Arena Architecture and the Stadium

Big Events Demand Big Architecture

Open air MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, venue for 2014 Super Bowl XLVIII
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, venue for 2014 Super Bowl XLVIII.

LI-Aerial / Stringer / Getty Images Sport Collection / Getty Images

Sports architects don't merely design buildings. They create huge environments where athletes, entertainers, and thousands of their faithful fans can share memorable experiences. Often the structure itself is an important part of the spectacle. Follow along for a photo tour of great stadia and arenas designed for sports and major events like concerts, conventions, and theatrical performances.

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Louvred exterior of MetLife Stadium, the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey

Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images

The first design consideration of any large stadium is the vertical space. How much of the exterior walls will show and where will the playing field be located in relation to ground level (i.e., how much earth can be excavated for the playing field). Sometimes the building site will dictate this ratio — for example, the high water table in New Orleans, Louisiana makes the underground unsuitable for building most anything other than parking garages.

For this stadium at the Meadowlands, developers wanted it to fit in with the surrounding buildings. Only when you walk through the gates and into the stands do you realize the below-ground size of MetLife Stadium.

The New York Jets and New York Giants, both American football teams, combined efforts to build a super-stadium to serve the New York City metropolitan area. MetLife, an insurance company, bought the initial naming rights to the "house" that replaced Giants Stadium.

Location: Meadowlands Sports Complex, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Completed: 2010
Size: 2.1 million square feet (more than twice as large as Giants Stadium)
Energy Consumption: estimated to use approximately 30 percent less energy than the old Giants Stadium
Seating: 82,500 and 90,000 for nonfootball events
Cost: $1.6 billion
Design Architect: threesixty architecture
Construction Materials: exterior of aluminum louvers and glass; limestone-like base
Arena Technology: 2,200 HDTVs; 4 HD-LED scoreboards (18 by 130 feet) in each corner of the seating bowl; building-wide Wi-Fi
Awards: 2010 Project of the Year ("New York Construction" Magazine)

The 2010 stadium in the Meadowlands is said to be the only arena specially built for two NFL teams. Team-specificity is not built into the stadium. Instead, the architecture is "constructed with a neutral backdrop," which can adapt to any sports or performance activity. A louvered facade captures colored lighting specific to any event or team. Despite being an open-air stadium without a roof or dome, MetLife Stadium was the chosen site for Super Bowl XLVIII, played in the middle of winter, February 2, 2014.

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana

large brick building with large windows, looking like a factory

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Constructed of red brick with Indiana Limestone, Lucas Oil Stadium is designed to harmonize with older buildings in Indianapolis. It's made to look old, but it's not old.

Lucas Oil Stadium is an adaptable building that can quickly convert for various athletic and entertainment events. The roof and window wall slide open, turning the stadium into an outdoor arena.

The stadium opened in August 2008. Home of the Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil Stadium was the site for Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.

  • Architects: HKS, Inc. and A2so4 Architecture
  • Project Manager: Hunt/Smoot
  • Structural Engineers: Walter P Moore/Fink Roberts & Petrie
  • General Contractor: Mezzetta Construction, Inc.

Richmond Olympic Oval

Glass and wood with concrete piers, Olympic logo on the side

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

The Richmond Olympic Oval was designed as a centerpiece of a new waterfront neighborhood development in Richmond, Canada. Featuring an innovative "wood wave" ceiling, the Richmond Olympic Oval has won top awards from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Institution of Structural Engineers. Undulating wooden panels (made from locally harvested pine-beetle kill wood) create the illusion that the ceiling is rippling.

Outside the Richmond Olympic Oval are sculptures by artist Janet Echelman and a pond that collects rain and supplies water for irrigation and for toilets.

Location: 6111 River Road, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada (near Vancouver)
Architects: Cannon Design with Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers
Structural Engineers for Roof: Fast + Epp
Sculptures: Janet Echelman
Opened: 2008

The Richmond Olympic Oval was the venue for the speed skating events at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Before the Olympics began, the Richmond Oval hosted the 2008 and 2009 Canadian Single Distance Championships, the 2009 ISU World Single Distance Championships, and the 2010 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships.

David S. Ingalls Rink at Yale University

wavy roof looking like a serpent atop an Eastern Orient design

Enzo Figueres / Getty Images

Casually known as the Yale Whale, the David S. Ingalls Rink is a quintessential Saarinen design with an arching humpbacked roof and swooping lines that suggest the speed and grace of ice skaters. The elliptical building is a tensile structure. Its oak roof is supported by a network of steel cables suspended from a reinforced concrete arch. Plaster ceilings form a graceful curve above the upper seating area and perimeter walkway. The expansive interior space is free of columns. Glass, oak, and unfinished concrete combine to create a striking visual effect.

A renovation in 1991 gave Ingalls Rink a new concrete refrigerant slab and refurbished locker rooms. However, years of exposure rusted the reinforcements in the concrete. Yale University commissioned the firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates to undertake a major restoration that was completed in 2009. An estimated $23.8 million went toward the project.

The hockey rink is named for former Yale hockey captains David S. Ingalls (1920) and David S. Ingalls, Jr. (1956). The Ingalls family provided most of the funding for the Rink's construction.

Also Known As: The Yale Whale
Location: Yale University, Prospect and Sachem Streets, New Haven, Connecticut
Architect: Eero Saarinen
Restoration: Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates
Dates: Designed in 1956, opened in 1958, renovations in 1991, major restoration in 2009
Size: Seats: 3,486 spectators; Maximum ceiling height: 23 meters (75.5 feet); Roof "Backbone": 91.4 meters (300 feet)

Ingalls Rink Restoration

Renovations to the David S. Ingalls Rink at Yale University stayed true to the original design by architect Eero Saarinen.

  • Constructed a 1,200-square-meter (12,700- square-foot) underground addition containing locker rooms, offices, training rooms, and other facilities.
  • Installed a new insulated roof and preserved the original oak roof timbers.
  • Refinished the original wooden benches and added corner seating.
  • Refinished or replaced the exterior wooden doors.
  • Installed new, energy-efficient lighting.
  • Installed new press boxes and state-of-the-art sound equipment.
  • Replaced original plate glass with insulated glass.
  • Installed a new ice slab and expanded the usefulness of the rink, allowing year-round skating.

AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium in Arlington, Texas

Retractable dome and glass walls of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas

Carol M. Highsmith / Getty Images

Costing $1.15 billion, the 2009 Cowboys Stadium had the world's longest single-span roof structure of its day. By 2013, the Dallas-based AT&T corporation had entered into a partnership with the Cowboys organization — giving the sports organization millions of dollars every year to put their name on the stadium. And, so, now what was called Cowboys Stadium from 2009 until 2013 is called AT&T Stadium. But many people still call it Jerrah World, after long-time Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Home Team: Dallas Cowboys
Location: Arlington, Texas
Architect: HKS, Inc, Bryan Trubey, principal designer
Super Bowl: XLV on February 6, 2011 (Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25)

Architect's Fact Sheet

Stadium Size

  • The Cowboys Stadium site covers 73 total acres; the overall site encompasses 140 total acres
  • Cowboys Stadium is 3 million square feet containing 104 million cubic feet of volume
  • Stadium length – 900 feet from one end zone retractable wall to the opposite end zone retractable wall

Exterior Façade

  • The Canted 800-foot glass wall exterior slopes at 14-degree angle
  • The clerestory lens is 33 feet at highest point, with an overall length of 904 feet
  • Arches soar 292 feet above playing field
  • Each boxed arch is 17 feet wide and 35 feet deep
  • Each arch weighs 3,255 tons
  • Each arch spans quarter-mile in length
  • Top of steel at the highpoint of the main arched trusses is 292 feet above the playing field

Retractable End Zone Doors

  • The 180-foot-wide by 120-foot-high operable glass doors, located at each end of the stadium, is the largest operable glass doors in the world
  • Five 38-foot panels take 18 minutes to open or close

Roof Structure

  • At 660,800 square feet, the stadium’s roof is one of the largest domed sports structures in the world
  • Soaring 292 feet above the playing field, the two monumental arches support the retractable roof — the world’s longest single-span roof structure
  • The roof encompasses 104 million cubic feet of volume
  • Opening 410 feet long by 256 feet wide encompassing 105,000 square feet
  • Each roof panel weighs 1.68 million pounds
  • The travel distance of each panel is 215 feet
  • Consists of 14,100 tons of structural steel (which is equivalent to the weight of 92 Boeing 777s)
  • The retractable roof opens or closes in 12 minutes

Construction Materials

  • Non-operable pieces — steel with PVC membrane
  • Operable pieces — Teflon coated fiberglass fabric

The Arch Truss

  • The arch truss is fabricated from special high-strength grade 65 steel imported from Luxembourg
  • The structural steel’s wide flange sizes are up to W14x730 (14 inches in depth and 730 lbs. per foot) — the heaviest shape rolled in the world
  • Number of bolts in arch spans: 50,000
  • Total length of welding in arch spans: 165,000 feet
  • Gallons of primer paint: 2,000
  • Gallons of finish paint: 2,000
  • The final keystone piece of the arch truss planar section is 56 feet long and weighs 110,000 pounds

Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota

Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota displays its curved wall of glass

Elsa / Getty Images

Xcel Energy Center hosts more than 150 sporting and entertainment events each year and was the site of the 2008 Republican Convention.

Built on the site of the demolished St. Paul Civic Center, Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota was widely praised for its high-tech facilities. The ESPN television network twice named Xcel Energy Center the "Best Stadium Experience" in the United States. In 2006, both SportsBusiness Journal and Sports Illustrated called Xcel Energy Center the "Best NHL Arena."

Opened: September 29, 2000
Designer: HOK Sport
Levels: Four separate concourses on four seating levels, plus the Al Shaver Press Box on the fifth level
Seating Capacity: 18,064
Technology: Electronic display system with a 360-degree video ribbon board and an eight-sided, 50,000-pound scoreboard
Other Facilities: 74 executive suites, upscale food and beverage restaurants, and a retail store

Historic Events

  • 2008 Republican National Convention
  • 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
  • 2006 U.S. Gymnastics National Championships
  • 2004 International Ice Hockey Federation World Cup of Hockey
  • 2004 NHL All-Star Weekend
  • 2002 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four

Xcel Energy Center Makes History

Xcel Energy Center was the site of two important political events during the 2008 election year. On June 3, 2008, Senator Barack Obama gave his first speech as the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party from Xcel Energy Center. More than 17,000 people attended the event, and an additional 15,000 watched on big screens outside Xcel Energy Center.

Republican National Convention at Xcel Energy Center

The Republican National Convention is the largest event ever held at Xcel Energy Center. Construction crews for the RNC and media outlets spent six weeks preparing Xcel Energy Center for the convention. Renovations included:

  • Removed 3,000 seats
  • Constructed workspace for staff and media
  • Transformed each luxury suite into a studio for media networks
  • Installed miles of phone and Internet cables
  • Across the street from Xcel Energy Center, constructed a 3-story white barn for the Fox News Channel

At the conclusion of the convention, workers will have two weeks to return Xcel Energy Center to its original configuration.

Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado

Denver Broncos' Stadium, INVESCO Field at Mile High, in Denver, Colorado
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Sports Authority Field at Mile High was called INVESCO Field in 2008 when Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama chose it as the site for his acceptance speech.

The Denver Broncos' Stadium Field at Mile High is home to the Broncos' football team and is used mainly for football games. However, the Denver Broncos' Stadium is also used for major league lacrosse, soccer, and a variety of other events such as national conventions.

INVESCO Field at Mile High was constructed in 1999 to replace the former Mile High Stadium. Providing 1.7 million square feet of space, the INVESCO Field at Mile High seats 76,125 spectators. The old stadium was almost as large, but the space wasn't used as efficiently and the stadium was outdated. The new INVESCO Field at Mile High has wider concourses, wider seats, more restrooms, more elevators, more escalators, and better accommodations for people with disabilities.

INVESCO Field at Mile High was designed and built by Turner/Empire/Alvarado Construction and HNTB Architects, in association with Fentress Bradburn Architects and Bertram A. Bruton Architects. Many other companies and designers, engineers, and construction tradesmen worked on the Broncos' new stadium.

Political parties traditionally use lavish decorations to impress and inspire prospective voters. To prepare INVESCO Field at Mile High for the nomination acceptance speech by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Democrats created a dramatic set that mimicked the look of a Greek temple. A stage was constructed at the 50-yard-line mid-field. Along the rear of the stage, designers constructed neoclassical columns made of plywood.

Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado

Pepsi Center stadium and convention hall in Denver, Colorado

Brian Bahr / Getty Images

Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado hosts hockey and basketball games and plenty of music performances, but transforming the stadium into a state-of-the-art convention hall for the 2008 Democratic National Convention was a multi-million dollar race against time.

Opened: October 1, 1999
Designer: HOK Sport of Kansas City
Nickname: The Can
Lot Size: 4.6 acres
Building Size: 675,000 square feet of building space on five levels

Seating Capacity

  • 19,099 seats for basketball games
  • 18,007 seats for hockey, arena football, and lacrosse games
  • From 500 to 20,000 seats for concerts and other events

Other Facilities: Restaurants, lounges, conference rooms, basketball practice court
Events: Hockey and basketball games, musical acts, ice extravaganzas, circuses, and conventions

  • Denver Nuggets, NBA
  • Colorado Avalanche, NHL
  • Colorado Crush, AFL
  • Colorado Mammoth, NLL

Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center

In 2008, major renovations were necessary to transform Pepsi Center from a sports arena to a convention hall for Barack Obama's first presidential nomination. Alvarado Construction Inc. worked with the original architect, HOK Sports Facilities, to prepare the Pepsi Center. Three local firms supplied 600 construction workers who worked two shifts, operating 20 hours a day over a period of several weeks.

Renovations for the Democratic National Convention

  • Raised the scoreboard from 35 feet to 95 feet.
  • Removed seats and glass from luxury suites to make way for television broadcast crews.
  • Removed lower level seats to create additional floor space.
  • Installed carpet-covered flooring above the existing floor, with a one-foot high channel underneath for electrical and Internet cables.
  • Constructed a massive podium with more than 8,000 square feet of video projection space and three 103-inch high definition plasma displays. See a video: Pepsi Center Podium Design
  • Constructed 16-foot high cable bridges to connect the stadium to media pavilions outside.

These alterations provided enough space for up to 26,000 people inside Pepsi Center, and another 30,000 to 40,000 people on the Pepsi grounds. Since much larger crowds were expected for Barack Obama's acceptance speech, a larger stadium, at Mile High, was reserved for the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

The 2008 Olympic Stadium, the Beijing National Stadium

Dusk view of Olympic Stadium, asymmetric with braces obvious and decorative

Christopher Groenhout / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron collaborated with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to design Beijing's National Stadium. The innovative Beijing Olympic Stadium is often called the Bird's Nest. Composed of a complex mesh of steel bands, the Beijing Olympic Stadium incorporates elements of Chinese art and culture.

Adjacent to the Beijing Olympic Stadium is another innovative structure from 2008, the National Aquatic Centre, also known as the Water Cube.

  • 36 km of unwrapped steel
  • 330 meters (1,082 feet) long
  • 220 meters (721 feet) wide
  • 69.2 meters (227 feet) tall
  • 258,000 square meters (2,777,112 square feet) of space
  • Usable area of 204,000 square meters (2,195,856 square feet)
  • Seating for up to 91,000 spectators during the Olympics. (Seating reduced to 80,000 after the Games.)
  • Construction cost approximately 3.5 billion yuan ($423 million USD)

Builders and Designers

  • Herzog & de Meuron, architects
  • Ai Weiwei, Artistic Consultant
  • China Architecture Design & Research Group

The Water Cube in Beijing, China

A light-colored, bubble-like elongated cube structure covered with ETFE fabric

NON AVAILABLE / AFP Creative / Getty Images

Known as the Water Cube, the National Aquatic Centre is the site of the aquatic games at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. It is located next to Beijing National Stadium in the Olympic Green. The cube-shaped Aquatic Centre is a steel frame covered with a membrane composed of energy-efficient ETFE, a plastic-like material.

The design of the Water Cube is based on the patterns of cells and soap bubbles. ETFE pillows create a bubble effect. The bubbles collect solar energy and help heat the swimming pools.

  • 65,000-80,000 square metre floor area
  • 6,000 permanent seats, 11,000 temporary seats
  • Designed for swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, and water-polo

Designers and Builders

  • PTW Architects of Australia
  • CSCEC International Design
  • Arup Structural Engineers
  • CSCEC (China State Construction Engineering Corporation), builders

The Rock - Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

Blue seats, green field, and a canopy covering of Hard Rock Stadium in 2016

Joel Auerbach / Getty Images

Home of the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins, the once-named Sun Life Stadium has hosted several Super Bowl games and was the site for the 2010 Super Bowl 44 (XLIV).

As of August 2016, the iconic orange seats are blue, a fabric canopy holds back the Florida sun, and Hard Rock Stadium will be its name until 2034. It even has its own website,

The Rock is a football stadium that also accommodates soccer, lacrosse, and baseball. The arena still hosts the Miami Dolphins, the Florida Marlins, and the University of Miami Hurricanes. Several Super Bowl games and the annual Orange Bowl college football games are played here.

Other Names

  • Joe Robbie Stadium
  • Pro Player Stadium
  • Pro Player Park
  • Dolphins Stadium
  • Dolphin Stadium
  • Land Shark Stadium
  • Sun Life Stadium

Location: 2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami Gardens, FL 33056, 16 miles northwest of downtown Miami and 18 miles southwest of Fort Lauderdale
Construction Dates: Opened August 16, 1987; Renovated and expanded in 2006, 2007, and 2016
Seating Capacity: Renovations in 2016 lessened the number of seats from 76,500 to 65,326 for football, and about half that amount for baseball. But seats in the shade? By adding the canopy, 92% of the fans are now in the shade as opposed to 19% in previous years.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans

Mercedes-Benz Superdome in February 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Once a shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Superdome (now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) has become an icon of recovery.

Completed in 1975, the spaceship-shaped Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a record-breaking domed structure. The bright white roof is an unmistakable sight for anyone riding the highways from the airport to downtown New Orleans. From ground level, however, the indented "tightened belt" design obscures view of the iconic dome.

The legendary stadium will forever be remembered for sheltering thousands from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The extensive roof damage has been repaired and several upgrades have made the new Superdome one of America's most advanced sports facilities.

Millennium Dome in Greenwich, England

The Millennium Dome in London

HAUSER Patrice / / Getty Images

Some arenas may look like sports architecture on the outside, but "use" of the building is an important design consideration. Opening on December 31, 1999, the Millennium Dome was built as a temporary structure to house a year-long exhibit that would usher in the 21st century. The well-known Richard Rogers Partnership were the architects.

The massive dome is over one kilometer round and 50 meters high at its center. It covers 20 acres of ground floor space. How big is that? Well, imagine the Eiffel Tower lying on its side. It could easily fit inside the Dome.

The dome is a wonderful example of modern tensile architecture. Seventy-two kilometers of high strength steel cable supports twelve 100 meter steel masts. The roof is translucent, self-cleaning PTFE-coated glass fiber. A two-layer fabric is used as insulation to prevent condensation.

Why Greenwich?

The Dome was built in Greenwich, England because that's where the millennium officially began on January 1, 2001. (The year 2000 was not considered the start of the millennium, because counting does not begin with a zero.)

Greenwich lies on the Meridian Line, and Greenwich Time serves as a global timekeeper. It provides a common 24-hour clock for airline communications and transactions on the Internet.

The Millennium Dome Today

The Millennium Dome was designed as a one-year "event" venue. The Dome closed to visitors on December 31, 2000 — a few hours before the official start of the new millennium. Yet the tensile architecture had been expensive, and it was still standing in a sturdy, British way. So, Great Britain spent the next few years looking for ways to use the Dome and the surrounding land on the Greenwich Peninsula. No sports teams took an interest in using it.

The Millennium Dome is now centerpiece of The O2 entertainment district with an indoor arena, exhibition space, a music club, a cinema, bars, and restaurants. It has become an entertainment destination, although it still looks like a sports arena.

Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan

Curved glass entry to Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan

Mark Cunningham / Getty Images 

Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, is not just a football stadium. In addition to hosting Super Bowl XL, the complex holds many performances and events.

Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan opened in 2002, but the round structure is actually set into the side of the historic Old Hudson's Warehouse complex, built in 1920. The remodeled warehouse has a seven-story atrium with an enormous glass wall that overlooks the Detroit skyline. The 1.7-million square foot stadium has 65,000 seats and 113 suites.

Building Ford Field posed unique challenges for the design team, lead by SmithGroup Inc. To fit this huge structure into the scenic Detroit entertainment district, the architects lowered the upper deck and constructed the stadium 45 feet below ground level. This plan gives spectators in the stadium seats excellent views of the playing field, without spoiling the Detroit skyline.

  • Project manager: Hammes Company
  • Architect/Engineer of Record: SmithGroup (Detroit, Mich.)
  • Architects: Kaplan, McLaughlin, Diaz Architects (San Francisco, Calif.) Hamilton Anderson Associates, Inc. (Detroit, Mich.) Rossetti Associates Architects (Birmingham, Mich.)
  • Stadium Structural Engineers: Thorton-Tomasetti (New York, N.Y.)
  • Environmental Graphics: Ellerbe-Becket (Kansas City, Mo.)
  • Team Store Designers: ST2/Thrive (Portland, Ore.)
  • General Contractors-Stadium: Hunt/Jenkins
  • General Contractors-Warehouse: White/Olson, LLC

Stadium Australia in Sydney, 1999

Stadium Australia in Sydney

Peter Hendrie / Getty Images

The Sydney Olympic Stadium (Stadium Australia), built for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, is the largest facility ever built for an Olympic Games at that time. The original stadium seated 110,000 people. Designed by Bligh Voller Nied with the London-based Lobb Partnership, the Sydney Olympic Stadium is tailored for the Australian climate.

  • The translucent roof of ETFE over spectator seats allows for extensive natural lighting and also reduces glare and shadow on the field. Less electricity is needed, and conditions are ideal for daytime TV broadcasts. Natural turf is exposed to the air.
  • The slope of the roof provides sun and rain protection without creating the claustrophobic feel of a fully enclosed dome. Moreover, the sloping roof optimizes the acoustics.
  • The stadium offers natural ventilation, without using fans, air conditioning or other mechanical devices.
  • Further energy conservation is provided by gas-fired co-generators, which backup the electrical supply.
  • Rainwater is recycled for flushing toilets. Water-saving devices are installed throughout the facility.
  • The stadium environment is ideal for turf growth.

Critics of the Sydney Olympic Stadium claimed that although the design was functional, its appearance was uninspiring. The size of the place, combined with the technical demands, meant that art had to take a back seat. What's more, the huge structure dwarfs the nearby aquatic center and tree-lined boulevards. Noted architect Philip Cox told reporters that the Sydney Stadium "looks like a Pringles potato chip, does not break new ground, and is not iconic enough."

However, when the Olympic Torch was passed through the crowds and the cauldron carrying the Olympic Flame rose up above a towering waterfall, it's likely that many people thought the Sydney Olympic Stadium was spectacular.

Like Olympic stadia of the modern era, Olympic Stadium was built to be reconfigured after the games. Today's ANZ Stadium doesn't look quite like the one shown here. By 2003, some of the open-air seats were removed and the roofing was extended. Capacity is now no more than 84,000, but many of the seating sections are movable to allow different configurations of the playing field. (Yes, the spiral stairs are still there.)

In 2018, the stadium was scheduled to be redeveloped again, including the addition of a retractable roof.

Forsyth Barr Stadium, 2011, Dunedin, New Zealand

ETFE enclosed Forsyth Barr Stadium, New Zealand

Phil Walter / Getty Images 

When Forsyth Barr opened in 2011, the architects at Populous claimed it to be the "world’s only permanently enclosed, natural turf stadium" and the "largest ETFE covered structure in the Southern Hemisphere."

Unlike many other stadia, it's rectangular design and angled seating put the spectators closer to the action taking place on real grass. The architects and engineers spent two years experimenting with the best roof angle to use that would allow the proper sunlight to enter the stadium and keep the grass field in top condition. "The innovative use of ETFE and the success of the grass growth sets a new benchmark for North American and Northern European venues for the feasibility of grass growth under an enclosed structure," claims Populous.

University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

Inside University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, in 2006 with the roof open

Gene Lower / NFL / Getty Images

Architect Peter Eisenman designed an innovative facade for the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, but it's the playing field that really rocks and rolls.

The University of Phoenix Stadium has North America's first fully retractable natural grass playing field. The grass field rolls out of the stadium on an 18.9 million pound tray. The tray has a sophisticated irrigation system and holds a few inches of water to keep the grass moist. The field, with 94,000 square feet (over 2 acres) of natural grass, stays outside in the sun until game day. This allows the grass to get maximum sun and nourishment and also frees up the stadium floor for other events.

About the Name

Yes, that University of Phoenix, the school without an intercollegiate sports team to its name. Shortly after the Arizona Cardinals Stadium opened in 2006, naming rights were acquired by the Phoenix-based business, who uses this purchased privilege to brand and advertise the University of Phoenix. The stadium is owned and managed in part by the Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority.

About the Design

Architect Peter Eisenman worked in conjunction with HOK Sport, Hunt Construction Group, and Urban Earth Design to design an innovative, earth-friendly stadium for the University of Phoenix. Encompassing 1.7 million square feet, the Stadium is a multipurpose facility with the ability to host football, basketball, soccer, concerts, consumer shows, motorsports, rodeos, and corporate events. The University of Phoenix Stadium is located in Glendale, about fifteen minutes from downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

Peter Eisenman's design for the University of Phoenix Stadium is modeled after the shape of a barrel cactus. Along the stadium facade, vertical glass slots alternate with reflective metal panels. A translucent "Bird-Air" fabric roof fills the interior space with light and air. Two 550-ton panels in the roof can be opened during mild weather.

Field Facts

  • Dimensions: 234 by 403 feet of natural grass. Because it is independent of the stadium, its 39-inch depth is surrounded with berms
  • The field is on a tray that is like a large, flat railroad car on 13 rail tracks. It moves in and out of the stadium at about 1/8 mile per hour.
  • The field tray has 42 rows of wheels. Of the 546 steel wheels, 76 are powered by a one-horsepower motor, giving the entire tray a total power of 76 hp.
  • The entire stadium is angled on the building site to enable maximum sun exposure when the field is rolled outside.
  • The field takes about 75 minutes to move. The retractable roof situated directly over the playing field takes about 15 minutes to move.
  • Home of Super Bowl XLII (February 3, 2008, NY Giants 17, New England Patriots 14) and Super Bowl XLIX (February 1, 2015)

Retractable Roof Facts

  • The roof over the field is made of fabric, two panels each weighing 550 tons (more than a million pounds), held in place by tension.
  • The Teflon-coated PTFE woven fiberglass roof is manufactured by BIRDAIR.
  • When closed, the fabric roof allows light to enter the stadium (i.e., it is translucent).
  • The fabric roofing material is weather resistant and can withstand temperature extremes from -100°F to +450°F.
  • The fabric roof, supported by 700-foot long trusses, takes 12 to 15 minutes to open.

The Georgia Dome in Atlanta

Aerial view of the Georgia Dome, its iconic tensile roof

Ken Levine / ALLSPORT / Getty Images

With a 290-foot high fabric roof, the Georgia Dome was as tall as a 29-story building.

The iconic Atlanta stadium was large enough for major sporting events, concerts, and conventions. The 7-story building covered 8.9 acres, encompassed 1.6 million square feet, and could seat 71,250 spectators. And yet, careful architectural planning of the Georgia Dome gave the enormous space a feeling of intimacy. The stadium was oval and the seats were set relatively close to the field. The Teflon/fiberglass roof provided enclosure while admitting natural light, a good example of tensile architecture.

The famous domed roof was made of 130 Teflon-coated fiberglass panels that spanned a vast area of 8.6 acres. The cables that supported the roof were 11.1 miles long. A few years after the Georgia Dome was constructed, heavy rain pooled in a section of the roof and ripped it open. The roof was adapted to prevent future problems. The tornado that struck Atlanta in March 2008 ripped holes in the roof, but amazingly, the fiberglass panels did not cave in. It became the world's largest cable-supported domed stadium when it opened in 1992

On November 20, 2017, the Georgia Dome was demolished and replaced with a newer stadium.

San Nicola Stadium in Bari, Italy

Inside San Nicola Stadium in Bari, Italy

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Finished for the 1990 World Cup, San Nicola Stadium was named for Saint Nicholas, who is buried in Bari, Italy. The Italian architect and Pritzker Laureate Renzo Piano incorporated vast expanses of sky into the design of this saucer-shaped stadium.

Separated into 26 distinct "petals" or divisions, the tiered seating is covered with Teflon coated fiberglass fabric held in place with tubular stainless steel. Piano's Building Workshop developed what they called a "large flower" made of concrete — the building material of the day — which blooms with a space-age fabric roof.

Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

Pirate Ship at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

Home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NCAA's South Florida Bulls football team, the Raymond James Stadium is famous for its 103-foot, 43-ton pirate ship.

The stadium is a sleek, sophisticated structure with soaring glass atria and two enormous scoreboards, each spanning 94 feet wide by 24 feet high. But, for many visitors, the stadium's most memorable feature is the 103-foot steel-and-concrete pirate ship docked in the north end zone.

Modeled after a pirate ship from the early 1800s, the ship at Raymond James Stadium creates a dramatic spectacle at Buccaneer games. Whenever the Buccaneer team scores a field goal or a touchdown, the ship's cannon fires rubber footballs and confetti. An animatronic parrot perches on the ship's stern and chatters to football fans. The ship is part of Buccaneer Cove, a make-believe Caribbean village with concession stands selling tropical drinks.

While under construction, the Raymond James Stadium was called the Tampa Community Stadium. The stadium is now sometimes called the Ray Jay and the New Sombrero. The stadium's official name comes from the Raymond James Financial company, which purchased the naming rights shortly before the stadium opened.

Opened: September 20, 1998
Stadium Architect: HOK Sport
Pirate Ship and Buccaneer Cove: HOK Studio E and The Nassal Company
Construction Managers: Huber, Hunt & Nichols,
Joint Venture with Metric
Seats: 66,000, expandable to 75,000 for special events. New seats were installed in 2006 because the originals faded from red to pink

London Aquatics Centre, England

Geometric oval with two wings attached as the Aquatics Centre Designed for the 2012 London

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) / Getty Images

The two wings were temporary, but now this sweeping structure is a permanent site for aquatic activities at London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Iraq-born Pritzker Laureate Zaha Hadid created a dramatic venue for the 2012 London Olympic games.

  • Time Frame: 2005 – 2011; construction from July 2008 - July 2011
  • Size: 36,875 square meters (396,919 square feet)
  • Seating: 17,500 for Olympics; 2,500 permanent
  • Footprint Area: 21,897 square meters for Olympics (235,697 square feet); 15,950 square meters permanent (171,684 square feet)
  • Roof: 160 meters (525 feet) long and up to 80 meters (262 feet) wide (longer single span than Heathrow Terminal 5)
  • Pools (180,000+ tiles): 50 meter competition pool; 25 meter competition diving pool; 50 meter warm-up pool; warm-up area for divers

Architect's Statement

"A concept inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a wave, enclosing the pools of the Centre with its unifying gesture."—Zaha Hadid Architects

London 2012 Statement

"The venue's roof proved to be one of the most complex engineering challenges of the Olympic Park big build. Its skeletal structure rests on just two concrete supports at the northern end of the building and a supporting 'wall' at its southern end. This steel framework was initially constructed on temporary supports, before the entire 3,000-tonne structure was lifted up 1.3m in a single movement and successfully placed back down on to its permanent concrete supports."—Official London 2012 website

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Amalie Arena When It Was Called St. Pete Times Forum, in Tampa, Florida

Andy Lyons / Getty Images

When the St. Petersburg Times newspaper changed its name to the Tampa Bay Times in 2011, the name of the sports arena changed, too. It's changed again. Amalie Oil Company, based in Tampa, Florida, bought the naming rights in 2014.

"Boasting unique features like lightning-throwing Tesla coils, an 11,000 square-foot Bud Light party deck with incredible views of the city and a massive five-manual, 105-rank digital pipe organ," says the Forum's official website, this stadium in Tampa "consistently ranks among the very best venues in the United States."

  • Location: 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida
  • Opened: October 20, 1996
  • Other names: Ice Palace (1996 - 2002); St. Pete Times Forum (2002 - 2011); Tampa Bay Times Forum (2012-2014); Amalie Arena (August 2014)
  • Size: 133 feet 10 inches high; 493 diameter; 670,000 square feet
  • Construction materials: 3,400 tons of steel; 30,000 cubic yards of concrete; 70,000 square feet of glass
  • Seating Capacity: 19,500 for hockey; 10,500 for arena football
  • Architect, Engineering, and Construction: Ellerbe Becket in Kansas City

Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC

The Time Warner Cable Arena, also known as the Charlotte Bobcats Arena, in North Carolina

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Crecent-shaped as a letter C, the publicly-funded architecture symbolically reflects the Charlotte, North Carolina community.

"The steel and brick elements of the design are oriented to the urban fabric and represent the strength, stability, and foundation of Charlotte's heritage," said the Arena's official Website.

  • Opened: October 2005
  • Location: 333 East Trade Street, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Other names: Charlotte Bobcats Arena (2005-2008); Time Warner Cable Arena (2008-2016)
  • Size: 780,000 square feet (72,464 square meters)
  • Seating Capacity: 19,026 (NBA basketball); 20,200 maximum (college basketball); 14,100 (hockey); 4,000–7,000 (theatre)
  • Architects: Ellerbe Becket

Why is it called Spectrum?

Charter Communications completed its buyout of Time Warner Cable in 2016. Then why not call it "Charter," you might ask. " Spectrum is the brand name of Charter's all-digital TV, internet and voice offerings," explains the press release.

So, the stadium is now named after a product?

President Obama's re-election campaign officially began in Charlotte, North Carolina as the Democratic National Convention was held at the Time Warner Cable Arena in September 2012. The Charlotte Convention Center provided additional meeting space for the media and convention-goers.

Other Work by Ellerbe Becket

  • Design team (environmental graphics) for Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan
  • Architectural team for Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia
  • TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona

Note: In 2009, Kansas City-based Ellerbe Becket was acquired by Los Angeles-based AECOM Technology Corp.

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Photo of sports stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, behind a highway of traffic

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Unlike Charlotte's enclosed Spectrum Center, the open-air Bank of America Stadium in North Carolina was built with private funds and without taxpayer money.

"The stadium facade features many unique elements, such as massive arches and towers at the entries, clad in building materials that accent the team colors of black, silver and Panthers blue," says the Website of the Carolina Panthers, home football team of the Bank of America Stadium.

  • Opened: 1996
  • Other names: Carolinas Stadium (planning stage); Ericsson Stadium (1996–2004); Bank of America Stadium (2004 - )
  • Size: 13 stories high (180 feet), 900 feet long, 800 feet wide; 1,600,000 square feet; 15 acres (33 acres total)
  • Seating Capacity: 73,778
  • Fields: Playing field of natural grass (hybrid Bermuda) drains 10-12 inches of rain per hour; 3 practice fields, two of natural grass and one of artificial turf
  • Architects: Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum (HOK) Sports Facilities Group of Kansas City

President Obama Avoids Uncertainty

President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign officially began in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Democratic National Convention was held at the then-named Time Warner Cable Arena. The Charlotte Convention Center provided additional meeting space for the media and convention-goers. The President's acceptance speech was scheduled to be given at Bank of America Stadium on natural grass and in the open air, but plans were changed at the last minute.

Other Work by HOK Sports

  • Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
  • Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado
  • University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
  • Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, site of the 2008 Republican National Convention

Note: In 2009, HOK Sports became known as Populous.

NRG Park in Houston, Texas

Houston Astrodome (left) and hurricane-damaged roof of Reliant Stadium (right)

Smiley N. Pool-Pool / Getty Images

Historic architecture is problematic when venues become outdated for their purposes. Such was the case with the world's first super-stadium, the Astrodome.

Locals called the Houston Astrodome The Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in 1965. The building's state-of-the-art architecture and technology formed the basis of Reliant Park, what is now known as NRG Park.

What Are the Venues?

  • Houston Astrodome: opened April 9, 1965 (architect: Lloyd and Morgan), one of the first professional sports venues to use Astroturf. Often cited as America's first indoor sports arena, the Astrodome never hosted a Super Bowl game.
  • Arena: opened February 14, 1971 (architect: Lloyd Jones & Associates), 349,000 gross sq. ft., fixed seating (main arena: 5,800; pavilion: 1,700)
  • Center: opened April 12, 2002 (architect: Hermes Reed Architects), single-level exhibition building, 1.4 million total sq. ft. (590 feet wide; 1532 feet long); 706,213 sq.ft. total exhibit area
  • NRG Stadium: opened September 8, 2002 (architects: HSC and HOK)
    Total size: 1.9 million square feet
    Seating Capacity: 71,500
    Field: 97,000 sq. ft. of natural grass
    Retractable Roof Opening time: 10 minutes
    Size of roof opening: 500 feet long; 385 feet wide
    Size of supertruss: 960 feet long; 50-75 feet wide
    Roof material: steel with Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric architecture covering
    Hurricane Ike: damaged roof in 2008
    Host of Super Bowl LI in 2017

Park Master Plan Analysis and Recommendations

The Arena has become outdated — touring productions have outgrown the Arena's low ceilings and inadequate technologies. Likewise, the Astrodome closed since 2008, has become insufficient next to the newer Reliant Stadium. The Astrodome is rich in U.S. history, however, including being home to Louisianans displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2012, the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation (HCSCC) began the long process of analysis in order to form recommendations for the future of Park. NRG Energy bought Reliant Energy, so although the name has changed, the commitment to the future of this complex has not changed.

Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany

Olympic Stadium, 1972, in Munich, Germany

Jon Arnold / Getty Images

In 2015, German architect Frei Otto became a Pritzker Laureate, in large part for his contribution to the roofing technology throughout Munich's Olympic Park.

Constructed before high-powered computer-aided design (CAD) programs, the geometric tensile architecture roofing throughout the 1972 Olympic Park was one of the first large-scale projects of its kind. Like the German Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo, but much larger, the tent-like structure on the stadium venue was prefabricated off-site and assembled on-site.

Other Names: Olympiastadion
Location: Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Opened: 1972
Architects: Günther Behnisch and Frei Otto
Builder: Bilfinger Berger
Size: 853 x 820 feet (260 x 250 meters)
Seating: 57,450 seats and 11,800 standing places, 100 places for disabled persons
Construction Materials: Steel tube masts; steel suspension cables and wire ropes forming a cable net; transparent acrylic panes (9 1/2 feet square; 4 mm thick) attached to the cable net
Design Intention: The roof was designed to emulate the locality (the Alps)

Allianz Arena, 2005

Aerial View Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany
Lutz Bongarts / Bongarts / Getty Images

The Pritzker-winning architecture team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron won the competition to build a world-class football stadium in München-Fröttmaning, Germany. Their design plan was to create an "illuminated body" whose skin would consist of "large, shimmering white, diamond-shaped ETFE cushions, each of which can be illuminated separately in white, red or light blue."

The stadium was one of the first to be built with Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a transparent polymer sheeting.

US Bank Stadium, 2016, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Inside photo of US Bank Stadium, built in 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with a high-tech ETFE polymer roof that looks like glass panels

Adam Bettcher / Getty Images

Will this sports stadium forever end the retractable roof phase of sports architectural needs?

Architects at HKS designed an enclosed stadium for the Minnesota Vikings that defies the Minneapolis winters. With a roof made of Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) material, the 2016 US Bank Stadium is an experiment for American sports stadia construction. Their inspiration was the success of the 2011 Forsyth Barr Stadium in New Zealand.

The design problem is this: how do you keep natural grass growing inside an enclosed building? Although ETFE has been used for years throughout Europe, such as on the 2005 Allianz Arena in Germany, Americans have had a love affair with the brute strength of the big domed stadium with a retractable roof. With the US Bank Stadium, an old problem is solved in a new way. Three layers of ETFE, welded together into aluminum frames and inserted into steel grids over the playing field, provide what the sports franchise hopes to be the perfect indoor-outdoor experience.


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Craven, Jackie. "Arena Architecture and the Stadium." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, Craven, Jackie. (2021, September 3). Arena Architecture and the Stadium. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "Arena Architecture and the Stadium." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).