Sunday night was a great night for fans of LA’s fledgling soccer team, the LA Football Club. The team beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on the team’s first outing in their new stadium.
Now that it is filling with fans, it is easy to forget that the Banc of California Stadium, built on the site of the former LA Memorial Sports Arena, and its team, were only recently magicked into existence.
The fascinating creation story involves a combination of Hollywood dream-making, new architectural technologies for showcasing design ideas, and very savvy cultivation of soccer fandom.
This DnA episode features interviews with the architect Jonathan Emmett, Principal and Design Director of the Gensler Sports Practice, which designed the stadium; and with Jimmy Lopez and Marco Sanchez, members of the supporters clubs who were on the ground floor of the design process.
They were invited by the owners to offer up ideas over the course of the design process and met with the architectural team at Gensler LA many times over three years.
Jimmy Lopez, of the supporter group Black Army 1850, says their wishlist included a kids’ zone, good food that reflected LA, and a safe-standing section that’s located at the north end of the stadium. That’s where over 3,000 supporters will lead the raucous chanting at every home game.
Fellow supporter Marco Sanchez says the finished result is just as they had dreamed of; in his words, it is “A1 legit.”
The stadium is very striking. It is understated but dramatic. It is built of exposed concrete, with a white metal structure supporting swooping translucent canopies made of EFTE, a fluorine-based plastic widely used today.
It is open to the sky, with corners that give way to perfectly-framed views of downtown LA and the LA Memorial Coliseum. It has only 22,000 seats, compared to 56,000 at Dodger Stadium.
That, and steeply raked seating, makes it feel contained, while its openness makes it soar.
It of course has member clubs and rooftop bars and balcony boxes accessible only to big-spenders but it wears its luxury lightly and the affordable general seating is designed so that, in Sanchez’ view, “no seat in this house has a bad view.”
So how did the architects’ feel about this unusual process of direct engagement with the supporters?
Jonathan Emmett, principal at Gensler LA’s sports division, grew up in the UK so he knows well how fans of “the beautiful game” can turn aggressive at matches; it was imperative, for example, to design the safe-standing section to make it invulnerable to the stampedes that have occurred at some stadiums in other countries.
But he says that the outreach from the start has given the supporters a strong sense of ownership in the team and the stadium and that witnessing these soccer-lovers see LAFC’s new home come to life “was a really meaningful part of this experience.”
The main goal of the design, says Emmett, was to create a very human “analog” experience for fans and supporters, resulting in lots of places to mix and mingle and get views of the pitch.
To get to this analog place however, they tapped the latest digital technology for displaying architectural concepts: virtual reality. Supporters came to the office, put on VR headsets and toured virtual versions of the stadium.
So too did prospective players.
The clients enticed team members with VR tours that included such ego-stroking details as a visit into the locker room where the prospect could open it up to find a jersey with his name on it.
Emmett also credits Hollywood storytelling strategies with shaping the design. After all, the team’s ownership team includes longtime movie producer Peter Guber, and comedian Will Ferrell (who stepped out onto the field on game day and released the team’s falcon, Olly, into the air.)
He says Peter Guber “really encouraged us to think about this from a cinematic perspective… so rather than just thinking about bricks and mortar, he wanted us to think about how we frame views, frame experiences and really choreograph the entire game day experience from start to finish.”