...from the inside perimeter of cantilevered roof trusses, which are covered with a membrane roof and ceiling. The trusses are supported on the outside perimeter by triangular ring trusses. The ring trusses, in turn, rest on 12 concrete columns.

Inside the structure, below the $1.6-million green pitch, are spacious changing rooms for the players as well as a soundproof, 160-seat tiered media room fully wired and lit for interviews.

The Grinaker LTA/Interbeton Ibhayi team also won the tender for the stadium at Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth on the southwestern coast. The 48,000-seat structure—arguably the jewel of the five new venues—is sited in a residential neighborhood on the shores of North End Lake and less than a mile from the Indian Ocean.

“The roof looks like a sunflower opening,” says Putco Mafani, the stadium’s marketing and communications manager.

Local design teams Architectural Design Associates and Dominic Bonnesse Architects turned over roof design, engineering and construction to Buffalo, N.Y.-based Birdair Inc. The structure has a European feel, perhaps because the American firm worked with a German team, GMP Architect of Berlin and structural engineer Schalich-Bergermann & Associates of Stuttgart, to design the lightweight, long-span tensile-roof system. The geometrically complex superstructure comprises 36 150-ton cantilever trusses covered with 230,000 sq ft of Teflon-coated fiberglass membrane.

The stadium, completed a year ago, passed FIFA’s final inspection in March. “We’ve already had a dozen public events—concerts, rugby matches and [soccer],” says Mafani.

Blue-sky Plans

No one disputes the sophistication of the engineering or the aesthetics of the sports facilities. They were created by some of the best stadium-design talent in South Africa, Europe and the U.S.

A more important story than the stadiums is South Africa itself and the country’s economic development.

Outside many of the stadiums, contractors are scrambling to finish upgrades to surrounding public roads and transport systems. Airport terminals in many of the nine host cities have undergone overhauls that are scheduled for completion before World Cup spectators begin flying in this spring. Estimates are pegged at 300,000-400,000 fans arriving by air, including 50,000 from the U.S.

Seeking to attract investment for infrastructure improvements, the government in 1993 established a parastatal called Airports Co. South Africa (ACSA), transferring operations at nine airports. An Italian operations firm, Aeroporti di Roma, won a competitive bid in 1998 and purchased 20% of the shares for $110 million. In 2005, it effectively sold the shares back to Public Investment Corp., a government entity, for roughly double the original purchase price.

The government’s ability to attract private investment partners has had mixed results. Plans from a few years ago to transition state power utility Eskom into a series of public-private partnerships (PPP) have never materialized.

Since apartheid ended, the country has spent $40 billion in the electricity sector. Much of it was to provide service...