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Architects: Vikings stadium is a trendsetting icon with a dark side

The exterior profile of U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis is considered by some local architects to be ground-breaking and progressive. (Staff photo by Bill Klotz)

The exterior profile of U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis is considered by some local architects to be ground-breaking and progressive. (Dolan Media Newswires photos by Bill Klotz)

By Matt M. Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Big and dark with angles that thrust skyward like a prow or a chin, the new U.S. Bank Stadium is a building that both inspires and perhaps intimidates onlookers.

Those who have seen it have tried to guess what inspired the design. Could it have been a spaceship, an ice shard, or perhaps a Viking longboat?

Or maybe a Darth Vader helmet, because who doesn’t love to be a little bit bad?

Described as architecturally groundbreaking by its designers and by some local architects not attached to the project, the new $1.13 billion home of the Minnesota Vikings football team has been a conversation starter since construction on it started in late 2013. Now complete, the downtown Minneapolis stadium might soon be one of Minnesota’s most recognizable buildings.

Linda McCracken-Hunt, a principal at JLG Architects in Minneapolis, has heard the buzz — and the Darth Vader and spaceship comments. McCracken-Hunt was formerly the chief executive of Studio Five Architects, the architect of record for the exterior of the U.S. Bank Stadium, which was later purchased by JLG. The firm worked in association with the stadium’s lead architect, Dallas-based HKS Architects.

That design has given rise to some criticism, since it includes vast expanses of dark gray, zinc metal panels that are darker than conceptual drawings showed when the stadium design was pitched to its owner, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

In Milwaukee, the design for a new $524 million arena for the Bucks has similarly come in for mixed reviews.

The most noticeable feature of the design is a curved roof that melds into the wall of the structure’s north side. The zinc-shingled roof and wall has both received praise and scorn from residents and design experts alike.

Some have said the arena — which was designed by the Kansas City-based Populous Inc. with help from the Milwaukee-based firm Eppstein Uhen Architects and HNTB, also of Kansas City — looks similar to the Bel Air Cantina restaurant that stands where North Water Street meets North Humboldt Avenue; others have likened the design to Donald Trump’s hair.

Back in Minnesota, some are saying that at least the public is taking notice.

Guesses about the inspiration for U.S. Bank Stadium’s design include a spaceship, an ice shard, or a Viking longboat.

Guesses about the inspiration for U.S. Bank Stadium’s design include a spaceship, an ice shard, or a Viking longboat.

McCracken-Hunt, who was on the University of Minnesota staff as a senior project manager when the school built the wildly modern Weisman Art Museum, said the stadium’s cutting-edge design has achieved the goal of getting people to talk. That in itself is an achievement for any building, particularly in a city known for progressive buildings like the Weisman and the Guthrie Theater.

“What I think is going to be its best contribution is getting everyday people to be aware of the influence of design,” McCracken-Hunt said. “It brings out an emotional reaction and gets people talking about design.”

Covering an area about twice that of its predecessor on the site — the Metrodome — and standing 270 feet high at its peak, U.S. Bank Stadium is now a hunkering presence in the Minneapolis skyline.

Tim Dufault, a principal at the Minneapolis-based architecture firm Cuningham Group, watched every stage of the building’s construction from his office window.

While his firm had no part in the design, Dufault has formed a detailed opinion about it. He said the stadium has accomplished things the Metrodome did not. It sparked a flurry of redevelopment and construction in Downtown East, leading to the addition of public spaces and parkland. It has various features that are welcoming to fans, ranging from pedestrian improvements outside to its interior openness and placement of luxury suites at field level.

On top of all that, it more or less suits its site, even though it covers more than 1.75 million square feet.

“That said, it’s just a very large building in the context of the city,” Dufault said.

A turn to the dark side

The scale and presence of the stadium were two things dealt with early on by a committee that worked with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to represent the public on design matters. Tom Meyer, a principal at Minneapolis-based architecture firm MSR, was one of two architects on that committee.

Meyer’s feelings about the stadium are largely enthusiastic. He said he is impressed how HKS architects sculpted a contemporary form. He said the building is distinctive enough to get attention in the architectural press, both for its exterior and its light, spacious interior. That interior features the largest pivoting glass doors in the world and the largest span of ETFE plastic roof panels in the United States, according to HKS.

“I think the interior is going to be really well-received,” Meyer said.

His only criticism of the stadium is the darkness of its exterior. Portrayed in illustrations as being highly transparent with light- to medium-gray siding panels, the finished stadium took on a darker reflective cast in its glass sections and appears nearly black where the zinc panels are installed.

The darkness and the size of the building harken back to another Minneapolis landmark that took some getting used to – the IDS Center, the tallest building in Minnesota. Meyer said that when it opened in 1973, the 57-story skyscraper was not loved by everyone who saw it. But it went on to become one of the most iconic buildings in the state.

The U.S. Bank Stadium, Meyer said, will also grow on locals who travel to it, live around it, work near it and attend events held inside it.

“It has enough engagement on all sides to make itself part of the community,” he said.

HKS architects has responded to the concerns about darkness. Bryan Trubey, HKS executive vice president of sports and entertainment, said recently that a few people “have noticed a little bit of difference” between renderings and how the finished stadium looks. He said HKS architects knew the panels would show up to the job site darker than portrayed on the conceptual images.

With time and weather, the panels will age to “kind of a dark, gray, silvery luster,” Trubey said.

John Hutchings, HKS principal and senior vice president, said the darkness has started to influence nearby construction projects. Dark panels on the Edition Apartments on the nearby Commons Park echo the color on the stadium, he said.

Whatever the stadium color ends up being, Minneapolis and the NFL are likely to live with it for a long time. The stadium is expected to last at least 50 years because its technology infrastructure and smaller components, but its concrete and steel elements will last indefinitely, according to Tom Scarangello, chief executive of Thornton Tomasetti of New York, the structural engineering firm used on the project.

Scarangello, whose firm also worked on the MetLife Stadium, in New Jersey, said he believes U.S. Bank Stadium’s appeal will prove durable. Its form and interior function have a five- to 10-year head start on other designs in the NFL, he said. It breaks out of the mold for contemporary NFL stadiums that blend climate control and exposure to nature through the use of retractable roofs.

The Vikings stadium’s 240,000-square-foot translucent ETFE plastic roof section, designed to bring natural light inside, may see wider use now that it is part a project that will appear regularly on television.

“I’d say it is a trendsetter, not a trend follower,” Scarangello said.

Hutchings, who attended the ribbon cutting for the stadium last week, said football fans and other stadium users will find much to love inside the stadium. Giant video screens and a Wi-Fi system designed to handle smartphones in the hands of everyone at an event will keep people connected both to events and the outside world.

The stadium may also become a Minnesota landmark. People tuning in to Vikings games around the country and the world will get to know the team’s stadium on sight, Hutchings said.

“For a billion dollars, you should have something from the blimp shot that’s instantaneously recognizable as being from Minnesota,” he said.

The stadium’s first wide exposure to an NFL audience will come on Aug. 28, when the Vikings are scheduled to play the San Diego Chargers in a preseason game.

Dolan Media Newswires staff writer Brian Johnson also contributed to this report.

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