Add Valencia, Spain, to the list of cities now constructing an iconic, sculptural sports stadium. Work began last March on a new 75,000-seat home for the local soccer squad. Designed by Reid Fenwick Asociados, with Arup Sport, it will be one of the largest and most eco-sensitive stadiums in Europe—and, its designers hope, a point of civic pride when it opens in 2009. “Football is such an emotional sport, it’s almost like a religion,” says architect Mark Fenwick, referring to European soccer. “We had to pack all of that emotion and feeling into a building that would be theirs and only theirs.”

Image Courtesy Reid Fenwick Asociados

The stadium’s most striking element is a curvy aluminum skin, split by seemingly random fissures that suggest the entire building is a squashed metallic soccer ball. Fenwick explains that its design in fact pays homage to Valencia’s geography—the cracks correspond to a map of the city’s 16 districts, with the largest one representing the Turia River. But the fissures also serve a functional purpose: Computer-controlled louvers within them will open and close, depending on weather conditions, to ventilate spectators as well as the playing field. Solar panels on the roof will supply power, giving the building an extra green edge.

Edges of any other sort will be hard to find. J Parrish, Arup Sport’s architectural director, explains that the stadium will have the feel of a Spanish bullring: a tight seating bowl in which nearly all spectators face the action. This differs from traditional soccer arenas that, historically, were rectangular buildings in which many spectators face each other. Parrish adds, “It’s much more curvaceous than most stadiums. You’ll be able to recognize it instantly on TV, which is a modern requirement of stadiums.”