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Practical considerations aside, Vikings stadium design is impressive

Minnesota Vikings
HKS unveiled this design for the new Vikings stadium Monday night for official approval by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

Just for a moment, let’s forget about whether the money from electronic pulltabs will be enough to pay for the new Vikings stadium. Or whether there will be cost overruns. Or whether football will continue to be popular. Or whether tax dollars should be used to finance a stadium to begin with.

Let’s forget about all those practical considerations and ponder the design that architects unveiled Monday night for official approval by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the unofficial approval (or disapproval) of herds of local notables and football fans crowding the Guthrie’s Wurtele Thrust theater.  

If you put all that aside, you would have to grudgingly—or maybe not so grudgingly—admit that the plan for the new structure is impressive.

In devising their schematic, HKS, the architects, entertained a mash up of ideas: that such a building should not fight its climate; that it should use materials that work in this environment; that it harmonize with the public structures we already have; and that it incorporate digital technology and meet the criteria of sustainability. Wondrously, in the design they came up with that mashing became a meshing.

Take the weather problem, for example. The low domed roofs used in many stadium designs—suitable perhaps for places like New Orleans—require a huge amount of reinforcement to withstand Minnesota’s heavy snows, like the 27-incher that caused  dome-plosion back in 2010. Instead, said Brian Trubey, HKS’design principal, the mantra became “get the snow off the roof.” So the roof of the new stadium will be pitched steeply enough to shed the snow automatically. That configuration allows for lighter and less costly structural support.

Clumps of snow?

I do worry about Volkswagen-sized clumps of snow landing on hapless pedestrians. But I’m hoping that HKS can solve that problem because the pitched roof gives the building a look that’s unlike most stadiums you’ll ever see with a peak that at one end will be perhaps 10 stories tall. It also allows heat from the sun to collect in the highest portion of the building— the so-called loft. That warm air can be shunted down to the stands on cold days and vented outside on hot ones.

Half of the stadium’s roof will be covered with a material known as ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, in case you wondered), a transparent polymer used for the Water Cube aquatics center in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Trellis-like structures would under-gird the roof while most of the exterior walls would be glass, which is, given all that sand we’ve got, an indigenous material. One wall would allow for views of downtown Minneapolis, and the front of the building would open up to the plaza through four 95-foot-high pivoting glass doors. I’ve seen a much smaller version of such a door—about 30 feet high—in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and it was stunning.

Vikings stadium design by HKS
Minnesota Vikings

Add in some zinc framing, which, Trubey asserted, develops a patina with age that transforms its coloration with the change of season and hours of the day, and you’ve got a building that is striking. Some people have said that it looks like a ship; I think asymmetric greenhouse is more like it. But oddball structures, Trubey asserted, are very much in line with Minneapolis’ historic tilt toward the non-traditional. To prove the point, he showed slides of other local architectural icons: the Walker Art Center, the Weisman Museum, the downtown library, the Guthrie and that spoon with the cherry in it.

I can already hear people kvetching, “What about the retractable roof?” I am not sure why it’s so important. Yes, it’s pleasant to sit in the open air (though not often during the late fall and winter), but Trubey explained that it can’t be operated under certain climactic conditions (he didn’t specify which, but I would guess ours), and that many stadiums that have them (and he emphasized that HKS had built several) didn’t use them all that often. By foregoing the $40 million to $60 million extra, the architects could add other goodies.

Goodies aplenty

And there are goodies aplenty, all of them bringing roars of approval from the Guthrie audience: two of “the largest video boards in the NFL,” each 120 by 50 feet; thousands of feet of video ribbons running around the seating tiers; a sound system that, according to Trubey, “makes you feel like you’re in the game” (complete with concussions, I suppose); and WiFi, so that fans with smart phones can tweet and Facebook and instagram and watch players in the locker room while taking in the video boards and ribbons and maybe even occasionally watching the game.

A series of eminences then climbed onto the thrust stage to proclaim their support: R.T. Rybak who said that the new stadium would make the downtown east neighborhood “a place to work and play instead of a place of abandoned parking lots,” coach Leslie Frasier who pronounced the plan “fantastic,” and players John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. The parade wound up with Vikings Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant. “I’m sold,” he told the cheering audience. “If there were any questions, this evening answered them.”

With that, the five members of the Sports Facilities Authority took to the stage and voted to adopt the plan. Next stop: the Stadium Implementation Committee, where approval is a foregone conclusion. Committee Co-chair Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, had already told me earlier in the evening: “The stadium is going to be big, bigger than I thought. But that’s OK because football is a spectacle, and this will be spectacular.”

I don’t know whether this is the right moment to go quite so big. Attendance at NFL games sagged in the recession and only last year regained 2008 levels. Some sports mavens predict that an increasing share of fandom will save the immense price of a ticket and watch the games on their flat-screens, tablets, laptops and phones. The future football stadium could shrink to the size of a football studio—or a basketball venue, anyway, which would seat, say, 17,000 instead of the 65,000 planned for our new yet-to-be named stadium. In any case, the Vikings would only play there 10 days a year.

Vikings stadium design by HKS
Minnesota Vikings

For those reasons perhaps, some speakers during the evening made a stab at rebranding. People call it the Vikings stadium, said Mark Wilf, the team’s co-owner, but it will really be a multi-purpose building. High school soccer and college baseball teams will play there; the stadium will play host to concerts, monster trucks, marching band competitions, maybe major league soccer and hopefully big events like the Final Four and the World Cup. “And the Super Bowl,” yelled someone from the rafters.

Nobody can predict with any certainly that all that stuff will happen. I am reminded of Beijing’s architecturally remarkable Bird’s Nest Olympics stadium, which announced to the world that China had arrived as a world power. But high maintenance costs have discouraged teams from playing there, and most of the time it sits empty.  

But, as I say: Let’s put those worries aside and, for a brief while, let ourselves be impressed.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 05/14/2013 - 10:16 am.

    Yes, I agree.

    If you set aside all questions of morality, it is impressive. Tom Fisher’s characterization of the stadium as “spectacle” certainly nailed it. Of course, I’m thinking of Guy Debord. Not sure what he’s thinking of.

  2. Submitted by Faith Cable on 05/14/2013 - 10:32 am.

    No, the design is not impressive – it will be as dated in 20 years as the pink and teal on the Target Center is now. I predict we will be talking about tearing it down in 30-40 years.

    • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 05/14/2013 - 12:16 pm.


      Both the Metrodome and Target Center were the product of compromises and started out dated. The Dome tried to serve both baseball and football and failed baseball miserably. Target Center’s design was pedestrian, so bad a midcourse redo was demanded—resulting in an applique more suitable for an Eden Prairie mall.

      At least here the designers approached the challenges with intelligence and imagination.

      • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 05/15/2013 - 10:44 am.


        The Metrodome had almost the exact design, initial seating capacity, and style as the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, which wasn’t built as a multi-use facility (football/baseball). Yet they still replaced it with LucasOil.

        Oddly enough, THIS stadium is designed as a compromise to handle baseball in addition to football. This design is certainly more functional than the dome (sloped roof, glass, etc), but I strongly agree that we’ll start to hear complaints about the design (“too angular”) and ability for it to be a viable revenue generator in a 2040 NFL world in 25-30 years.

  3. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 05/14/2013 - 11:03 am.

    Stunning killer… of redevelopment

    It looks cool, sure.

    But, the problem with the Metrodome is that it’s a big bunker all around the outside, blocking streets, creating a giant spot of nothing in Downtown East. There’s nothing to engage with, no windows, no activity, nothing but a giant monolithic wall that goes on, and on, and on. It basically creates surface parking and high-speed streets, with everyone fighting to get as far away as fast as possible, except on game day.

    This new design appears to have the same interaction with the streets around it. Big blank walls, dead plazas where people feel like ants, exposed and bored. It looks like it’s designed to maintain the unpleasant pedestrian and human experience of Downtown East, except on game day.

    There’s nothing here to pump energy back into the area. No shade, no pleasant spaces to be, no bars lining the exterior, no opportunity to reconnect at least some of the streets in the area. For some pictures, check out this op ed in the Strib.

    So, does it look cool? Sure. Is it going to bring the revitalization the council and Rybak suggested made it worthy of Minneapolis dumping in a wad of extra subsidy? Not if this is how it interacts with the street.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/14/2013 - 11:12 am.

    Looks like what a strip mall and tract home developer would love

    Apparently I am the only one who is looking at the new Viking stadium and thinking “big, bold and tacky.”

    It looks like a cheap glass copy of a Viking ship crashed through the Prudential “rock” and the engineers decided to shore up what’s left with an overgrown Erector set. Reminds me of a modern super church, but without all the charm.

  5. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 05/14/2013 - 11:33 am.

    Urban Design issues

    I don’t have much a problem with the design but shouldn’t we be talking about urban design issues – how will this design interact with the streets nearby? Will we finally develop the area? Could one of the giant blank walls have bars or restaurants accessible from the outside?

  6. Submitted by Matt Pogatshnik on 05/14/2013 - 11:41 am.

    I am concerned that, considering the proximity of the Guthrie, that having the the coolest and, arguably, the smartest building in Minnesota so near what will be the ugliest and most, um, intellectually-challenged, building in Minnesota (if not the world) will, like matter and anti-matter colliding, create some sort of black hole or, at the very least, a tear in the fabric of space and time.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/14/2013 - 12:06 pm.

    I like the drawing…

    But the stadium is a is just a big place that that vast majority of Minnesotan’s will never go to. One saving grace is that it has a roof, so that means it won’t sit empty for six month out of the year. But Marlys, why do you think Guthrie audiences will love giant TV screens?

  8. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 05/14/2013 - 12:09 pm.

    Expensive Amenities

    Sounds like the retractable roofs turn out like high-rise balconies. According to realtors, everybody wants them and hardly anyone uses them.

  9. Submitted by david unowsky on 05/14/2013 - 12:18 pm.

    New Vikings stadium

    Of course, they failed to mention that tetrafluoroethylene is widely regarded as carcinogenic.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/14/2013 - 02:25 pm.

    If you want a small taste of this giant, go look at the Alumni Center at the U of MN.

    Gigantic scale-less walls, sloping slabs of stones, diagonal ribbons of windows. Pretty unfriendly and un-neighborly a building as is out there. Acres of bare, paved plaza result in unused spaces, also.

    And the ETFE is better characterized as “translucent” as opposed to “clear” (it can come in a range fro opaque to almost clear, but the clearer it is, the bigger a “greenhouse” the building becomes (recall added AC in the dome when the opaque dome cloth did not provide for a cool interior?). Quite likely will end up at the “more opaque” than “transparent” end of the scale.

    But the roof will have a distracting bright/dark/lattice structure background–pity the poor kick receiver or pop fly.

    The ETFE comes as a thin, flexible film that usually requires some sort of internal pressure to work to shed rain and snow properly (hmm, where have we heard that before?)

    A couple of questions about those doors, then. If the EFTE requires air pressure, can the doors really be opened? And, will the doors reduce the greenhouse effect sufficiently? Have you ever been in a greenhouse with a door open? Seems to me it would make for a really uneven temperatures in the building, with much of the temperature management systems literally flying out the door.

    And, by the way–who’s going to wash all of those windows…

  11. Submitted by Dann Dobson on 05/14/2013 - 02:31 pm.

    This stadium is a monstrosity. It is oversized for the neighborhood, and will stick out like a sore thumb. There are 4 story high blank walls. There is nothing to connect it with the neighborhood.

    To compare this design with the Guthrie or the Weisman is to compare an AMC Gremlin with a Ferrari or a DeLoren.

    Hopefully the Minneapolis City Council will reject this hideous design and tell them to try again. But seeing as how the Council screwed the taxpayers to pay for this urban disaster in the first place, I am sure we will hear glowing reviews from the majority of the City Council.

    Three thumbs down.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/14/2013 - 02:54 pm.


    It’s kind of vulgar obviously, but I don’t think it’s as ugly as the new Guthrie.

  13. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/14/2013 - 03:52 pm.

    I see no way

    That this stadium will improve the Vikings – never have won the big one in any stadium.

  14. Submitted by Dave Hoppenrath on 05/14/2013 - 03:53 pm.

    important considerations

    Well, pretty much all of what Neal Rovick wrote. Also, Jeff Klein’s concerns on how the design interacts with the streets nearby. One of the giant blank walls having bars or restaurants accessible from the outside would make it more of a “peoples’ stadium.” I probably can’t/won’t justify spending what it will cost to attend an event inside the stadium, but I might patronize those.

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/14/2013 - 04:25 pm.


    I have always loved the way Wrigley Field interacts with the neighborhood. But that’s not anything anyone associated with the Vikings Stadium has any interest in. One of the things I like least about the Twins Stadium is it’s isolation from the community.

  16. Submitted by John Ferman on 05/14/2013 - 04:59 pm.

    The Otside wall

    Some have opined that those blank outside walls do not connect with the neighborhood (which is mostly vacant except for StarTrib nearby). Well, they will have two supersized video boards which could be remounted outside to carry electronic video advertising. With the vast hordes of people who will hover all about the stadia, it seems the stadia will be a giant money maker for the marketers. The question now should be “how to get in on the ground floor while the gettin’s are good.”

  17. Submitted by Pat McGee on 05/15/2013 - 08:06 am.

    Practical considerations

    …are everything!

  18. Submitted by Erick Hedren on 05/15/2013 - 08:15 am.

    Where’s Noah

    Is it measured in cubits?

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/15/2013 - 09:14 am.

      A good start to a naming contest…

      …and with a pretty good suggestion: Zygi’s Ark ?

      I think we, the little people, the people who are paying for the excesses and grand illusions of the affluent class to make life more entertaining for them, should hold our own unofficial crowdsourced


      Let’s have the d*mn thing named by the people who are paying for it. Oh, there will be an official name, no doubt of it, and some commercial enterprise will pay dearly (to the public ? Naaahhh. It’ll go to the same people with their hand in our collective pockets).

      Anybody have a name to suggest ? It’d be nice if we could end up with a good one that would stick.

  19. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/15/2013 - 09:52 am.

    Retractable roof

    It can’t be operated under certain climactic conditions? Like the Vikings winning the Super Bowl? If so, no worries! Put one on. Unless you mean climatic. In which case…duh. For pity’s sake, even practical things, such as bus doors, don’t operate under certain climatic conditions.

    On topic–I think it’s ugly. I also think that the Walker, the downtown Library, and the Guthrie are ugly. It’s not as ugly as the Guthrie, though. That one is impressive. Looks like a River Ikea.

  20. Submitted by timothy murphy on 05/15/2013 - 09:55 am.

    Stadium-Viking Football

    Namaste Everyone, What a beautiful and diffrent Stadium Minnesotians may get. I recall during my childhood that curse that prevented the Vikings from capturing the Superbowl Trophy, maybe this new stadium will break that curse. Seems like yesterday I was watching a Viking-Bear game and their was Bud Grant- Carl Eilers-Fran Tarkenton-Chuck Foreman and all the other greats. Where does time go? I hope I can do some fishing someday soon and I will be keeping an eye out to catch a glimpse of Paul Bunyon and Babe. There are actually people that think their a myth, and I ask those folks then how did them lakes form. Maybe can can even run into Richard Heatwave Berler, I would think he probaly makes it back to the state from time to time and be lucky enough to get his famed T-Shirt. Thanks, Namaste Timothy Murphy.

  21. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 05/15/2013 - 10:49 am.


    A column devoted exclusively to the architecture, followed by by 20 comments from people who can’t separate the architecture nfrom the Practical Considerations. Hilarious!!

  22. Submitted by Damon Pfaff on 05/15/2013 - 12:25 pm.

    Expectations in check??

    I’m curious to know what everyone’s expectations were in regards to the design of this new facility. You can see and feel the sunlight while watching the game. They can open those huge rotating glass panes for a great cross-breeze. It’s Minnesota! An open air facility would weather so badly that it would lose it’s luster in 5 years… And, most importantly, it will serve as much more than just a sporting facility by hosting concerts, seminars and civic gatherings. The dome felt like an oversized pup-tent; no sunlight or fresh air. I think it looks really great inside and out.

  23. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 05/15/2013 - 09:34 pm.

    I’m couious to look inside and see

    if the architects followed their guiding principal of Form follows Function.

  24. Submitted by William Bornstein on 05/16/2013 - 10:08 am.

    Human Scale Ignored?

    When we evaluate the design of large-scale infrastructure like this, why do we routinely fail to evaluate it from the perspective of the pedestrian and his/her ability to actually interact with the structure? The author evaluates the project from the same perspective as most of the renderings – an aerial view far above the skyline. But other than the people operating the blimp on game day, no one interacts with structures like this from such a distance. So while it might look great to people from afar, it looks like this is just going to involve at least three giant, impenetrable blank walls to the pedestrian (who, by the way, gets to hang out on a vast expanse of concrete “plaza” in front of the stadium if they want). The best project would look good from afar and at the same time engage and interact with the street and actual people in some meaningful way. When our architectural critics fail to evaluate projects like this from the perspective of an actual person, rather than just a blimp, they can unintentionally mislead the public about the project’s true merits.

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