For more than three decades, the Jets and Giants have been just as much siblings as rivals in football’s largest market – the older brother crashing at the younger brother’s Shea Stadium pad in Queens for the 1975 season while Giants Stadium was being built on New Jersey swampland, and the younger one then moving over in 1984 for an extended stay at the elder’s new home. And after both scouted options to build new digs – the Jets especially hoping to finally call one their own – they ended up choosing to bunk together again, but this time in style.
Their unprecedented decision resulted in what debuted this year in East Rutherford, N.J. – the first National Football League stadium built for two teams, a trait that colored key aspects of design and construction. That signature element, combined with high expectations for a premier-class facility and the daunting logistics of building it smack in the middle of a bustling, 180-acre, three-arena sports complex, helped the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium earn top honors in the Best of 2010 Awards competition.
The stadium’s unique profile also helped it snag the 2014 Super Bowl, the first at a cold-weather site in decades.
For a fan base used to seeing the two teams play in the same facility for more than two decades, the idea of sharing a new stadium seemed routine. But there is little precedent for managing a stadium design and construction process for two owners with equal shares and differing tastes.
“While there are typically all types of challenges that come with building a high-profile project, in this case, we also had to work with two owners with completely different cultures who had differing visions of how they wanted their stadium to look,” says Frank Falciani, senior v.p. for Skanska USA Building of Parsippany, N.J., the construction manager.
One of the expectations was for the facility to clearly be the home field to each franchise on its game day, says Mark Lamping, president and CEO of the New Meadowlands Stadium Co., the entity the teams jointly formed to develop and operate the 2.1 million-sq-ft stadium. “That drove a lot of the decisions,” he adds.
The team also faced plenty of onsite challenges, including constructing the new facility a mere 34 ft – or roughly an 11-yard run – away from the existing Giants Stadium at the closest point, and right alongside a separate project to build a New Jersey Transit rail station for the complex. “In addition to the stadium, the Meadowlands Racetrack and the Izod Center [basketball arena] are also right there,” Falciani says.
And the two teams set explicit design goals to upgrade the fan experience from cozy but cramped Giants Stadium, asking for wider circulation concourses and fewer columns blocking views, which it achieved by increasing beam and girder span lengths, says Anjana Kadakia, principal at New York-based Thornton Tomasetti, the structural engineer.
The mandate also called for more restrooms and concession stands, better sightlines, and an “intimacy” to the 82,500 seats encircling the field, says Craig Schmitt, senior architect and project manager on the effort for Philadelphia’s EwingCole. “The teams also felt that everyone must be able to see the full arc of a 90-ft-high punt,” he adds. “There are no deep overhanging balconies like at the old stadium.”
The teams also wanted to inject intimidation into the seating layout through end zones where opposing quarterbacks and kickers face a “wall of screaming fans,” Schmitt says – an element that required stacking the 222 suites and 10,000 club seats along facing sidelines.
“They wanted the opposing team to know, ‘You’re in New York,’” he adds.
Big Thinking A stadium that is home to two owners poses a sizeable programmatic hurdle, Schmitt says. For one thing, it required separate 15,000-sq-ft home team locker rooms as well as a pair of visiting team locker rooms. “It means there would never be a visiting team in the home locker room of the other home team,” he says. Furthermore, the visiting team locker rooms can subdivide into smaller units for events such as high school football tournaments.
Another result of having two home franchises is the need for a neutral presence – from color schemes to banner displays – in nearly every space except for the locker rooms and 5,000-sq-ft customized club spaces for each team that flank the premium 26,000-sq-ft “Commissioner’s Club.” That meant designers had to creatively transform the stadium on game day for each team’s fans, resulting in an extensive fit-out of video displays heralding team colors and logos. The array includes four 30-ft by 118-ft high definition LED screens in each of the four stadium corners, along with a video ribbon board wrapping around the field.
The neutral theme also inspired an exterior that evokes nearby Manhattan skyscrapers, with a custom metal and glass fa�ade set over a masonry base, accented by a continuous sheath of aluminum louvers ringing the stadium but receding at the 50-yard-line entrances and at corner entry gates that each are reserved for four core sponsors to fit-out to their liking.
Many of the design plans took shape after the teams combined forces in September 2005, after New York legislators had torpedoed plans by the Jets to build a stadium on Manhattan’s West Side. The franchises awarded Skanska a design-build contract a year later, and work began on the stadium’s 55-acre footprint in May 2007. And first up was the formidable task of managing sitework and building foundations in what has always been swampland.
A central engineering task was protecting the existing stadium, which stood on piles above a high water table, says Pradeep Patel, principal in charge of the project for EwingCole. “We had to respect the cofferdam under the old stadium when we sited the new one, but we also placed it as tightly as we could to best use the available real estate,” he adds.
The team not only had to safeguard the existing structure while it built foundations, but also had to buffer the new facility after it demolished Giants Stadium and opened a 200,000-cu-yd crater next door.
To manage the site’s poor soils, the team built a foundation with more than 4,500 concrete-filled steel pipes that transfer the facility’s weight to bedrock deep beneath the site, as well as to manage seismic and wind loads. “The deep foundation system [has] pilecaps at all column locations,” says Thornton’s Kadakia.