The National Football League (NFL) this year receives two eye-catching additions to its portfolio of sporting citadels, with the opening of Allegiant Stadium set to complete a journey for the Raiders that has taken the franchise from Oakland to Las Vegas.

The 65,000-capacity stadium, built at a cost of $1.9bn (£1.45bn/€1.6bn), is set to join SoFi Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, but will play out its debut season behind closed doors due to COVID-19.

Allegiant Stadium’s first major event will be the Raiders’ 2020 regular season home opener against the New Orleans Saints on September 21. And while fans will no longer be in attendance, the game will represent a milestone in what has been a 40-month project.

David Manica, president and owner of MANICA Architecture, tells “The vision was clear – design a domed 65,000-seat multi-purpose stadium, with an iconic architecture that represents the team’s storied past and the owner’s vision for their future. Beyond the architectural style, delivering the project on time and with a world class safety record was of extreme importance to everybody involved, especially the Raiders.”

In March 2017, the Raiders received NFL approval to relocate to Las Vegas, paving the way for the franchise to build its new state-of-the-art stadium in Nevada. In December, the Raiders played its last game at the Oakland Coliseum ahead of its move to Vegas, having called the venue home since 1995, when the team returned to Oakland from Los Angeles. The Raiders shared the stadium with Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.

MANICA Architecture is the lead design architect of Allegiant Stadium, with HNTB serving as the architect of record. The facility has been built through a joint venture between Mortenson and McCarthy Construction, with CAA ICON engaged as project manager.

Automotive inspiration

MANICA believes Allegiant Stadium can be characterised through five key design features, aspects that will help stand it apart from other NFL venues. Keith Robinson, MANICA director, explains: “Early in the design process, we leaned on the automotive industry to guide the execution of the exterior – where everything is integrated, and carefully designed into one beautiful, flowing composition.

“This required us to carefully balance aesthetic preference with functional demands. One great example of this are the exterior ‘ribbons’ that flow uninterrupted around the building. On buildings of this size, there are several locations where you need to draw fresh air into the venue to keep guests comfortable.

“We chose to capitalise on the fluidity of the ribbons and organise them in such a way that we could pull air into the areas we needed, while maintaining the iconic exterior expression we sought to create. This is just one example of how the automotive industry helped guide our design decisions to create a fully integrated, seamless exterior expression.”

Unique field tray engineering

Weighing in at 19 million pounds, nearly as heavy as the Eiffel Tower, the retractable field tray is also a key part of the stadium, and takes 72 individual motors to power it. Manica says: “We were fortunate to have other successful implementations of a natural grass retractable field tray, the closest of which is in Arizona (State Farm Stadium), to learn from in Las Vegas.

“Though the retractable field tray is not necessarily a ‘new’ feature in the industry, the solution in Las Vegas is certainly unique from an engineering perspective. To better illustrate this, you need to imagine that in order for the field tray to migrate between its exterior and interior positions, the building requires a column free zone on one end of the building, wide enough for the field tray to pass through.

“What sets Allegiant apart from other venues across the world is simply that we maintained a fully loaded, multi-story stadium above this column free zone, inclusive of concourses, spectator amenities, stadium seating and vehicular service ramps.

“Often times, and when considering the long-span steel is bridging a gap well over 200ft wide, slab is intentionally eliminated from this end of the building in order to avoid an expensive structural system capable of supporting both the dead and live loads associated with a fully-loaded building above.

“Though the decision to maintain a fully loaded stadium above the long span opening in Las Vegas will go unnoticed by most spectators, it is one of the most important decisions of the entire project, because it allowed for a balanced seating bowl design and natural grass playing surface, without compromise to the guest experience.”

The retractable roof debate

Robinson says a “conscious decision” was made not to design an operable roof, and instead provide a lightweight hi-tech cable net roof system, with a translucent ETFE pillow system. Some 9.85 miles of wire ropes are being utilised to suspend the roof system.

Robinson adds: “The truth is, and though the intrigue behind an operable roof is appealing to most owners, they are very expensive, seldomly get used, and when open – struggle to provide a consistent guest experience with regards to sun exposure and comfort inside the building.

“In Allegiant, we were able to remove a substantial amount of volume from the building by forgoing an operable roof, which helped create an extremely tight, compact volume of space that will drive an even louder and more memorable guest experience throughout.”

Blazing a trail

In November, Allegiant Stadium developers claimed a first by announcing that the venue would feature the world’s largest 3D printed structure. The structure has been developed for an 85-foot-tall memorial torch dedicated to Al Davis, the late owner of the Raiders. Made from carbon fibre and aluminium, the Al Davis Memorial Torch will be the focal point of a 55,000-square-foot club area open to all ticket holders in the north end of the stadium.

Manica says: “Inspired by the team’s history in the LA Coliseum, we intentionally created an open patio space on the North end of the stadium, with large operable glass doors that open to create a 200ft-plus wide, column free panoramic view of the iconic Las Vegas strip.

“The centrepiece of the space is a signature tower, now the tallest 3D printed structure in the world, commemorating the late Al Davis. Before each game, fans can gather around a central bar and observe the ceremonial torch lighting – a tradition started in Oakland, and legacy continued in Las Vegas.”

Manica believes this feature is a prime example of the cutting-edge technology deployed in Allegiant Stadium, and while providing its own set of challenges, can provide a template for the design and construction industry as a whole.

He adds: “Dimensional Innovations, based out of Kansas City, was tasked with delivering the vision of a monumental torch that commemorates the late Al Davis. With the owner’s request for the element to appear ‘seamless’ and be made of metal, there were two primary challenges that led to the decision of 3D printing: executing the complex geometric shape and managing the overall weight from a loading perspective.

“Their solution leveraged 3D printing technology to build an extremely sturdy, highly precise light-weight framework, optimised to allow for the maximum amount of metal possible. Each custom printed polycarbonate frame was unique, and designed with pre-drilled attachment points, corresponding to a custom milled aluminium panel.

“Not only did this allow for an extremely efficient install, but also provided the peace of mind that every panel was flawlessly designed within tolerances that would be impossible to achieve using traditional building methods. When guests enter the stadium at the North main entry, they will be able to experience both the 3D printed polycarbonate, and the recessed aluminium metal panels as they soar nearly 100ft in height through the Peristyle end of the stadium.

“Having been an integral part of this process, it has certainly opened my eyes on the capabilities 3D printing will have for the future of architectural design. Between the incredibly precise control it offers, and the unmatched construction optimisation it provides, it is easy to see why this method will only continue to infiltrate the design and construction industry to improve outcomes for years to come.”

Consistent stadium brand

Robinson feels the ‘one brand’ approach to Allegiant Stadium’s design also marks it out amongst its contemporaries. He says: “One of the most exciting aspects to Allegiant Stadium is the fact that the exterior design and interior design are consistent in their brand, which is not as common as one may think.

“With the exterior design being inspired by the automotive industry, we approached the interior design of the stadium as if it were the interior of a luxury black sports car. This allowed us to maintain continuity between the exterior and interior experience, capitalise on the powerful brand recognition of the team, and provide a balanced interior design solution that not only leans futuristic, but that’s bold and unmistakably Raiders through and through.”

Meeting the COVID challenge

Groundbreaking at the stadium site took place in November 2017, and the operations team at Allegiant Stadium was this month given the green light to move into the venue after the Mortenson|McCarthy joint venture received a certificate of occupancy.

However, as with any major stadium or arena development, a number of bumps in the road were encountered, least of which came towards the latter stages with the COVID-19 outbreak. Manica says: “Though tariff wars, and a global health pandemic stand out as two of the more obvious challenges faced, especially as of late, the project team overcame significant delays to the fabrication and erection of structural steel, and a nearly three month delay in the erection of arguably the most complex component of the entire project; the cable net truss.

“On top of those seemingly insurmountable factors, in order to fully understand how remarkable an achievement delivering Allegiant Stadium on time truly was requires us to take you back to one of the very first project meetings, and the decision to abandon the traditional design delivery process in favour of what we referred to as ‘phase less’ design.

“What this meant was that we abandoned traditional concept, schematic and design development phases in favour of a singular design phase, where design and cost assurance were developed simultaneously to reach a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) in less than 10 months.

“We simply did not have the time to ‘freeze’ our design progression, in order to issue formal cost estimates and build in lengthy approval periods within that 10-month timeframe, because the design documents would not have been developed enough for the owner to truly understand what they were purchasing as part of the GMP package.

“This date was crucial to the success of the project because it allowed the joint venture to begin the 31-month construction timeframe and deliver the project in time for the 2020 football season. Even without the external factors that were out of the project team’s control, to have delivered this building, a mere 40 months after the NFL’s approval is truly remarkable, and a testament to the determination and grit of everybody involved.”

Future outlook

While the originally intended first major event for Allegiant Stadium, a Garth Brooks concert on August 22, has now been rescheduled to February 27, the venue will now open with NFL, albeit missing the famously fervent atmosphere whipped up by Raiders fans.

Questioned on the long-term picture for the stadium, Robinson says: “Though we have no way of predicting when the venue will officially open for major events, or what that will even look like, what we do know is that the client is thrilled with their new home, and that it’s captured the owner’s vision of the Raiders’ future. We can only hope that it attracts people that want to come and be a part of their future in Las Vegas.

“As far as Las Vegas specifically, we are humbled knowing how proud the local community is of their new venue. But even beyond that, we look forward to watching the building grow into the community, and the countless memories that will be made.

“Whether that’s fans travelling into Las Vegas to watch a game because they can’t imagine missing watch their team play the Raiders, or the locals who get to hold their kid’s hand as they pass through the gates. That’s what special about the venue to us – it has the ability to create lasting memories and unite people from all across the world.”

Images: Jason O’Rear