HKS-designed SoFi Stadium kaleidoscopic
Dallas, Texas (US)-headquartered HKS is an American international design firm of more than 1,400 architects, interior designers, urban designers, scientists, artists, anthropologists, and more.
The celebrated design practice leaves its mark on whatever it creates – whether it is creating memorable experiences for sports fans, providing a world away to resort guests, or enabling teens living with cancer to support one another. HKS believes that design can change people’s lives for the better.
HKS has lent its pièce de résistance design to the smashing SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California (US) which opened its doors on September 8th, 2020. The 70,000-capacity SoFi Stadium is a stadium and entertainment complex in Inglewood, California, United States. It is located at the former site of the Hollywood Park Racetrack, three miles from the Los Angeles International Airport, immediately Southeast of The Forum.
In a riveting conversation, Lance Evans, Principal-cum-Senior Vice-President, HKS, US, shares exclusive details with ‘Coliseum’ as to how challenging it was to design a magnum opus like SoFi Stadium which is not only the toast of California today but the whole of United States and the stadium design has definitely made fans and the sports venue sector people the world over sit up and take notice.
SoFi Stadium is an architectural piece which gives visual inspiration and the very image of the stadium transcends our imagination.
The SoFi Stadium is indeed a modern marvel and crowning glory in HKS’s history of architectural achievement. Going by Lance Evans detailed description, it is but apparent that the architects at HKS have ‘dolled up the stadium like a bride’ and has done considerable elbow grease to bring the facility to its stupendous shape.
When HKS landed the design of SoFi Stadium it was the first indoor-outdoor stadium to be constructed as Lance Evans explained, “Every project for us at HKS starts with trying to extract the essence of it. So, in Los Angeles, for us it was about how we capture the indoor-outdoor lifestyle, the entertainment capital of the world, the energy and excitement of visiting Los Angeles and also the beauty of the region.”
He gave a vivid description as regards the energy of the coastline, the sweeping curves, the beauty of the natural environment and the cherry on the cake – the SoFi Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park.
The SoFi Stadium is the home ground of the National Football League (NFL) teams – Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers and “the ability to have the NFL teams come to Los Angeles we were very clear on one aspect – the stadium will have to be a masterpiece as the Rams owner Stan Kroenke made it clear that it had to be something more than just an NFL venue”.
Brainstorming sessions followed and the architects at HKS proposed that it will have to be a NFL stadium with a capacity to hold 70,000 to 100,000, spectators and it will feature a public park spread over three acres which will be covered by a roof and also a 6,000-seat performance venue all over one monumental roof. The American Plaza is at the center and the YouTube Theater, the 6,000-seat venue sits to the right of SoFi Stadium – all underneath a monumental sweeping roof canopy and it creates a dramatic and memorable impression when one visits the site anchored around the Lake Park.
The community angle was of great significance to HKS as it was all about the community and the building which was for Southern Californian Inglewood.
Explained Evans, “The community sentiment had to be looked into as the stadium sat on the old Hollywood Park Racetrack, and 100,000 of visitors used to visit this Racetrack when it was in operation and the infield also served as one of the primary public gathering spaces for the community in Inglewood – birthday parties, weddings, everything was celebrated around that beautiful lake in the infield of Hollywood Park.”
Evans further stated that they knew from Day One that they were not going to put the NFL venue (SoFi Stadium) in the heart of this 300-acre entertainment destination. They were actually going to develop the entire program around publicly accessible parkland. So, there was at their disposal over 25 acres of publicly accessible parkland that act as the anchoring catalyst of the development around the site which included retail, hospitality, commercial, and the space where the ravishing venue is housed now, as well as the residential space and as Evans puts it, “The greatest dynamic is the environment”.
Added Evans, “What was interesting and challenging from the design perspective was that our building was actually right in between the North and South runways of Los Angeles International Airport. And for that we had to embed the stadium around 100 feet into the ground to work with an FAA height that became one of the big design drivers for us. The best part is that air passengers are greeted by the beautiful form of the stadium.”
- Proximity to LAX Airport means a stringent height limit must be respected;
- The stadium is embedded 100’ into the terrain;
- The large roof guarantees protection for all events;
- Influenced by the sweeping beauty of the Southern California coastline;
- The roof anchors to the ground in four locations to provide stability against seismic loads;
- Columns acknowledge the immediate architectural context;
- Porous envelope connects the stadium with its environment; and
- Three venues in one – Stadium, Plaza and Performance Venue – At No. 9 is the American Airlines Plaza – a two-tiered public space and then YouTube Theater at the right.
One of the most interesting things HKS did was using the landscape and the idea of designing for ecologies as a great tool to explain the rich diversity of Southern California. If one walks around the venue, the stadium provides a kind of educational tour around those different sites.
HKS accorded top priority to judicious use of water as drought persist in Southern California. The design studio has collected all the rainwater that actually gets filtered back into the Lake Park, the water then gets treated naturally in the Lake and is redistributed for irrigation throughout the district as he stated, “It is really an innovative solution to deal with water management in Southern California. But they have created these wonderfully diverse and rich environments for fans and the community to engage with the project (water harvesting) when they would visit SoFi Stadium on a gameday.”
Way to go!
The stadium has been so designed that the landscape and the stadium start to have this great dialog with each other. He pointed out that the ingress point of the spiffy stadium is a lot more different than the other stadia, “Where you start to see this interaction between the landscape and the stadium and what we have done is allow that landscape to follow visitors inside the stadium so each one of our entries into the building we wanted to provide connectivity to the playing surface – the sky and the landscape. So, as you are going into the building, you are always in tune with the action of the event that’s happening in the stadium and also the surroundings.”
The entry for VIP guests to the East side of SoFi Stadium is a vision – the roof touches the ground and it is quite different than the typical NFL venue. The patio clubs create these wonderful environments that allow for unique opportunities to engage with the natural surroundings and are a very enchanting kind of experience.
What’s covering the entry points of the amazing arena is the monumental canopy. It is composed of two primary materials as Evans shared, “There are 35,000 of these triangulated panels each with their own digital footprint perforation patterns that we use to play with light and shadow throughout the stadium. It was actually the first time in North America that digital model was used as a construction document. So, we actually took the digital model of the roof, gave it directly to our fabricators and contractors and they built directly from our file, from our model.”
Evans informed that there has also been rich play of light and texture as one looks around the venue it is simply scintillating – the diversity and the way the building changes and adapts throughout the day and throughout the night – it becomes quite wonderful. Again at night, the color-changing LED systems gets woven into the warp and weft of these wonderful textures with perforated patterns and creates a strong visual statement.
A major challenge which the HKS team faced while designing the building – the stadium had an active fault line at the East end and “So how do we design a stadium with an active fault line around us while we knew we were embedding the building almost 100 feet into the ground. To overcome the challenge, our design team worked with the engineers and we actually isolated the seating box structure from the roof structure so that the two can move independently together and we separated them. The roof can move independently and has seismic isolators on top and then the primary structure of the roof itself layers over the top and allows those systems to kind of move in and out.”
He further explained that the seismic moat allows five feet of movement in either direction – the roof or the seating bowl inside that moat without the two coming together. But, in the built form they really sit nicely on the overall shape and geometry and architectural expression of the building whether it be the blade count or one of the roof abutment as it touches down. They blend into their architectural form and just become part of the system.
Adaptive and passive strategies
The form was created to encourage flow, provide relief from direct sun and protection from rain all while maintaining connection with the outdoors. ETFE allows the stadium and plaza to be naturally lit.
The canopy also features a series of operable roof panels that are programed to pressurize and relieve air movement during differing wind patterns to enable a dynamic and systematic approach to handle a variety of climatic conditions.
Evans elaborated, “One of the great strategies we had of working with the climate in Los Angeles was this idea of how do we create a building that could be the best version of an outdoor stadium. So, with that we used the ETFE material over the roof, a transparent membrane, a single layer to allow all the natural light into the building and we also sculpted the seating bowl to capture prevailing winds from the ocean into our building. And we were one step further in promoting that air movement. We placed a series of walkable panels around the building which is almost like numbers on the face of a clock. But they can open and close based on the direction of the wind, ambient temperature, a relative humidity to promote that air movement to create the most controllable version of an outdoor building for that particular day in this particular climate.”
The panels on the roof operate on a very simple system where the panels slide on rails in the single-layer ETFE roof. The LED pucks embedded on the roof are sky facing and have turned the roof into a billboard for Los Angeles and are “almost like the world’s largest TV screen”.
The inside of the stadium promises to awe visitors with the lovely glow of the natural light coming into the building and a very asymmetrical seating bowl has been created that allows that natural light and air into the facility and also creates these really rich and vibrant places to connect with the action and the game – whether one is in the concourse looking out or in the bowl looking back – they become great spaces for sponsorship, branding, fan activation, and fan engagement and is a vision for the eyes.
At the heart of SoFi Stadium is the Infinity Board. It’s a hung elliptical two-sided video surface and the videoboard too does not cease to amaze – “It holds all of the audio, the speaker system for the facility, everything that is communicating entertainment in the building is housed in the Infinity Board” and Rams owner Stan Kroenke told HKS clearly that he wanted that connectivity to the sky and “we decided to do something out-of-the-box kind. So, we came up with this elliptical shape that powers the entire width and length of the surface to allow that connectivity to the sky at all times but gives the content and the imagery closer to the fans when they are in the game.”
The videoboard has this great opportunity – digital immersion where the teams or the entertainers they come here can take over all the digital content – the building, the roofs facing the sky facing LEDs, the videoboard, the ribbon boards, all the TVS and the concessions in the suites create a theater of digital content and it really enlivens the environment, colors saturate the seating bowl that becomes a very memorable moment when fans come to the stadium for a game.
Evans concluded by stating, “It’s been wonderful to see fans in SoFi Stadium this year. The building is so energetic and it has become quite loud to the combination of the design of the seating bowl and the ETFE materials are pretty outstanding. The videoboard also becomes a backdrop for our concessions and bars that are up the building. So, you never lose kind of connection in contact with the video surface and the video technology.”
The SoFi Stadium has indeed been quite a remarkable feat of engineering and construction and the design lent by HKS is at its visionary best which engages, exhilarates and inspires. The design of SoFi Stadium possesses a quality which is almost indescribable and one has to be inside the marvellous stadium to understand what it is all about. In SoFi Stadium, HKS has indeed married social and environmental responsibility to aesthetic ambition.
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