“On a sunny spring day in 1954 we, a group of architects and engineers charged with designing the central stadium, stood on an asphalt-covered square on the edge of Lenin Hills (Vorobyovy Gory)… There was no doubt in our minds that a better place for a stadium could not be found. The river below, wooded slopes, clean fresh air – this alone tilted the scales in favour of making it the site of a future sport city… In addition, Luzhniki is located close to the city centre and can easily be accessed by various types of transport from every part of Moscow,” wrote architect Vasily Polikarpov.
Thus began the history of the country’s most famous stadium, the legendary Luzhniki. It was here that gentle Mishka the Bear, the 1980 Olympics mascot, shed tears as it bid goodbye to the athletes and fans. The stadium hosted seven USSR Spartakiads, world and European ice-hockey, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, sambo and martial arts championships. It was the site of the famous Festival of Youth and Students, Goodwill Games, the First World Junior Games, and the finals of UEFA Champion’s League. And it was here that music lovers flocked to see the last show of the group Kino, plus Duke Ellington, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Metallica, the Rolling Stones, U2, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few, played here.
The stadium’s history actually began earlier: there exist projects and drawings of the stadium dating back to the 1920s when Luzhniki was a swampy area in the outskirts. In December 1954 the Soviet Government chose this site to build a sport complex.
I pictured the location of the central arena, the swimming pool and the courts. I seemed to hear the cheering of the crowds, the shot of the starting pistol, the splashing of greenish water, the sound of rackets hitting the ball… I took a sheet of paper out of my folder and squatting in front of the parapet, made a sketch of the future structures. Someone looked over my shoulder and quoted a poet’s line with mock emotion:
“Here a great city will be wrought.”
“And what a city!,” I exclaimed. “A city of sport.” (V.P.Polikarpov. The Country’s Main Stadium (Glavny stadion strany))
Design work was started in January 1955 and was finished 90 days later. Construction got under way in April. The sport complex was built in record time, just 450 days. It was a nationwide effort. Volunteers came to the site from all over the country. Materials were brought in from Leningrad and Armenia, electrical equipment and oak beams for the benches from Ukraine, furniture from Riga and Kaunas, glass from Minsk, electrical wires from Podolsk, larch beams from Irkutsk. The sports complex was inaugurated in July 1956 when it hosted the first Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR.
In 1992 the stadium’s status slumped as it was turned into a flea market, which filled the grounds of the complex by 2003. The city closed the flea market in August 2011. The main sports arena was overhauled in 1996-1997, and today Luzhniki is undergoing reconstruction in preparation for the 2018 World Football Cup.
The scale of the current project is impressive: the total area of the stadium, including the terraces, will be 221,000 square metres, more than half the area of the Vatican. In spite of the large scale, the project is ahead of schedule. Work was supposed to be finished in the second quarter of 2017, but the main building and assembly is to be finished this year. The FIFA inspection commission, which was in Moscow in September, gave Luzhniki its green status, meaning there is no risk that the stadium will not be ready for the World Cup.
Everything for the fans, athletes and journalists
One of the main goals of project is to provide comfortable conditions for the fans. The number of main entrances to the arena will increase from 13 to 16. Previously, up to 10 percent of the seats had a partly obstructed view of the pitch. Now the two-tiered stands will be built at a steeper angle, opening up the view of the pitch from any point in the stands. Two large video boards that will be visible from everywhere and will be installed on the southern and northern ends. Fans will be able to hear loud and clear announcements from the remotest seats thanks to a new French audio system.
The renewed stadium will have 81,000 seats, 3,000 more than before, and 300 seats will be available for people with impaired mobility. There will be 2,000 VIP seats in the grandstands, 4,500 seats for guests and about 2,500 for the media. There will be 100 corporate skyboxes where premium-class services will include hot food.
The colour of the terraces, burgundy dappled with gold, was chosen by the public after 137,000 people took part in an August 2014 poll on the “Active Citizen” portal.
The roof has been replaced with a 30-millimetre shock-proof polycarbonate cover. The material is translucent for sunlight and is ideal for stadiums with natural grass turf, like the one Luzhniki will have. To protect fans from rain and snow the roof over the terraces has been extended by 11 metres.
Sportlights under the roof will ensure quality video images. The roof itself will be a kind of media screen thanks to a multitude of built-in light-emitting diodes (LEDs). People will be able to watch the games from Vorobyovy Gory, the Third Ring Road and even from Komsomolsky Prospekt.
The pitch was sown with natural grass in early August. By September it had grown to three or four centimetres. New utility systems, including drainage, heating, water and turf agro-tech monitoring have been installed.
The goals will be fitted with a “goal-control” system that will be taped by several cameras and will be connected to referees’ bracelets.
The area under the terraces will be expanded to accommodate two warm-up rooms, locker rooms, a press conference hall, an express interview room, several TV studios, offices, cafes and bathrooms.
The Grand Sports Arena building will include a hall for press conferences, an express interview room, several TV studios, and a presentation studio with a panoramic view of the football pitch. It will also have a guest service area.
Olympic security system
The Luzhniki security system was designed with international and Russian technical experience, including that was used for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Six transport and five pedestrian checkpoints, 1,500 CCTV cameras and 1,000 cameras on the arena will be installed as well as radiation monitors, explosives and dangerous liquid detectors, X-ray intrascopes and vehicle bottom scanners.
Video cameras will cover the whole stadium: the stands, inside the building, entrances and parking areas. Under FIFA requirements, the complex will be divided into ten security priority zones. The zones will be divided by general public, the press, hospitality, VIP guests, a transport road zone, the technical zone, etc.
The new checkpoints will be able to handle more than 62,000 people, more than a thousand cars and 60 buses an hour. This will help avoid traffic congestion and overcrowding at the entrances even on event days.
History marching into the future
The reconstruction of Luzhniki involves not only the sports arena but the entire complex. It will be a modern park with walking and biking paths with a separate lane for skaters. But the stadium will preserve its historical look: the walls have been cleaned and restored, but the facade will keep its light sand colour to which Muscovites are accustomed. The facade will be adorned with a frieze with the figures of football and hockey players, track and field and other athletes all frozen in movement like the ancient Olympians on Greek vases.
The traditional lamps will be left only on Glory Alley while the rest of the grounds will be lit by modern lighting fixtures. All the buildings, trees and monuments will be illuminated. The brightest lights will be switched on for major and important events, lighting for routine sporting and cultural events will be less bright and the rest of the time daily illumination of facades will be on.
The main booking office is also slated for reconstruction. The first two floors of the semi-circular buildings facing each other will have an entrance area with a vestibule and guard post, ticket offices, a food vendor and technical facilities. The dispatcher, server, personnel rest area and service premises will be on the second floor. The facades will be faced with large architectural stones.
The grounds and the signage system will follow a single style. It will be based on a ring of five swallows which is the Luzhniki symbol. Blue, violet, yellow, crimson pictures of the birds will be put on asphalt on the side of the main entrance to Sportivnaya metro station and also on Prestige Alley near the western terraces and in winter also on the skating rink which will be between the arena and the embankment. In the summer there will be a dry fountain (water spouting from the stone surface), and cafes with verandas will be built on either side of the arena.
Observation platform and roof walks
An observation platform will be set up on the top level of the Grand Sports Arena. It will be open even on days when there are no events at the stadium. Visitors will get a beautiful view of the city centre, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow-City and the Lomonosov University skyscraper.
The sightseeing and tourist centre being built on the northern terrace will be the starting point of all the routes. It will be accessible on foot, by cable car, and byroad starting at the top of Vorobyovy Gory. For adrenalin junkies a zip-line from the stadium roof to the embankment will be installed.
Cable car and ski jump
A 737-metre cable car will link Luzhniki with the other side of the Moscow River where the Vorobyovy Gory, Neskuchny Sad and Gorky Park are located. The cable car will perform three functions at once: sightseeing, sport and transportation. In the winter it will lift athletes to the ski jump on Vorobyovy Gory, which itself is to be rebuilt by 2018. A new youth sports school is planned next to the ski jump. That will recreate the historical sports area.
Aqua park and salt baths at Luzhniki swimming pool
The Luzhniki swimming pool will, after reconstruction, be a modern swimming pool with 10 lanes and two three-lane training pools for adults and children. In addition to the sports infrastructure it will have an aqua park and a spa area. Luzhniki will get a wave pool, a salt bath and a pool with streaming river, 270 sq m baths, a large hot tub, a hydro massage and spa baths. The complex will include training halls and a fitness centre. A boxing club and a children’s gymnastics centre will be back and new sports will be played at the children’s sport centre.
The swimming pool building will be taller and twice as spacious as the existing one, although there will be no dramatic change to its appearance. The original bas-relief will be displayed in the ticket office area at the water entertainment family centre while several analogues will be made for the facade. The rows of columns will be new.
The space around the swimming pool will be divided into sidewalks, running and biking paths, access drives and car parks. A square with a fountain, grass, stone benches and lamps will be built. After dark, azure inserts on the walls will be illuminated from within and the blind facades will be lit by yellow lamps from below.
New-look embankment for sport and recreation
The Luzhniki Embankment has become more convenient for pedestrians. The road width has been reduced to two lanes and the extra space will be used for walking, running, biking and skating.
There is a 3-kilometre professional running track with rubber-impregnated surface. Six workout areas with a total area of 400 square metres have been set up along the tree-shaded embankment.
There is a new public space by the water on Luzhniki Embankment. Instead of the grand stairs made of granite, there is now wooden steps where people can exercise, bask in the sun, read, meet with friends or just admire the Moscow River.
How does it compare with facilities in other countries?
The biggest sport complexes elsewhere are usually based on Olympic Parks. For example, an Olympic Park appeared in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and in London for the 2012 Olympics.
The main arena of Bird’s Nest in China can hold 91,000 spectators. The stadium is used for training by the Chinese national team and for concerts, and the swimming pool is used for training and competitions. The area has bicycle paths and walking zones. The huge wooded area is known as the “oxygen bar” on account of its clean air. But the park itself is deserted, many facilities stand idle and some are in a state of disrepair. There are few visitors because there is nothing to do but walk in the park.
The London Olympic Park Stadium seats 80,000, but it is currently under reconstruction to reduce the number of seats to 54,000. In addition to the main arena, it has a centre for water sports, a basketball arena, a cycling park, and a hockey and tennis centres. The Olympic facilities are used for sporting and cultural events; they draw athletes and fitness buffs, school kids and retirees. The park has many walking tracks of various lengths for different levels of fitness. There are a BMX track and a mountain bike track for bikers. There are fountains, and sightseeing, including on boats. Large multifunctional sport centres are appearing in other cities. They include Globen Arena in Stockholm and Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle in Stuttgart. But they are not as large as the centres in the cities that have hosted the Olympic Games.