Stadium Design

Field of Jeans

The opening of the Levi’s Stadium heralded the dawn of a new era for stadium design. The venue, home of the San Francisco 49ers, has been described as the most technologically advanced building in sports. Tom Walker reports


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Since opening in August 2014, Levi’s Stadium has hosted Taylor Swift, One Direction and the Grateful Dead; Manchester United against Barcelona; Wrestlemania 31, a National Hockey League game and the SuperBowl – the biggest sporting event of the year. The rest of the time, the multi-purpose stadium is home to the San Francisco 49ers, one of the most successful franchises in the history of the National Football League (NFL).

Designed by HNTB, the 68,500-capacity Levi’s Stadium is an open stadium with a natural grass field. Located in Santa Clara, about 65km from San Francisco, California, the venue features landscaped pedestrian plazas, commercial community spaces, a 49ers superstore and a Hall of Fame and museum dedicated to the history of the team. In 2013, the 49ers secured the US$220m 20-year stadium naming deal with clothing giant Levi Strauss & Co.

The stadium’s design, which places two-thirds of the crowd in the lower bowl, allows it to cater for a range of events – from football and motocross to concerts and civic events. As well as being fully accessible to people with disabilities, it also meets the FIFA requirements for international-level association football, so it can host international friendly matches and major tournaments. 

To add to Levi’s Stadium versatility, its capacity is expandable to 75,000 to accommodate major events that require a smaller field. On 27 June 2015, the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well tour managed to pack 83,000 into the fully expanded stadium.

Green design
What makes the Levi’s Stadium special, however, is the level of environmental sustainability and technology built into it – it’s widely touted as the greenest stadium in the US. The venue is one of the largest buildings registered with the US Green Building Council and the first stadium with both a green roof and solar panels.

In total the stadium boasts 1,800sqm of solar photovoltaic panels, supplied by local company SunPower. The panels generate enough power to offset the electricity that’s used during home games. For the power it needs to buy in from electricity suppliers, the 49ers have an agreement with energy giant NRG Energy to ensure sustainable power is being used. Through the unique partnership, NRG helped the new facility become the first professional football stadium to open with LEED certification.

Further green initiatives and solutions include a high-efficiency geothermal water system and a unique green roof which includes a waterproof membrane covered with plants. The roof absorbs rainwater, provides eco-friendly insulation and helps lower urban air temperatures and mitigate the heat island effect. The greywater within the stadium is recycled and reused throughout the venue and a range of public transport and convenient bicycle parking helps cut down the use of cars.

San Francisco 49ers project executive Jack Hill says sustainability is at the centre of the design. “We’ve incorporated a lot of energy saving measures within the stadium itself and we incorporated green thinking into everything – such as recycling most of the construction debris.”

Technological revolution
Not only is Levi’s Stadium one of the most eco-friendly in the world, it’s also one of the most technologically advanced. According to CEO Jed York, the aim was always to have a ticketless, cashless building that enabled visitors to present their passes, order food and purchase goods with their mobile devices. Fans’ tablets and smart phones become personal entertainment centres, information points and scoreboards thanks to the 49ers mobile app.

The custom-designed app features a real-time dashboard for game-day fan tech features and a data analytics suite for use by the team’s executives. It allows fans to step away from their seats – to visit bathrooms or to make purchase at retail and F&B points – without missing any action. The app features a live feed of the game, replays, stats and even a queue times at the stadium’s various points of sale.

For the app to work, though, fans needed reliable access to the Internet – and a lot of bandwidth – so the stadium installed the best publicly accessible Wi-Fi network of a sports facility anywhere in the US. All 68,500 fans can access high-speed Internet simultaneously. The limits of large-scale bandwidth previously meant that stadium operators have found it impossible to build a network that would let every single fan connect at once. To solve the issue, The 49ers had to recruit two top-class IT professionals from nearby Silicon Valley, who devised a way to bring a terabit of wireless capacity to the stadium. That means that if every single fan uses a smart device at the game, each would still have around 15MB to use.

The club’s chief technology officer is Kunal Malik, regarded as one of Silicon Valley’s leading tech experts and the man who led the creation of the IT department at Facebook. Malik compared working on the Levi’s Stadium to working on a “blank piece of paper to redefine the fan experience”.

The stadium also boasts two gigantic, 15-metre HD-quality Daktronics screens at either end of the stadium, and a metre-tall “ribbon” border display that wraps around the length of the 500-metre inner bowl.

According to club president Gideon Yu: “The vision for Levi’s Stadium was to create the ultimate fan experience through the use of innovative technology. The stadium has ground-breaking visual elements, setting its in-stadium experience apart from all other outdoor sports venues and rivalling the home viewing option.”

Stadium stats

Designer/architect: HNTB

Project manager: Hathaway Consulting

Structural engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Opening date: August 2014

Cost to build: US$1.2bn

Total footprint: 177,000sqm

Capacity: 68,500 (can be expanded to 75,000)

Total area of scoreboards: 1,300sqm

Retail points of sale: 370

Restroom fixtures: 1,135

Levi’s Stadium
Levi’s Stadium
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