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Friday, August 2, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
 
Material on this page was published when Seahawks Stadium, now called Qwest Field, opened in 2002.
 
Blaine Newnham / Times Associate Editor
Allen's vision: Open venue with a view

Perhaps it is that he simply got his $130 million worth, but no single person was as influential in the building of Safeco Field as Paul Allen was in the building of Seahawks Stadium.

For all that is modern about the new 67,000-seat stadium, there is more that is nostalgic. The days Allen spent watching football at Husky Stadium gave the architects all the direction they needed.

At a time when most of the new NFL stadiums in Cleveland, Charlotte, Baltimore, Tampa are simply large bowls shaped by how many luxury suites they can hold, Seahawks Stadium is daringly different.

It looks more like a European soccer stadium or even the main stadium at the Sydney Olympics than it does a venue for professional football.

Photo
ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Gov. Gary Locke, left, listens to Seahawks owner Paul Allen after the grand opening of Seahawks Stadium. Team president Bob Whitsitt stands at right.
No other new NFL stadium has a roof covering most of its patrons or an open end to its city. No other stadium has anything like the spade-shaped bleachers in the north end that will be known as the Hawks Nest and be immediately recognizable on SportsCenter.

"Paul was transfixed by the model of the open bleachers, which was basically a steel structure with a skin on it," said James Poulson, the architect with Ellerbe Becket's design team. "He must have stared at it for 15 minutes.

"Then he asked, 'Where else has this been done?' When we told him, 'Nowhere,' he said, 'Great, we're going to do this.' "

Seahawks Stadium is what it is because of the restricted urban site where it replaced the Kingdome and because Allen, who had rescued the Seahawks for Seattle, knew what he wanted.

The site basically where the Kingdome used to be is the smallest of those developed for new NFL stadiums. It produced an intimate, cantilevered stadium with downtown views instead of a mammoth bowl in the middle of a parking lot.

Allen and his friend and associate, Bert Kolde, set the ground rules early. They wanted a stadium that would be open to the elements. They wanted a stadium that would be open to the views. They wanted a stadium that would find a way to protect most of its inhabitants from winter rains.

They wanted, in other words, a new, high-tech Husky Stadium.

The challenge, then, on the small site, was to get 67,000 seats with one end of the stadium basically open and without seats.

The challenge produced intimacy. The solution was to cantilever much of the upper deck out over the lower deck, to do what they did at Husky Stadium 50 years ago.

"It was an expensive solution," said Poulson, "but it gave us so many more seats closer to the field than if we had done a standard bowl. The cantilevered seats also increased protection from the rains."

There was talk early about a retractable dome, like Safeco Field has. Allen wanted the game open to the elements. And a roof was too expensive, as was facing the stadium with brick, as Allen preferred.

Seahawks Stadium doesn't have the finishing touches that Safeco Field does: the steel work, the antique feel, the wide concourse that allows views of the field.

But it didn't cost as much, and a stadium for football is inherently different than one for baseball.

With its roof, Safeco almost looks larger than Seahawks Stadium, even though it seats 20,000 fewer fans.

"People tend to stay in their seats more during a football game," said Kelly Kerns, the project manager on the stadium for Ellerbe Becket. "In baseball, there is a bigger need to see the field at all times."

What you see away from your seats at Seahawks Stadium are wonderful views of the city, Mount Rainier and Elliott Bay.

Many of the new football stadiums leave you enclosed as you hike up ramps to get to upper-level seats.

"You have no idea what city you are in," Kerns said. "Those stadiums become continuous, enclosed ovals. We wanted to respond with our design in Seattle to the site, to the climate and to the urban environment. We also wanted to respond in a complementary way to Safeco Field with our simple rainbow-truss system to the roof."

The two roof sections were painted white to distinguish them from Safeco Field.

"The color white also has an abstract relationship with Mount Rainier and Mount Baker," said Poulson, who has left Ellerbe Becket and now works for BJSS Duarte Bryant in Seattle.

"We also wanted, with our tower in the north end of the stadium, to create an icon that reminded people of the Smith Tower, the King Street Station and the Space Needle."

From various points in the stadium, views of Mount Rainier and the Space Needle present themselves in a way that leave no doubt where you are.

This stadium is Seattle, and it is different.

Besides views of the city, the set of stand-alone bleachers for the crazies and a vertical scoreboard, the north end also has the NFL's first field-level luxury suites.

"There's a lot of interest in the NFL in those suites," Poulson said. "Some people think it is a dumb idea; some are excited about having the fans right next to the players."

Dumb or daring? At least Seahawks Stadium is different.

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com.

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