Norwegian architectural firm reveals new world-leading plans for Man United’s Old Trafford

Norwegian architectural firm reveals new world-leading plans for Man United’s Old Trafford
Norwegian architectural firm reveals new world-leading plans for Man United’s Old Trafford

Professor Lars J. T. Pedersen and Fredrik Barth, CEO of  Norwegian firm VILL Architecture have revealed their radical plans for Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

Since Sir Jim Ratcliffe completed his partial 27.7% investment into United, there has been plenty of debate about what to do with the club’s iconic home.

The INEOS billionaire is believed to be keen on a regeneration of the Theatre of Dreams by creating a stadium capable of rivalling the 90,000-seater Wembley in north London.

Trafford Council announced a 15-year plan to regenerate the area around Old Trafford in February. United then confirmed the assembling of the Old Trafford Regeneration Task Force with Ratcliffe as chair. Other members of the task force include Lord Coe, club legend Gary Neville and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

Another option on the table is revamping Old Trafford as opposed to building a brand-new stadium.

Neville recently opened up on these two alternatives and explained that the emotional attachment fans and those associated with the Red Devils have towards Old Trafford shouldn’t necessarily be the reason why the prospect of constructing a new stadium is discarded.

The Sky Sports pundit argued that throughout his life, Old Trafford has continuously evolved and changed and the 20-time English champions should be looking to have the best facilities in the country. He mentioned the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as the benchmark for United going forward.

A report covered by The Peoples Person relayed that a final decision by the task force on which course of action to pursue is set to be made by the end of the year.

The report stated that a number of top architectural firms have put their hat in the ring to be trusted by Ratcliffe with the responsibility of re-shaping Old Trafford. One of these firms has now spoken to The Manchester Evening News and revealed how they’d go about it.

Pedersen and Barth, CEO of VILL Architecture, emphasised the importance of connecting Manchester’s identity with the new Old Trafford and having a “circular” stadium that can set the standards in the football industry.

“Circular” in this case does not refer to the shape but means constructing the stadium from upcycled resources – concrete, steel, wood and metals. This would lead to minimal waste and as such, would make Old Trafford extremely eco-friendly and sustainable to an extent that hasn’t yet been seen.

Pedersen and Barth told MEN that this is the direction football is heading into and being one of the biggest sports brands in the world, United should be looking to get ahead of the curve.

Pedersaid said, “I’ve just presented a project on how to make events more circular to a UEFA committee, so how can you basically reduce the waste in stadiums. We actually visited Arsenal to see their work on this, we are visiting Real Sociedad soon, so we have a lot of tentacles going out. We’re looking at how to make semi-drunk and drunk football fans act sustainably in the stadiums but also how the football clubs can operate in more sustainable ways.”

“We are working with the Norweigan FA and we are researchers, but we work together with architects like Fredrick because we want to make change happen, sustainable change in the world and that’s how we started talking about Manchester, where there is a city with a lot to love.”

Barth remarked, “At Vill Arkitektur, we’ve done a lot of different projects, but big-scale city projects, going into the circular and sustainable direction, has been our speciality. In the last couple of years, I’ve been able to combine work and pleasure, working together with Lars and combining football, which has been cool. We have some projects with some small-scale clubs in Norway and up to the biggest team in Bergen, which is SK Brann.”

He explained that investors have displayed a willingness to get involved in circularity and the results have been incredibly positive.

Berth added about United, “The discussions about Manchester and Old Trafford are visible in Norwegian newspapers and we’ve been talking about this for quite a while. Looking at the new stadiums built for the World Cup, they take architecture into something alien and away from local identity.”

“We started talking about how we could do something about the discussion in Manchester, building a new stadium or refurbishing, how should they do it… Our idea was it should be taken beyond football, to try connect the stadium to the fabric and identity of Manchester.”

“If you build it like that, it could be a poke to the blue side of the city that football doesn’t have to be what it’s starting to become. We’re trying to discuss who Manchester United should be as a football club again. What do they stand for? What is their identity? There are fundamental values about United that have maybe been forgotten a bit and that is a shame, in my opinion.”

When asked what would Old Trafford look like with the circular ambitions of Barth, VILL Architecture and Pedersen, Barth told the newspaper, “It’s built in different styles and different periods and it’s not working anymore. Watching Real Madrid and Barcelona refurbish their stadiums shows it is possible. I understand there are difficulties in that, but it is possible to remove the outer structure of the stadium, which is the leaking roof and old construction, and look at what is remaining underneath.”

“Is it possible to reuse the pitch, or inside rooms, or are they too bad? You take away everything that isn’t working, but save what could be saved and then we could introduce a new system that could envelop the whole stadium. And then we’d use jack-up riggs from the North Sea.”

“They are the structures the UK and Norway have been building in the last couple of years – and are construction technology that dwarfs everything. They are taller than the Empire State Building, they are engineering masterpieces standing in the North Sea and could be reused.”

“Our company, Nordic Circles, has started recovering these, upcycling the materials for building beams and pillars. They are structures, essentially legs, that you could use at the framework grid for Old Trafford, so you could take our industrial history and use it as a foundation for the new walls.”

He further stated that a new roof – either fixed or contractable – could be created and it’s an achievable objective because of the structures already in place.

H noted that after the roof, their company would then go on to make an outside layer that combines the historical architecture and the desire for something new which aligns with the value of the city and its people.

Barth likened this new layer to something like the one-in-one Sphere in Las Vegas. The difference would be that, unlike the Sphere in Vegas, the one in Old Trafford could show shapes of Manchester warehouse Victorian buildings or logos of relevant football competitions such as the Champions League on Tuesday or Wednesday nights.

Barth divulged to MEN that it’s important that the construction of the new stadium bring about an element of freshness and something that is entirely new.

He warned that the trick lies in striking a delicate balance between integrating sustainability in infrastructure planning and ensuring the emotional, identity and story-telling part of the club is also taken into account.

“You can do that while connecting the stadium to the heart of the city, by building a stadium that is low emissions, high reuse, and has all of these characteristics that are fit for the future. For a project of this scope, it takes many years and it’s also a commitment you will live with for many years, so it’s sensible to build something fit for the future.”

Finally, he relayed that it’s up for grabs for United to become the first big sports team in the world to put sustainability and circularity at the very front of their Old Trafford project.

While these plans are all still theoretical, they offer an exciting glimpse into what the future could hold for United and the fans, who have been calling for change amidst years of the Glazers’ neglect and mismanagement of Old Trafford.

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