architecture of place’ – an architecture that makes sense of the essential qualities of “there” responding to local climate, topography and culture. An architecture that utilizes local materials and engages local craft…..

Some aspects of “global” cannot, of course, be ignored architecture must always   respond to new and expanding programmatic challenges;  including large building typologies such as hospitals  and stadiums that have little precedent in a newly  developing country.  Architecture must also respond to new agendas such as eco-sustainable design, but through all this it should remain locally relevant and confidently contemporary. 

……..Nothing can be more inappropriate and potentially inadequate than to transfer the architecture of somewhere else to a new location.

 But beyond reinforcing the cultural identity of context, it is necessary to recognize that “identity” is dynamic rather than static, always evolving in response to the conditions that a place, in the widest sense of that term, responds.  An architecture of integrity will generate local pride and command external respect. An architecture that is so grounded in its response to its physical, cultural and social context will, quite simply, be meaningless anywhere else…..

National Identity and Ambition

Architecture should be placed at the ‘cutting edge’ in the shaping of Cities, Regions and Nations as ambitious modern places which express a collective identity   that will ever continue to evolve.  Major public buildings such as stadiums will contribute enormously to this process.  They should be always bold and innovative.  Certain in their expression   they should ‘lift the spirit’ of all who use them, all who pass by and all who visit. But above all they should be buildings of that place that show a quintessentially local response to the challenge of ‘place making’.

Major Tournaments and the Challenge of Legacy

International sporting events impose requirements that are universally applicable to any site around the world; the temporary condition they create and their subsequent legacy will frequently be at odds with the cultural and urban norms of any particular place. Stadium precincts, particularly those capable of hosting major events, can be hostile places, they are space and infrastructure hungry, yet contribute little to cultural and urban life. History shows that time and again, the challenges of legacy generate embarrassing levels of waste, cost and ultimately architectural compromise with the legacy offering. 

If the architecture of the stadium is considered symbolic of place and its culture, we must ask how can the stadium precinct contribute to and sustain cultural and public life in legacy mode?  

The solutions to this will be as varied as the contexts themselves, but as designers our ambitions must –at least – address some common goals: we should design public spaces that are appropriate to local customs and that support the kind of public life that is particular to that place; the built fabric should moderate the climate so that spaces are comfortable to occupy – often this means borrowing from indigenous building typologies; we must build-in a degree of flexibility, to allow for unforeseen cultural nuances to enrich  a place over time. And we should activate these places with facilities that are needed and will be used. 


The ’Stadium’ and the ‘Major International Sporting Event’ are global phenomena, the modernizing effect of which can be extremely positive. It can also, however, pose a threat to cultural and traditional identity, with the notion of “there” being eroded by the notion of “everywhere”.  But “there” can be special, and particular to its context, by adapting ‘global’ programmatic challenges that hitherto have no local precedent into relevant and contemporary architecture which both reinforces and expresses a discrete sense of identity. And, in addressing the wider precinct in legacy, we are concerned with “place making” that will sustain cultural life and identity.