Home > architecture, design theory, preservation > Giraffes and Gourds? : Let’s try Cotton and Cowboys in 2018

Giraffes and Gourds? : Let’s try Cotton and Cowboys in 2018

In less than 24 hours, the world will turn its eyes to South Africa and enjoy “the beautiful game” for the next month.

Barring discussions specifically of form or function, as an architect we are often tasked with a search for beauty. So let me add fiction to the mix – just for the sake of dialogue.


I have played football (soccer) my whole life and recently have enjoyed a renewed personal interest in the game, coaching my kindergartener’s soccer team. Alright, so herding a sea of 5 and 6 year old girls—wait!…I mean teaching the fundamentals of soccer to the pink jaguars really instills a sense of why this is such a beautiful game. The glee, thrill and wonder amidst the struggle to work together on the pitch really made me think of why I love this game and why every four years, fans from every nation pause on street corners outside bars and cafes, reschedule meetings, gather with friends and family to rejoice in a sport of youth and passion – in South Africa tomorrow, FIFA has allowed us to dream again and visit stadiums not just of form or function but of fiction.


Tomorrow the world will add the word, calabash to its collective vocabulary.  The calabash (basically a gourd) in South Africa is widely used as a vessel for drinking water.  It is commonly used as a drinking vessel by tribes such as the Zulus. Recently the Soccer City stadium located in Johannesburg which will host the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony and final match takes its fiction from the calabash.

Soccer City Stadium was originally built in 1987 and hosted Nelson Mandela’s first large speech after his liberation in 1990. Mandela, now in his 90s and staunch supporter of the South Africa bid for the World Cup with the likes of David Beckham is rumored to be attending both the opening ceremonies as well as the final match.  The stadium as you will see it tomorrow has been completely and deftly renovated with a design by Boogertman Urban Edge and Partners in partnership with Populous to increase the seating capacity to 94,000 spectators. The fiber cement panelized system is the appropriate fiction for what might be initially viewed as a facelift. Don’t you wish you had a ticket? I do.

Another notable facility amidst the ten venues utilized in the tournament is the giraffe (aka Mbombela Stadium.) Mike Bell, a partner at the firm, R&L Architects in downtown Cape Town  responsible for the design remarked in an interview, “Quite quickly the form started to happen…and started screaming out ‘I’m a giraffe!’” He went on to explain the handcrafted model of beads (pictured below)

was created by an individual found working on a Cape Town street corner. He was given construction documents, renderings, and then left to his creation. The model and ultimately the stadium itself appear to be both in their own right a beautiful hand crafted fiction rich with the sense of this place. Zebra seats and all.


This ultimately brings me back to my adopted home, my own sense of place and this beautiful game. Last week, the United States Soccer Federation added Brad Pitt to a growing list of celebrities and dignitaries who will aid in the bid for a World Cup again on US soil as early as 2018. The last and only time the US hosted was 1994. I was fortunate to see Brazil v. Netherlands in a match at the Cotton Bowl and recalling the fervor it got me wondering – what if?

What if the Cotton Bowl underwent the surgical precision underlying the fiction of Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg? Can fiction and metaphor rejuvenate a classic American stadium with a storied history and an event such as the World Cup serve as catalyst? With the construction of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington designed by HKS Architects of Dallas and the success of FC Dallas (Major League Soccer franchise) housed in a true soccer stadium Pizza Hut Park in Frisco (north Texas,) this idea for the Cotton Bowl didn’t seem too farfetched after all.

If POPULUS (formerly HOK Sport) can conceive of a gourd as metaphor, how would a Texas Architect visualize the fiction of a true Texas Cotton Bowl…beauty, eh?


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: