September 21, 2020
A lot of chatter in the sports architecture world this fall concerns the debut of SoFi Stadium, the new $4 billion (or is it $5 billion?) home of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers in Los Angeles. Game announcers at its inaugural game pronounced it “quite a building.” Indeed.
People who know my tendencies won’t be surprised when I say it’s not the building I would have designed, but then again, I wasn’t asked. My design preferences tend to be more grounded, traditional, and scaled to the pedestrian on the street, everything that SoFi Stadium is not.
Nevertheless, there is an aspect of the stadium that I greatly admire, and would like to copy when given the opportunity: its expansive, overly generous roof. Covering both the stadium and an adjacent plaza, the roof at SoFi (besides being a billboard for planes landing at LAX) creates enormous shaded plazas, which in sunny Los Angeles is nearly equivalent to creating beachfront real estate.
While the plazas can of course be “programmed,” as we say, with all manner of pregame “activations,” (again, as we say), they are nevertheless a gift to the city, being open at least some of the time for people to just wander around, perhaps for food trucks or sidewalk vendors (if they are allowed) to hawk their wares, or for people to just hang out. A shaded space of this magnitude is a community benefit that perhaps only a giant NFL stadium could afford to provide. And I’m thankful that SoFi Stadium provided it.
In sunny southern climates, shade turns out to be a commodity almost as valuable as water. Humans for centuries have added clever shading devices to their buildings—even the Coliseum in Rome had retractable canvas awnings that covered the seats, an engineering feat that we’re still not entirely sure how it was accomplished. So SoFi’s generous roof has precedents going back a long way. These giant shaded plazas might not be as much of a gift in Minneapolis or Green Bay, but in LA they are splendid.
Let’s hope that the stadium’s management team allows the shaded plazas to benefit all the citizens of Los Angeles, not just the lucky few with tickets (which right now is a set with zero members). As our world eventually reopens, the plazas around SoFi Stadium could become public gathering places of real significance in the LA area—if the district’s landlords will let them.
Photo credit: https://www.chargers.com/video/making-sofi-stadium