Luzhniki. Reload: World Cup 2018 star arena gets a revam

The prime sports symbol of Russia is changing. found out how.
11 December 2015
Mikhail Kolobaev/Stroikomplex website -
Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, 2015

Seven USSR Spartakiades, seven different world championships, two youth festivals, and the Olympic Summer Games of 1980… Luzhniki Stadium, conceived in 90 days and built in 18 months, has seen dozens of historic tournaments in its 60-year history. No wonder the ongoing revamp of the legendary arena is much discussed by sports fans. Luzhniki will be hosting the opening gala and the first game of FIFA World Cup 2018. has looked into how the arena has changed and continues to change.


"...I pictured the future locations of the central arena, swimming pool, and game courts. I thought I heard the rolling thunder of the packed stalls, shots from a starting gun, the splashing of greenish water, taut football kicks. (...) I pulled out a sheet of paper from my folder and, leaning on a stone parapet, sketched the outlines of the future structures. Someone, peeking over my shoulder, solemnly quoted:

– A city will be founded here!

– And what a city! – I exclaimed. – A city of sports!"

(from the book The Nation’s Top Stadium by V.P. Polikarpov, one of the creators of the Central Stadium at Luzhniki)

When the team of architects working on the Central Stadium project visited Leninskie Hills to survey the site in the spring of 1954, their verdict was: couldn’t find a better location for the arena.

The architects had three months to complete the design, and the workers had another 15 months to build the complex. The whole thing, comprising the central stadium, small arena, sports palace, swimming pool, and some other facilities, had to be finished in just 450 days.

This was an all-Union effort is there ever was one. The construction materials were shipped from Leningrad and Armenia, electrical equipment and oak planks for the seats came from Ukraine, Belorussia supplied the glass, the Baltic States contributed other equipment , Irkutsk provided larch timber, and Podolsk, electric cables. The construction continued 24/7 with no days off, with some 150,000 workers doing three shifts daily, assisted by Komsomol volunteers, military engineers, and regular citizens during Subbotnik pro bono labour festivals.

On 31 July 1956, the Grand Arena hosted a big parade on the occasion of the opening of the V.I. Lenin Stadium (to be renamed Luzhniki 36 years later, in 1992). And only a few days later, the 1st Spartakiade of the Peoples of the USSR rolled in.

The opening of Luzhniki Stadium, 1956 © Luzhniki archives

The centrepiece of the complex was the Grand Arena, a building of a perfect near-elliptical shape, almost eight stories tall, holding more of a thousand rooms, including 15 gyms, a 150-berth hotel, a health/medical centre, and some restaurants. A Museum of Sports was opened underneath the easterly wing of the stalls in August 1957.

The stadium remained No. 2 for a long time on the list of must-see landmarks for the official delegations visiting the Soviet capital. In addition to sports events, Luzhniki hosted music concerts, film festivals and even poetry readings. Viktor Tsoi and his band Kino played Luzhniki in 1990 to an audience of 72,000. Tsoi admitted he felt greatly honoured to play such a high-profile arena. "It was a reckless thing to do, and I wish I didn‘t go for it. If it wasn’t for the good name of the paper (the Kino gig was part of a festival organized by Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. -, I don’t think I would have had the guts to venture onto such a high-pressure and, most importantly, such a humongous stage. But then again, when I get interviewed internationally, now I can tell them I have played the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Stadium. They like it there when you say things like that. Seriously, though, it’s a tremendous honour for any band to play the Grand Arena.” (from V. Mitin’s book Collected Memories about Viktor Tsoi and Kino).

Luzhniki has seen two major renovations. The first time, before the 1980 Olympic Games, they made improvements to the buildings and remodelled some premises into a multi-sport gym, Druzhba. The Grand Arena was remodelled for Moscow’s 850th anniversary. In under two years, they erected 72 steel pillars, 26m tall each, around the perimeter. Then they placed a custom-designed, 15,000-ton roof on top of the pillars. The whole structure was to be controlled by sensors, registering the slightest change in weather. The wooden benches in the stalls were replaced with plastic chairs.

Remodelling of the Grand Sports Arena at Luzhniki, 1996 © Valery Khristoforov/TASS

Luzhniki was awarded a UEFA five star category in 1998, and has been ranking in the top, i.e. fourth, category since 2010, when UEFA changed its stadium grading system to four points. This means that the arena is fit to host high-profile international events, such as World Cup and EURO Cup finals, UEFA Champions League and Europe League championships.


UEFA stadium requirements

A stadium has to fulfil some very strict requirements to merit a UEFA top grade. For example, the football field has to be 105m long and 68m across, has to have a FIFA licensed grass or artificial flat covering, and a drainage system. The substitutes’ bench has to have at least 13 seats, and players’ locker rooms are required to each have enough room for 25 people per team. Other compulsory facilities include medical offices to take dope tests and provide first aid, and a 24/7 security surveillance system, watching all the areas and fans. The arena has to have at least 8000 seats plus at least 500 VIP seats.

Russia was awarded the privilege to host the 2018 World Cup on 2 December 2010. Luzhniki’s third large-scale revamp, meant to prepare it for the world’s No. 1 football highlight, kicked off three years later.

Luzhniki Revamp 3.0: what makes the new rejuvenation project special?

It took 6 to 8 months to have the Luzhniki remodelling plan approved by FIFA. There were several versions of the plan, actually. Some suggested the stadium should be pulled down entirely, and a new one should be built instead (this worked out cheaper), others wanted to conserve the historic façades while changing everything inside. The latter lobby won. “Luzhniki Stadium is a historic architectural symbol of sports for Moscow and all of Russia,” said Murat Ahmadiev, who heads the construction supervision office at Grand Arena. “It is part of one of Moscow’s most familiar skylines, as viewed from Vorobyovy Hills. So, the authorities did the right thing when they decided to preserve the stadium’s historic look.” Hence the central objective of the current Luzhniki revamp: keep the familiar exterior while building a state-of-the-art, FIFA-compliant arena.

Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, September 2015 © Nikolai Galkin/ТАSS

“The revamp project for Luzhniki is one of the most-effective recent projects of comparable scale in the world,” was told by Marat Husnullin, deputy mayor of Moscow in charge of metropolitan development policy and all construction in the capital, adding that, budget constraints notwithstanding, the new Luzhniki will come outfitted with super-sophisticated equipment, in many respects unrivalled anywhere in the world.

Going forward, the stadium will remain suitable for music concerts and other shows in addition to sports events. Moscow authorities are already in consultation with a major global operator as to the post-World Cup 2018 uses of Luzhniki. The consultancy had contributed to the operational vision for London’s Wembley Stadium.

460 tons of protection

Construction at Luzhniki really took off in 2014. When the workers had dismantled all the non-bearing structures, only the walls, the roof overhang, the bearings and some parts of the stalls remained, and those were kept intact to solidify the stadium’s stability.

Finishing work underneath the stalls during Luzhniki revamp © Mikhail Kolobaev/Stroikomplex website –

This was the starting point for improvements. FIFA requires that the stadium offer the fans protection from sunlight and the elements. The roof overhang on the old Luzhniki (which, incidentally, was not in the original design; it was added for a UEFA Cup final at the end of the 1990s) was not long enough, and had to be extended. The overhang was 11 meters longer in the new roof, completed on the stadium in March 2015. The new metal structures, shipped from Cheliabinsk where they had been manufactured by a local factory, weighed a total of 460 tons. For the sake of comparison, the world’s largest tip-up truck, the BelAz-75710, is 100 tons lighter.

The old roof, sized 230,000 sqm, was given an anticorrosion coat, to make sure Luzhniki’s upscale look lasts longer. The roof will be getting yet another coat, this time of shock-proof, semitransparent polycarbonate, as dependable protection from precipitation and sunlight. The same material covers the two lateral stalls of Sochi’s Fisht Arena.

Remodelling of Luzhniki Stadium, July 2015 © Mikhail Kolobaev/Stroikomplex website –

Natural lawn and goal-line technology

There are even more exciting changes in store for the “heart” of Luzhniki – its football field. What makes a difference about the new field, slated for installation in summer 2016, is its all-natural lawn. While it requires a lot more care, a natural field is vastly superior in terms of playing comfort.

Dedicated to the service of the field’s new, all-natural covering, new systems will be put in place for drainage, heating, watering, agricultural monitoring, automation, and centralized control. With the advanced draining and subsoil airing, it will take no more than 30 minutes to dry the field to proper condition, even after the worst shower. The automatic drainage system will be on 24/7.

Rolling the natural lawn on the field before the UEFA Champions League 2008 final in Moscow © Igor Kubedinov/ТАSS

"A football field is not just a court sown with some grass,” explained Marat Husnullin. “It’s a layered “cake.” We have to be able to pump air underneath the field to keep the lawn in the right condition, and we must be able to pump water out when it rains, and conversely, pump water in when the weather is dry.” The heating system will also assist in keeping the lawn in the right condition, raising the temperature of the surface and the underlying layer. The field will remain perfectly playable all through the winter, as the “cake” will never be colder than 10 or 15 degrees.”

Yet another novelty in the pipeline is the advanced goal line technology. Several cameras, mounted around each goal, will make sure not a single moment of the game is lost, alerting the referee via a special bracelet on his wrist. The referee will be able to ascertain whether the football had crossed the goal line and, if necessary, instantly repeat the critical moments of the game.


Goal line system

An automatic goal line system was used at World Cup 2014 Brazil. The system consisted of 14 cameras and a device that would alert the referees every time the goal line was crossed. The system was first tested in action during FIFA Club World Cup 2012 in Japan.

Three thousand new seats

Luzhniki is not going to lose its status as Russia’s largest sports arena after the renovation. It will actually increase in size as 3,000 more seats will have been added, bringing the aggregate seating capacity to 81,000. Three hundred of the new seats will be reserved for people with disabilities. The rejuvenated Luzhniki will offer at least 1,700 VIP seats, and about 2,000 press seats.

Renovation of Luzhniki sports arena, December 2015 © Stanislav Krasilnikov/ТАSS

At the old Luzhniki, around 10% of the seats were in what was called “low visibility zone.” No more “low visibility” after the renovation. The geometry of the stalls is being altered, bringing the stalls as close as possible to the field, so viewers will enjoy great visibility from any spot. The stalls will stand in two tiers at a pretty steep angle, separated by a belt of 100 skyboxes, the corporate VIP loges, where viewers will be served hot meals, along with many other enjoyments. The ferro-concrete assembly of one tier of the stalls numbers 6,000 components. The stalls will be up by the end of 2015, according to Marat Husnullin. Where the stalls are up already, interior finishing is in progress.

The revamp will give Luzhniki a guest service park, where visitors will shop for souvenirs, food and beverages. The role of the guest park, to be designed and filled by FIFA, will also involve the assignment of car parking spots.

LED screen and HD Wi-Fi

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, it will be so much more exciting to watch a game at the new Luzhniki. Light-emitting diodes will be built into the stadium roof, forming a giant screen to display videos, game scores, World Cup participant flags and other visuals. The best view of the screen will be from Vorobyovy Hills. The creators of the screen promise “the best picture quality money can buy.” The Bolshoy Ice Dome at Sochi’s Olympic Park has this kind of roof screen. It displayed the playing teams’ flags and real-time scores during the 2014 Olympic Games.

Inside Luzhniki Stadium, currently under renovation. July 2015 © Mikhail Kolobaev/Stroikomplex website –

Test samples of the screen were mounted on the Luzhniki roof last January, to see how the fixtures and the LEDs would take Moscow’s changeable weather. Murat Ahmadiev promised that the material from which the fixtures are made, coupled with the interval between the LEDs, reduces the chances of a short circuit or conflagration to zero.

Following the renovation, fans will be offered to download an application to their mobile gadgets, which will let them watch replays and receive game updates, all thanks to the high-density Wi-Fi. "This app will make all services available to visitors in their mobile gadgets, including navigation and sponsors’ information,” Husnullin said.

The customary international practice is to assume 20% of Wi-Fi users at a sports arena, or 30% at peak times, depending on the seating capacity. Accordingly, Moscow’s construction department planned Wi-Fi to be available to a maximum of 30,000 users at the same time at Luzhniki.

Out in 15 minutes

Security in and around the stadium made up a whole separate chapter of the revamp. Luzhniki will be zoned by security priority status, according to Ahmadiev. There will be ten or so security zones: areas for public access, the media, hospitality, VIP guests, conduits and utility areas. Two 2-story security screening buildings, sized 240 sqm each, will be built next to the Vorobyovy Gory Metro station by World Cup 2018. Each building will consist of a lobby, screening room, ticket offices, some ancillary rooms and utility rooms. The building fronts will be modelled on the historic architecture of the sports complex: they will be faced with large rock slabs, and glazed with stained glass.

The concept that underlies the priming of Luzhniki for World Cup 2018 abandons the local security of selective areas in favour of total security everywhere on the property. The same concept was used at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, which is why the team that had designed and implemented the security perimeter of the Main Olympic Village in Sochi has been engaged to create the security concept for Moscow’s No. 1 stadium.

Luzhniki Stadium, July 2015 © Mikhail Kolobaev/Stroikomplex website –

According to this concept, the area inside the security perimeter will be designated as the “clean zone,” meaning that there is no need to provide additional protection for each individual locale. Ahmadiev explained that every “client group” will pass all the security screening stages until it reaches the “clean zone.” This process will minimize the chances of a security threat inside the perimeter.

There will be 16 regular exits from the stadium after the renovation, instead of 13 before, which makes 22 exits overall together with the emergency exits. The logistics will be planned so as to separate the fan flows and make sure everybody is out of the stadium in 15 minutes after the game ends. One of the features that have made this possible is the custom-designed system of “cascade” staircases, spread across the inner perimeter of the building like a web.

Luzhniki revamp in figures

  • Total area of renovated stadium with stalls: 221,000 sqm
  • Luzhniki revamp employs a workforce of 2100 and 29 units of construction machinery.
  • Luzhniki will be outfitted with 1000 surveillance cameras.
  • As many as 30,000 people may use Wi-Fi simultaneously at Luzhniki.
  • There will be parking for 4000 cars next to the stadium.
  • The stadium is to get 5.4km of sanitation piping, 76.5km of telecom network cabling, and more than 57km of heat conduits.
  • The stadium’s canopy was made 11 metres longer as part of the renovation.
  • The stadium will have 22 exits after the renovation, as different from 13 before.


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