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Qatar’s World Cup: Engineering Marvel, PR Nightmare? [Slideshow]

If you thought building 12 open-air, air-conditioned stadiums was hard, try shipping them abroad when you’re done. And then try to explain why one of your top architects is called Albert Speer.

Yesterday Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, based on a bid with some wild ambitions. This is meant to be a carbon-neutral event, in the middle of a scorching desert, spread across 12 separate stadiums. But here’s the kicker: A major contributor to the building plans is the son of Adolf Hitler’s chief builder, Albert Speer. Could this be the most ambitious engineering feat and the largest public relations nightmare in sports since the 1936 Berlin Olympics?

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[Five of the stadium designs, created by Albert Speer Architecture]

About that PR problem: Five of the twelve stadiums created for the event will be designed by Albert Speer and Partners, according to Construction Week Online. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Speer’s father was Hitler’s favorite architect, whose neoclassical style became synonymous with the Third Reich.

Speer deserves credit: He has shied away from engaging in politics, and managed to move his career past his name through his own talents. This Spiegel article from 2007 mentions that he got his start in the Middle East, working in Saudi Arabia and Libya, and even suggests that his Nazi heritage has pushed him to work in countries that need the most help when it comes to human rights and democracy. Still, his contribution may not sit well with some soccer fans, especially when you consider the fact that Israeli citizens are legally barred from Qatar.

[The crown jewel stadium, designed by Foster + Partners]

Perhaps to help us gloss over some of those details, Speer has remained extremely low profile during the bid process. So has Norman Foster, the architect of the event’s premier venue, the Lusali Iconic Stadium. Also, a large component of Qatar’s bid was the social impact factor: They plan to set up a series of NGOs to support soccer clubs which they hope will empower women, create leadership roles, and scout young talent throughout the Middle East.

But the most grandiose part is logistical: According to the bid document [PDF], each of the 12 stadiums will be constructed from a kit that will later be disassembled and shipped to various locations in the Middle East to make 22 new stadiums. It sounds like an ideal way to shift unused infrastructure (a bane of every major sporting event) to areas of need. But exactly how they’re going to do this — and whether it’s physically possible — has not been explained by the bid or the architects. It would be hard to pull off all that shipping and construction without a carbon footprint the size of Canada, not to mention the fact that the recipients would have to pay for new foundations to be laid.

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The stadiums themselves sport grand ambitions for sustainability. Qatar says it’s committed to keeping energy costs low and is aiming for a carbon-neutral event. To do this, they’re going to locate all 12 stadiums (plus amenities like 84,000 hotel rooms) closer together, in seven cities within a 60 kilometer radius, lessening the environmental impact from infrastructural development. They’ll also be building a brand-new metro to ease transport issues between the dozen stadiums. And Qatar will get plenty of help from the blazing desert sun: If you look at the design of Lusali, it’s literally surrounded with solar panels. In fact, according to Foster’s site, it’s so low-impact that it will generate enough power to supply neighboring buildings.

This is the first time the World Cup will be located in the Middle East, which comes with an inevitable challenge: Daytime temperatures sometimes soar to 130 degrees. The stadiums will mostly be open air (though Foster’s will supposedly have a retractable roof). And Qatar assures us that there will be outdoor air conditioning systems in place to make the place comfortable. How, exactly, do you create a stadium that’s cool enough inside to comfortably watch a soccer game with 86,000 of your closest friends when the exterior temperature is hot enough to boil your nacho cheese? Details are scarce beyond a mention of “cooling systems.” But here’s where Foster + Partners, who are designing the Lusail Iconic Stadium, located in Doha, have offered some solutions on their site: The stadium itself is surrounded by a cooling moat of water, with the exterior shaded by a series of solar panel devices that keep fans cool as they enter and exit the games.

Stay tuned — we’ll update you as we find out more from the architects.

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.

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