Motivating development: How the 2018 FIFA World Cup helped revive the legendary Luzhniki Arena

Motivating development: How the 2018 FIFA World Cup helped revive the legendary Luzhniki Arena
In 2018 FIFA World Cup spectators saw a revived Grand Sports Arena. A year later, the Gymnastics Palace and Europe’s biggest Swimming Centre were added. provides inside information on other surprises that Luzhniki has in store for the public in the near future.

Two years ago over a billion viewers the world over were riveted to the events at Luzhniki. On 15 July, the stadium hosted the World Cup finals, with the twentieth game on its turf destined to determine the world’s best team. Aside from the decisive match between France and Croatia, the Big Sports Arena held seven matches, including the opening game that was confidently won by the Russian national team. We will show how the arena was prepared for the World Cup and what new facilities emerged after the championship that FIFA chief Gianni Infantino described as the best in history. 

A festivity for fans, a test for the city

The World Cup was a real festival for fans and a difficult test for the city of Moscow. But Moscow showed that it was able to host events at any level with flying colours.

The capital was speaking many world languages in the summer of 2018. During the World Cup, the city was visited by 4.5 million people, most of them from China (223,000), the United States (167,000) and Germany (84,000). Their main document – the Fan ID – enabled them to visit city museums, take free rides on public transit on game day with a ticket for the match, and use other services.

Football passions have subsided and Moscow can now enjoy a substantial legacy, including first class stadiums, certified hotels, an overhauled public transit system and upgraded airports. But the most important thing is that the historical stadium at Luzhniki received a new lease of life. The arena that had known its ups and downs, hosted hundreds of international competitions, brought up generations of champions, and saw dozens of world records set was brought up to international standards. 

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A new stadium with a historical façade

Since 1956, the Big Sports Arena has seen several overhauls. In 1980, when Moscow hosted the summer Olympic Games, the facilities under the grandstands had been remade to meet IOC requirements. Yet another, and bigger, upgrade took place between 1995 and 1997, with the world’s biggest 63.5 metre wide canopy built over the grandstands. The total weight was about 15,000 tonnes.

The arena was shut down for its latest overhaul in 2014. By that time it fell short of FIFA requirements in terms of both security and comforts for visitors and athletes. To meet the deadline, some experts suggested pulling down the historical arena and building a new one from scratch. Though this was the simplest alternative, the city decided to preserve the historical look of the main national stadium.

What remained of the former building was only the façade wall, while the other walls were taken down. About 250,000 tonnes of reinforced concrete structure and partitions were torn down. Approximately120,000 cubic metres of concrete went into the construction of the new monolithic framework; the grandstands were assembled from prefabricated components. As a result, Moscow received a brand new stadium by 2017, which resembled the former Big Sports Arena on the outside only.

A sporting event to mark the closing ceremony of the 1st USSR Summer Spartakiade at the Lenin Central Stadium in Luzhniki. Photo: Sergeyev. 1956. Moscow Central Archives

A technical “pie” and synthetic filaments

The reconstruction added 3,000 new seats to the former capacity. Today, the stadium can hold as many as 81,000 spectators. The arena no longer has blind zones. The new two-tiered grandstands were installed at a steeper angle and closer to the football field. There are more exits to allow the entire facility to be vacated within 15 minutes of the final whistle.  

There is also a universal natural-grass football pitch laid over a 1.5 metre pie of drainage, heating and watering systems. Four hundred and ten kilogrammes of seed were needed to plant the lawn. The sowing materials had to be brought in from Denmark, where it was specially selected for Moscow’s climate. Modern technology maintains the field temperature at +15 degrees Celsius, which makes the grass immune to subzero conditions.

A special filament-threading method was used to strengthen the lawn that now can sustain up to eight hours of continuous playing.

A 14 metre wide canopy protects spectators from rain. The modern roofing material lets the sun through and is ideal for natural grass fields.

The arena has 102 skyboxes around the grandstands. The colour of the seats was changed as well under a colour preference vote by city residents on the Active Citizen website. They chose a dark red with gold specs – to match the colour of the Kremlin walls and the national football team colours.

Another post-reconstruction attraction is a high vista point: at 60 metres above the ground it offers a fine view of downtown Moscow, the Novodevichy Convent, the Moscow-City skyscrapers, and Moscow University.    

A place where you feel the football atmosphere

In addition to the various city commissions, Luzhniki was assessed by the delegations from various FIFA departments that visited Moscow 50 times, with every inspector concerned with his or her part of the job, such as the comfort of the grandstand seats, security arrangements, field cover quality, etc.

“You have combined tradition, history and modernity,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. 

“It looks really impressive. The stadium here is different from when I came here last time. Inside you really feel the atmosphere of football. So this is the right venue for the most important football events in the world.
“On the outside you have kept the traditional [exterior of the stadium], the history. You have combined tradition, history and modernity.
“It [the stadium] will be great for the players, for the fans.”

The surrounding grounds

Preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup included more than the Big Sports Arena renovation project. It was also an infrastructure project for the surrounding grounds. The project to rebuild the Luzhniki Olympic Complex eventually emerged as a new center for Moscow sports life.  

“The area around Luzhniki has been developed in order to encourage city residents to participate in sport and create all-season convenience for them. The short-term investment in the 2018 World Cup was not the main motivation. This is a good example of how a sports project can evolve into a smart project aimed at further development,” Moscow Chief Architect Sergei Kuznetsov said.   

For example, there are many rental stations offering mountain and touring bikes, rollers skates, skateboards, scooters and other sports gear, as well as seven year-round workout grounds (five on Luzhnetskaya Embankment along the river and two within the sports complex). 

Walkers, rollers, bikers and track and field athletes can use separated lanes on Luzhnetskaya Embankment. A 3K jogging zone has a rubberized shock absorbing cover that reduces the risk of injury.

The park around the Big Sports Arena has been landscaped with over a thousand new trees and 53,000 shrubs. Eleven historical fountains have been restored and one new one added. The original look of the installations has been meticulously reproduced. For example, the landscape architects used the same Rosso Santiago granite from the Kapustino deposit that was used for the fountain facing in 1956. The old fountain equipment was completely replaced.  

Luzhniki’s Alley of Glory, a unique open air exhibition space, was put in order. Today, visitors can see a monument to Misha, the mascot bear of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, which is located next to the bowl where the Olympic torch burned for four weeks of international competitions. This is not far from monuments to legendary Soviet athletes, including Torpedo forward Eduard Streltsov, ice hockey player Valery Kharlamov, Spartak founder Nikolai Starostin, and goalkeeper Lev Yashin.    

The Sports Complex has a new signage system with lots of directional information. There is also a new aerial cable car system between Luzhniki and Vorobyevy Gory  on the opposite side of the Moskva River. 

New Moscow sites

Moscow received 93 new sports facilities for the World Cup, of which 45 were built or rebuilt within the Luzhniki Sports Complex which continues being developed even after the world event. Moscow’s new sites include the Gymnastics Palace and the Aquatic Sports Palace.

Irina Viner-Usmanova’s Gymnastics Palace opened in Luzhniki in June 2019. This is a five storey building (plus an underground level) with a total area of 25,700 square metres based on a unique architectural design involving information modeling technologies. 

Its wavy aluminum clad roof resembles a flowing gymnastic ribbon. The structure was tested for weather resistance in a wind tunnel. There were also snow and wind pressure tests. The palace has an arena with seats for almost 4,000 spectators, training rooms, a choreography room, a fitness centre, and a medical therapy centre. 

It can also be used as a concert and entertainment facility, in which case it can seat as many as 3,600 visitors. In late 2019, the Gymnastics Palace won a BISPO Award in the Best Design for Construction and Reconstruction of Sports Facilities category

A few months later, on 17 November, the Aquatic Sports Palace opened at Luzhniki. The biggest swimming centre in Moscow and one of the biggest in Europe, it can receive 10,000 visitors per day. It has three swimming pools with a total of ten lanes, a water park, an open air swimming pool, a thermal recreation centre, a children’s spa zone with an artificial beach, plus restaurants and cafes.  

This five-storey building with a total area of 52,000 square metres sprung up on the site of the 1956 historical swimming pool that recalls the 1980 Summer Olympics, three world championships, and numerous other competitions. The new centre retains the main features of its predecessor and matches the rest of Luzhniki’s architecture.

Its sand-coloured facades are decorated with Olympic-rings reminiscent of the 1980 Olympic Games and replicas of 12 bas reliefs showing athletes with cups and laurels, girls in swimsuits, and human figures resembling classical Greek athletes, all executed in the style of Soviet romanticism from the 1950s.

The swimming-pool water area was increased by 50 percent to 3,100 square metres. Visitors can use a 50 metre swimming pool with 10 lanes and two 25 metre pools with three lanes each. One of the pools has a raised ramp to make things easier for children and people with disabilities. Extreme sports lovers are offered single and double rafting slides, including the Aqua Sphere (the longest) and Loop-de-Loop (the most thrilling). A tilted-bottom pool, where waves are simulated, is good for beginner surfers.  For those who desire a calm repose there is a health complex with open air thermal baths. 

From lawn tennis and ice-hockey to boxing and Sambo: The next construction projects

In 2020, three large sports facilities will be completed at Luzhniki: the Kristall Ice Palace built on the site of a training skating rink that was closed more than 10 years ago; Druzhba Gym that will retain its recognizable architecture; and a lawn tennis centre, which is being erected on the site of the old open air courts and is to become the biggest facility of its kind in Europe.

Another construction project is the Martial Arts Palace, which is to be completed before the end of 2021. In all, there are 11 new facilities being built within the Sports Complex.

Based on international standards

The Druzhba universal gym was built for the 1980 Olympic Games. It hosted lawn tennis, volleyball, mini-football, fencing, eurhythmics, sport dance and other competitions. The gym has been undergoing restoration since 2017. The main objective is to install technical upgrades and bring it up to international standards.  When the project is finished Druzhba will retain its recognisable architectural shape. It will hold up to 4,500 spectators.

Ice-hockey and figure skating

The 24,500 square metre Kristall Ice Palace will be a training base for ice hockey teams and figure skaters. It will have two full size ice fields and grandstands with 500 seats, a swimming pool and an outside section with a screened-in patio, a fitness facility, a café overlooking the ice fields and a spa complex.

The underground level will have a parking for 136 cars. The two entrances will be decorated with stained glass windows with architectural elements in the shape of symbolic crystals.

“Water” facades and 22 tennis courts

The tennis club, with an area of 36,000 square metres, will be the biggest in Europe and will have 14 roofed and 7 open air courts, as well as badminton, squash, table tennis and padel tennis. The courts will be equipped with an analytical video system. Athletes will be able to analyse training session and improve their technique. Members of the club will have an opportunity to combine tennis with general physical training and rehabilitation. A children’s centre with a tennis school will also be offered.

The club building will have “water” facades; a silkscreen technology will make it possible to apply patterns resembling falling torrents of water to the centrally located panoramic windows. The building itself will be a sample of deconstructivist architecture inspired by the ideas of architects Zaha Hadid,  Thom Mayne, and Frank Gehry, as well as philosopher Jacques Derrida. 

The sports complex will be close to Luzhnetskaya Embankment and Druzhba Gym.

Mirrors and stained-glass windows

The Martial Arts Palace will be on Luzhniki Street not far from the football fields in the northern part of the Sports Complex. It will house the International Sambo Centre and the International Boxing Centre, which will operate independently of each other. Both centres will be positioned symmetrically and have a common façade.

The seven-storey palace will measure almost 45,000 square metres. The architects are planning an unusual design – stained-glass windows and inclined mirror panels – that will enable visitors to see the athletes even when outside of the building.

The International Sambo Centre will have a sports and leisure facility with three wrestling mats and 1,600 seats in addition to a VIP-box for 40 people with three skyboxes. There will be a universal fitness facility, a universal gym, and a 25-metre swimming pool with six lanes. Wrestlers will prepare for bouts on three 8-metre training mats. Health exams and first aid will be available at the medicinal therapy centre.  

The International Boxing Centre will have a court with two rings, 2,000 seats and a VIP box for 40 people with three skyboxes. An additional training facility will be available for the athletes. There will be a 25 metre swimming pool with six lanes, a universal fitness facility, a universal gym, and restorative medicinal therapy centre.