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Material on this page was published when Seahawks Stadium, now called Qwest Field, opened in 2002.
Friday, August 2, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Construction & design
By Les Carpenter
The stadium stands on the most unstable of surfaces — dirt and tree stumps and old railroad ties dumped long ago in the receding waters of Elliott Bay. And while the goo appears as solid as bedrock to the naked eye, let the ground shake in an earthquake and suddenly it is a milky mess of liquefied mud.
This made for some tricky maneuvering for the Ellerbe Becket designers who had to put together a stadium that could roll freely if the ground started to shake. And none of it came cheaply. Kelly Kerns, project manager for the stadium, estimates that these special functions added 5 percent to the overall construction costs.
Like many West Coast buildings, including Safeco Field, Seahawks Stadium is actually eight structures held together by a series of joints, long metal planks that run through the stands and across concourses at various points of the stadium. The planks cover a small gap, which allows the stadium to have flexibility.
Thus, when the ground shakes, the separate sections will have room to move on their own, jiggling in place. The designers believe this elasticity will keep chunks of concrete from breaking away or, worse, collapsing.
Ellerbe Becket got a good test of the design last year during the Nisqually quake. Within hours, the stadium builders discovered that their structure suffered insignificant damage while several buildings right outside were nearly destroyed.
While Kerns has worked on several projects in California and Ellerbe Becket is building an arena in a fault zone in Memphis, Seahawks Stadium does present one unique earthquake challenge: its two giant roof panels. The designers decided to create an arch support that would allow the roof to move freely, separating from the grandstand.
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