An Architect’s Dream: Designing a Super Bowl Stadium

I know. This story’s title makes it sound like I’m playing in the big game, doesn’t it? But in my own way, I’ll be down on the field come Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a dream come true to be part of the team that designed U.S. Bank Stadium, host to this year’s Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. Like the NFL franchises taking part in Super Bowl Sunday, our design team here at HKS is pumped. We worked hard to reach this moment, and we’ll revel in every minute.

I’m the ultimate sports fan. Growing up in Texas, my friends and I would gather in the backyard and relive all the great plays of our boyhood idols, the Dallas Cowboys’ Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Their games with the San Francisco 49ers were epic. I played baseball and basketball in high school, but my coaches recommended I do something else for a living. One path fizzled, and another opened.

I went to Texas Tech University to study architecture, but my parents will tell you that I’ve been an architect since age five. When we’d go to Galveston on vacation, I didn’t want to play in the ocean—I wanted to look at houses. I was enamored with the island’s gorgeous, historic late 19th century homes. I was constantly building and sketching, exploring the built environment. After college, I knew I wanted to experience other parts of the country, and a professor mentioned HKS. He said it was known as a firm that really understood how to put a building together, and I figured that was something I’d better learn how to do, whether I was designing homes or something else. I got an opportunity to relocate and join HKS in Los Angeles 14 years ago.

I was about six months into my career when HKS won the commission to design the Dallas Cowboys’ home field, AT&T Stadium. I couldn’t think of anything more incredible than uniting my chosen profession with my love of sports – not to mention a chance to work on a new home for my Cowboys. I begged my bosses to let me work on the project. My persistence paid off – with time, they succumbed to my pleading, and I landed my dream job.

With the debut of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 (another HKS project) and AT&T Stadium in 2009, the era of multipurpose, high-tech, high design entertainment venues ushered in the modern stadium era. For design aficionados like myself, locating stadiums in the heart of cities recalls an ancient precedent, when stadia were the public gathering places, the hubs of entertainment and excitement. In ancient Rome, there were no freeways or cars to whisk people away to the suburbs for a gladiator match; the Coliseum was the heart of the city.

Today, U.S. Bank Stadium is the heartbeat in downtown Minneapolis. And while we celebrate moments like the Super Bowl, when we begin the design process, we think about what it will be like on any given Tuesday as much as we do on an NFL Sunday—we want them both to feel special. That’s what’s so incredible about the exterior spaces we designed outside U.S. Bank Stadium. The energy inside the stadium radiates onto the public realm, spilling out through the stadium’s Legacy Gate, home to the world’s largest pivoting glass doors onto a nearly three-acre plaza that the locals call “The Commons.” The family-friendly atmosphere here on game days, even when it’s cold and there’s snow on the ground, exudes excitement, people in purple and all things Vikings.

Stadium design is often years in the making. It is highly complex, requires a massive team effort, it’s intense and often highly secretive. When one of these billion dollar-plus mega marvels finally opens its doors, there is no feeling that describes the elation of the design team. I was fortunate enough to be on the field when the Vikings players entered U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time. To witness their expressions and awe was incredible. It was like reliving my own childhood awe and joy of the special sports moments and memories that the athletes I admired growing up gave to me, only in reverse. There I stood, giving NFL football players a moment they would always remember. No words describe the emotions that entailed.

There’s a reason why we call an architecture firm a practice. Every day we practice our craft. The Super Bowl of design or the NFL Super Bowl is rarefied air that you can’t reach without incredible persistence, hard work and tons of practice. Putting time into both team and individual efforts pays off in the final performance. Team chemistry, timing and a little luck also help.

So on Super Bowl Sunday, when you hear interviews of the players or coaching staff throwing out clichés trying to describe this amazing feeling, just know that for the design team, too, there simply are no words.