Qatar urged to reject AC in stadiums

Updated: November 8, 2011, 11:13 AM ET
Associated Press

ZURICH -- After all of the talk of using state-of-the-art air conditioning to cool stadiums at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the architect in charge of one of the venues reversed course and claimed Tuesday that a more old-fashioned solution would be cheaper and better.

Leading firm Populous, which is designing the Sports City stadium in Doha, is trying to persuade Qatari organizers to scrap plans to have air conditioning at the venue.

Populous director John Barrow said the system is too expensive and "notoriously unsustainable" for the environment when used on a large scale.

Barrow, whose firm helped draw up the prototype of an air-conditioned stadium, now believes the planned 47,000-seat Sports City arena can be kept cool by shading seats and using traditional Arabic methods for ventilation.

"I think you can be more clever. It is about air movement, moisture in the air and it is about temperature at the right time of day," Barrow told delegates at the International Football Arena conference. "If we get it right ... that is the way ahead."

The concept of air-conditioned stadiums to beat the 122-degree desert heat in June was a defining theme of Qatar's winning World Cup bid last year.

Qatar hired Populous to help its campaign, drawing on the firm's experience in building signature projects such as the new Yankee Stadium, London's 2012 Olympic Stadium and Arsenal's Emirates arena.

The firm built a small prototype of an air-conditioned stadium in Doha to help persuade a FIFA inspection team that the tiny nation's ambitious World Cup project could succeed.

"We are doing away with all the air-conditioning kit that is going to cost a fortune to run," Barrow said.

Instead, he is proposing wind towers that suck up hot air to create fan-like air movement inside the stadium.

"It is part of the building tradition in the Gulf to create wind towers, which naturally ventilate. If you have got an air movement, which keeps you cool like a fan, that makes all the difference," he said.

Qatar promised FIFA that its 12 World Cup stadiums could be regulated at about 79 degrees. Now, Barrow says spectators could be sitting in 86-degree heat during evening matches.

"Fan expectation needs to be a little more relaxed," he said.

Seating areas also need to be kept in shade during searing daytime temperatures, instead of allowing stadiums to "suck in" heat that is retained after dark.

"Suddenly you are sitting on a radiator. It is totally counter-productive," Barrow said. "The objective for me is to keep the (stadium) bowl sunscreened during the day, with natural ventilation and encouraging a vortex by using all kinds of clever tricks."

Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan, who has played for United Arab Emirates club Al Ain since September, predicted the "climate for the World Cup is going to be really, really difficult."

"They are putting air conditioning in the stadiums, and I think maybe it can help the football there because without that I don't think people can survive because it's really, really hot," Gyan told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

However, Barrow compared the Doha climate with Houston, where Populous has built air-conditioned stadiums for baseball and football.

"But it is an immensely expensive thing to do," he said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press