How they carved the SC Braga stadium into a granite slope | ET REALITY

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The most important of Braga’s many hills is the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a pilgrimage site for Christians who climb the white and gold zigzag staircase to its gates.

Six kilometers to the west, planted atop Monte do Castro like a Lego piece, lies another monument that is at once incongruous but completely natural in a way that suggests the divine played a role here too.

But SC Braga’s Municipal Stadium was designed, designed and built by man, and on Tuesday it will host one of the best clubs in the world, Real Madrid.

Braga will become the 152nd different club that Real Madrid play in 68 years of continental football, but never have the 14-time European champions played in a stadium with a backdrop like this.

At the end of the spiral roads that lead to the highest point in the Dume area, right next to an old quarry, lies a stadium that seems to defy logic.

A stand with its foundation built into a rock; a giant scoreboard placed on a granite embankment behind a goal; and nothing more than one empty space behind the other, offering a panoramic view of the city at its feet.


The incredible Braga stadium with views of the valley (Octavio Passos – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Known as ‘A Pedreira’ (The Quarry), the stadium might have gone unnoticed if it were not for architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, whose creation was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2011, considered the Nobel Prize in Architecture.

“Being an architect is not an easy life, and achieving international recognition for a small country like Portugal… I am not going to pretend that I suffer from false modesty,” says Souto de Moura. The Atlético.

“The Braga stadium may be the most difficult project I have ever done. And perhaps for that very reason, the one I enjoyed the most.”

Souto de Moura was not the architect who originally took the reins of the project in 2000. The vice president of the Braga City Council had already contacted Norman Foster, the brain behind the Gherkin building in London and the glass dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, but it was too expensive.

They called to ask if he could put them in touch with Santiago Calatrava, the architect who designed the Oculus at the World Trade Center in New York. He informed the council that they would likely encounter a similar problem.

Sensing an opportunity, he agreed to meet the next day to discuss the report where it was decided that the capacity should be 30,000 people.

“They had found land for a stadium, in a valley with a canal. They thought the steps could follow the curves of the valley. I visited it and I fell in love,” says Souto de Moura.

“I still have the photos I took at that time. This old quarry was located on the land. I began to visualize the stadium below, surrounded by rock. I told the council I wanted to build it there with a 15,000-capacity stand carved into the rock and then do the same on the other side.


(Eduardo Souto de Moura)

“There would only be two stands and people could see the game well. One thing I realized while designing the stadium was that every stadium is now a television studio.

“That’s why I designed the lighting to be almost vertical over the field (they shine from the ends of both stands) and as close as possible. “I’m not a football expert, but it’s a kind of theater, with actors from both sides.”

Turning their sketches into reality required innovation, careful experimentation, and years of safety testing, all while staying on budget and within a three-year construction time.


Two of the original sketches of Eduardo Souto de Moura (Eduardo Souto de Moura)

The main ambition was to integrate the stadium into the environment, so the beams, posts and cables could not be part of the aesthetic as they are in most football stadiums.

The west stand is carved from a solid granite, to give the effect of a Greek amphitheater. It was necessary to excavate 1,700,000 cubic meters of hard rock and gravel before the 18 one-meter-thick studs could be anchored.


Excavation site (Eduardo Souto de Moura)

Inspired by Inca bridges and the roof of Washington’s Dulles Airport to form his vision of a canopy over the countryside, it was the experience of working alongside Álvaro Siza Vieira to create the Portugal Pavilion at the Expo ’98 World’s Fair that the more he supported himself.

“It was a large open space under a concrete cover. It made me realize that it was possible to cover a structure without using glass or any other material,” says Souto de Moura.

“But UEFA said that there needed to be natural light and that the stadium had to be ventilated so that the cover could not be completely closed. I tried making small adjustments to allow light in from above, using holes in the cover, but the sun would have come in and formed circles of light on the field.

“I gave up on that idea and thought about leaving a rectangular opening that was exactly the same size as the proportions of the field.”

A colleague traveled to UEFA headquarters in Switzerland and received approval for his plan to have two concrete slabs covering each stand, connected and supported by a network of 25 meter long steel cables stretching the length of the stadium. field. Each is connected to beams, which are fixed to the rock in the quarry.

Braga stadium granite


(Octavio Passos – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

It was a mammoth task to achieve the correct balance of forces without pillars supporting the roof, which is a cantilever that is only supported by the west stand with the cables anchored in the rock. Two large beams at the top of both supports add support, but computer simulations and testing of small-scale models in a wind tunnel were necessary before it was safe to build.

The stadium was successfully completed in time for Euro 2004, a local tournament in which Portugal lost to Greece in the final.

However, Braga still regularly fills only half of the stadium, which belongs to the city council, and Ricardo Rio, mayor of Braga and president of the city council, confirmed that the stadium is for sale earlier this month.

Maio Stadium 1 was Braga’s long-term home from 1921 until 2003. They have been paying just 500 euros (£435; $533) per month to rent their current stadium and, with improvements needed to modernize the facilities, the council is cutting ties.

“The dialogue has been opened, therefore we are going to make a formal evaluation of the value at which the stadium could be sold. It makes sense for the stadium to be used by Braga,” said Rio.


View from the stands (Octavio Passos – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

“I do not intend to demand the 200 million euros that were invested in this facility, but, obviously, an amount that allows the City Council to be reimbursed and, for example, make other projects viable, including the rehabilitation of the 1 de Maio Stadium, which after “These years of abandonment, it has ended up suffering very rapid degradation.”

In recent years there has been talk that Braga could build a new stadium on the old site, which saddens Souto de Moura even more than the alteration of his unique creation.

“Portugal is one of the hosts of the 2030 World Cup and to be eligible for the qualifying matches you need a stadium with 60,000 seats,” he says. “Braga only has 30,000. When it was built, Braga often finished in the bottom half of the table, often at risk of relegation; Now they are close to the top, so people demand more from the club.

“If it were the other way around and the stadium was too big, people would also complain. It is a risk of the profession.”

Until 2013, Braga had only won one major trophy: the 1966 Portuguese League Cup. Since then, they have cemented their profile as Portugal’s fourth-best team, winning four domestic cups and establishing themselves in Europe, reaching the final of the Europa League 2011 and qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the third time this season.

In line with its growing ambitions, Braga is close to completing its ‘Sports City’ project, first initiated in 2017, with a new women’s stadium complementing the extensive academy building and fields above the Municipal Stadium.

It has been the home of Braga, which has become one of the greats of Portuguese football, and is now 22 percent owned by Qatar Sports Investments, owner of Paris Saint-Germain.

Not on the grand scale of the Bernabéu, but in a world of glass and stainless steel, this cliffside concrete amphitheater is as much a work of art as a football stadium.

(Top photo: Diogo Cardoso/Getty Images)

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