HNTB shaped Levi’s Stadium, site of Super Bowl 50

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which was designed by HNTB of Kansas City, emphasizes open spaces, revealed structures and advanced technologies.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which was designed by HNTB of Kansas City, emphasizes open spaces, revealed structures and advanced technologies.

The spotlight of Super Bowl 50, alas, will not be on Kansas City football talent.

But the city’s architectural talent will be on display constantly for the 72,000 fans at the game Sunday, and for the millions of others watching at home.

HNTB — started in 1914 in Kansas City and still headquartered downtown — designed the game site, $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium. And the firm’s 70-plus architects and designers who worked on the stadium made sure it was like no other.

“We designed a structure for Silicon Valley,” said Tim Cahill, HNTB senior vice president and chief design officer for architecture. “That meant looking forward, not back.”

The Kansas City architects and designers behind this year's Super Bowl site, Levi's Stadium, talk about how their century-old firm shaped this stadium of the future.

The stadium, though owned by the city of Santa Clara, is home for the San Francisco 49ers, and Cahill said HNTB had to meet the football owners’ goals for serving the fans, honoring the environment and using the best technology.

▪ For the fans, open design was emphasized, starting with no outer “skin” on the structure and two 18,000-square-foot entry plazas that invite people in and heighten their anticipation as they ascend escalators.

“Every detail along the way was thought out,” said Scott Capstack, director of design at HNTB and design architect for Levi’s Stadium. The owners wanted every fan, up to the top row, to have a good view and a great experience, he said.

That also meant putting lots of seats close to the field, Cahill said, and resulted in a lower bowl with 45,000 seats and far fewer seats than typical in the upper deck.

Glass-enclosed lounges and open terraces also provided views of the field and of the surrounding valley and the San Francisco Bay to the north.

▪ For the environment, that meant features such as LED lighting, use of recycled water for 80 percent of the stadium’s needs, solar panels and 16 types of native plants on the 27,000-square-foot “living roof” of the luxury boxes. Those and other features made Levi’s the first new NFL stadium to earn LEED Gold certification, signifying Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design.

The stadium also takes advantage of the area’s transportation access by 11 highway interchanges, bus routes, two train lines, light rail and a bicycle trail.

▪ The advanced technology includes two 9,600-square-foot high-definition video boards and about 400 miles of fiber-optic cable helping provide free Wi-Fi throughout.

Further, Cahill and Capstack said, those goals were met in record time for an NFL stadium. Levi’s was built in just 26 months, versus the typical 32 months, and opened in July 2014.

Levi’s Stadium also was unusual in that the third HNTB leader for the project, Wesley Crosby, got the chance to make the stadium not just functional, but beautiful. HNTB got to design the entire structure, including interior design, which usually isn’t the case at a stadium.

“We were able to bring to the project an emphasis on craft that historically has not found its way into these projects,” said Crosby, director of design for interior architecture.

So instead of a hot dog and beer stand, a fan in search of food can find an airy lounge with gourmet food and a good wine selection.

An emphasis on using local and recycled materials also brought some nice touches — such as old-growth redwood decor in the Owner’s Club lounge, salvaged from aircraft hangars once used by Howard Hughes.

HNTB is employee owned and is also known for its highway and other infrastructure work. It has 3,800 employees in 60 offices in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

Design coup No. 2

Though the big game is in Silicon Valley, San Francisco also has been playing the role of host — again with some Kansas City design help.

For the 10 days leading up to the game, a string of displays called Super Bowl City has been providing information and entertainment at the foot of the city’s famed Market Street. One of those displays is the work of three Kansas City area companies — DesignHaus, Native and Dimensional Innovations. They collaborated to turn a shipping container into an inviting walk-through space telling people about the city of San Jose.

Mike Hauser, owner of DesignHaus, said securing the project took a series of connections, and completing it on a tight six-week deadline took a lot of teamwork.

The firms helped one another with suggestions, he said, and were open to ideas outside of their specialties and assigned tasks. As a result of the firms’ various strengths and collaboration, Hauser said, “I’ve never had a project come together so easily, though there were challenges.”

San Jose already was a client of Native, which had helped the city with rebranding. And Hauser, whose firm does interior and exterior design, had recently met Native’s Justin Watkins through a mutual friend.

So when San Jose asked Watkins whether he knew an interior design firm for a project, he thought of Hauser, and together they pitched an idea that won the work from San Jose. Hauser and other DesignHaus staff had worked with Dimensional Innovations often over the years, he said, and that firm helped secure the shipping container and get it rebuilt to their design.

Much of that work was done in the area, and then the display was shipped to California.