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Innovation marked Atlanta Falcons stadium architectural competition

By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, May 17, 2013

Five architectural teams competed for the highly sought after contract to design the new $1 billion retractable-roof stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.

Kansas City, Mo., firm 360 Architecture won the contract, partly for its novel and ground-breaking ideas on two retractable-roof designs.

But the four other architectural teams also presented worthy and unique concepts in stadium design. Some mapped out ways to connect the structure with downtown and the surrounding communities of Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill.

Atlanta Business Chronicle obtained all five proposals under the Georgia Open Records Act.

To see slideshows of the different designs, please click on the following links: EwingCole + Manica Architecture and Populous + Shop proposals; HKS and TVSdesign/Heery/Gensler proposals; and 360 Architecture’s Pantheon proposal and 360 Architecture’s Solarium proposal.

The group that selected the architectural team included officials from the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) and the Falcons. The decision was based on the qualifications of the five firms rather than being a design competition.

But as part of the bid, the firms were asked to present their “concepts” for the stadium — which represented 25 percent of their total score, according to Richard Sawyer, GWCCA’s project procurement director for the new stadium project.

So that’s how five teams developed quite divergent visions of how the stadium might look in the city’s skyline and how they could advance the next generation of retractable-roof design.

William Johnson, senior principal with 360 Architecture, said his firm (as well as the others) had to prepare its presentation without talking to the Falcons or GWCCA.

“Everything we presented was a ‘what if’ scenario,” Johnson said. “It was meant to inspire dialogue and conversation.”

GWCCA Chairman Tim Lowe could hardly contain his excitement over 360’s “Pantheon” design that resembles a sophisticated origami bowl.

“It competes with some of the best designs that you see in the world,” Lowe said. “It would add a lot to the positive idea of the rebirth of Atlanta.”

Currently 360 is exploring possible relationships with other firms. It can partner with members from the firms that lost the design bid.

Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay said he’d prefer that 360 partner with locals.

“We start with the premise that this project is being built in Atlanta, and if there is local involvement, that should be a plus,” McKay said after the 360 contract was approved. “They are going to add members to their team.”

The price for the firm’s design is capped at $35 million. Conceptual design approval is scheduled for early June, with design approval in late October and design development approval in April 2014.

“I’m always a fan of an urban location,” Johnson said. “You have access to transit. The building will create excitement, energy and synergy with the GWCC complex. To whatever extent you can make it part of a thriving urban environment, it even speaks to sustainability. I love working with the existing fabric of the city.”

Take a look at the concepts presented by the five finalist architectural teams, ranked by score:

#1 360 Architecture

Winning firm 360 Architecture offered two “game-changing” concepts to the Falcons.

The “Pantheon” is a circular concept with a swirling roof design made of small, lightweight panels that would fully open in five to seven minutes. The exterior mimics a bird in flight, says the company in its proposal. “It is both beautiful and practical, a definite landmark design for the heart of Atlanta.”

The “Solarium” is a rectangular stadium with large roof panels that would pull back into wing-like structures in less than 12 minutes. “Think of this a bit like opening the sunroof and rolling down the windows in a car.”

360 designed MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home of the New York Jets and Giants.

#2 HKS Inc.

The runner-up, Dallas-based firm HKS Inc., also dreamed up two concepts to visualize what it means to “Rise Up,” said the proposal. Inspired by a Southern porch, the first concept was a concrete-and-steel structure with large roof canopies that would retract, providing shade below. Windows around the stadium’s sides would also retract to offer impressive city views.

The second concept offered a curvy facade “with the ability to change in appearance and function along with the city,” said the firm. The operable roof would adjust its size and shape to the sunlight. Some of the cladding would lift up to reveal interior space to promote interaction at the street level.

HKS also presented some ideas to improve the area around the stadium, including retail and entertainment districts and pedestrian connections.

HKS has designed two of the most recent NFL stadiums: Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, and Cowboys Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. It also recently was selected to design the new home of the Minnesota Vikings.

#3 TVSdesign/Heery/Gensler

In third place, Atlanta-based tvsdesign teamed up with Atlanta-based Heery International Inc. and global firm Gensler on an extensive proposal, which really emphasized the future stadium’s connectivity to downtown.

That included several ideas to spur economic development in surrounding neighborhoods, such as a pedestrian link between Centennial Olympic Park and Vine City, transit-oriented development and a connection to the proposed multi-modal pedestrian terminal.

“We must weave new cloth into the city fabric with a comprehensive building and urban design solution that responds to the city’s need for connection,” Mark Carter, project principal at tvsdesign, wrote.

As for its stadium design, it offered an abstract shape with an exterior “skin” meant to resemble bird feathers. It called for an innovative retractable roof that would require air be pumped in and out of a “pillow-like” fabric to open and close it.

Among its portfolio, tvs designed the Georgia World Congress Center. In joint ventures with others, Heery was the architect on the Georgia Dome, as well as Turner Field.

#4 EwingCole + Manica Architecture

Ranked fourth, Philadelphia-based firm EwingCole coordinated with Manica Architecture to offer one concept that was shaped like the eye of a falcon. Defined as a “geometric axial twist of the building form,” the stadium design almost gave the impression it was spinning. It had a pivoting roof consisting of two semi-circles, an asymmetrical seating bowl and a ribbon-like facade.

EwingCole worked with 360 Architecture to design the MetLife Stadium.

#5 Populous + Shop

Coming in last, Kansas City, Mo.-based firm Populous offered one design with an operable roof shaped similar to the letter “O” that would offer a northeast view of the Atlanta skyline. It also proposed extending Andrew Young International Boulevard to Northside Drive and Vine City.

Populous has been the architect on about a dozen new NFL stadiums and renovations including FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins; and Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. It also worked on the Olympic Stadium for the London 2012 Games, as well as Atlanta’s Philips Arena.

Populous already has been involved with the new Falcons project, conducting feasibility studies since 2010.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Falcon Fan May 19, 2013 11:38 pm

    A few facts:
    Your seats will be worse but they will cost more.
    The roof will be closed during most games. So much for that expense.
    Your sightline and proximity to the field will be worse than at the old Dome.
    You will have a better and more affordable game day experience from home.
    Each of these roof options and skins could have been added to the existing dome at 1/2 the cost.
    Most of the run up to the  new outdoor/indoor stadium need was NFL  requirement for north south orientation. Wow. Look at all these 5 east /west solutions.
    This new facility will not bring  a single new event that the Ga Dome doesn’t feature today.

    This is a terrible waste of city money. The GWCC would benefit more from investment in  NEW downtown destination/entertainment attractions than spending a billion dollars tearing down a winning attraction.Report

    1. FalconNation May 20, 2013 3:40 pm

      Falcon Fan clearly you haven’t looked at all the details b/c the new stadium will help bring in other events which includes soccer and possibly a professional soccer team.  The cost of renovating the Dome would have been cheaper, but it would not have been as beneficial….let’s not forget that years ago when Blanks bought the franchise he made updates to the Dome at that time.  The line of sight from the stadium seats will not be that much different to be quite honest with you.Report

  2. Lighten Up May 20, 2013 1:28 pm

    What was never mentioned in the new stadium proposal, is that Texas A&M is now in the SEC, and that overtures would have been made by the folks in Dallas to hold the SEC Championship Game at JerryWorld.  Now there’s been a lot of huffing and puffing over whether or not we needed a new stadium, but you let the SEC Championship leave because your stadium is a barn compared to that one, and let’s see who really gets mad then…Report


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