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Innovation

Home Field: SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California

Photo Courtesy Dawn Cotterell

SoFi Stadium, which opened in 2020, certainly is a sight to behold. Host of the recent Rams win at Super Bowl LVI, SoFi stands as the NFL’s largest stadium. It is also the first indoor-outdoor stadium ever constructed and one of three interconnected venues residing under a huge 28-acre roof. Located just south of downtown Los Angeles on the grounds of the former Hollywood Park racetrack, SoFi Stadium is a hi-tech entertainment palace – but in an exceptionally environmentally friendly way. 

Photo Courtesy Ama Kumi Thomas 

The initial concept in 2014 was that this stadium would be a place for both public enjoyment and environmental well-being. “From day one, we took hold of this idea that we’re building for something bigger than NFL Sunday. We’re building for a community and for Southern California,” according to HKS Architects’ Director of Sports Lance Evans, who served as the stadium’s lead designer.  

Sustainability guidelines were integral in the master plan to transform the nearly 300 acres of old Hollywood Park into the 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium and its companion venues (the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater and American Airlines Plaza).

Water-conserving low-flow fixtures were part of the building process, as were energy-efficient lighting and heating & cooling systems. A comprehensive waste management program serves to maximize landfill diversion through recycling, composting, food waste bio-digestion, reuse, and donations. The carbon footprints of the venues’ operations are tracked, and a sustainable purchasing policy involves utilizing compostable and recyclable service ware along with limiting or eliminating janitorial products with high VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and air pollutants (particulate matter) levels. 

Photo Courtesy SoFi Stadium Press Kit

One major challenge for the architects were the restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) because of the stadium’s proximity to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). However, architects found solutions that not only appeased the FAA but also had environmental benefits. Since the stadium lies in LAX’s flight path, SoFi’s lighting had to meet FAA guidelines; this led to lighting that decreased light pollution, particularly on non-game days. To adhere to FAA building height limitations, the architects decided to sit the stadium 100 feet below ground level, and this choice lowered the need for energy-dependent mechanical systems.  

To avoid the embedded stadium having a semi-subterranean atmosphere, SoFi’s designers turned to Southern California’s natural geography for inspiration. The Pacific Ocean’s cliffside geography spurred the idea for the open-air concourses and meandering paths for fans to walk to get to their seats. By moving away from relying on elevators and escalators, a reduction in electrical usage was achieved. 

While SoFi’s open-air design, particularly its massive, wave-like canopy roof, provides picturesque views, it also creates a type of passive ventilation by allowing ocean winds to naturally cool the stadium at night.

Airflow is controlled by panels located around the roof’s perimeter that can open and close. The canopy roof also increases natural light inside the stadium because it is made out of a single layer of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (EFTE) that makes the roof semi-translucent. The ETFE layer’s geometric pattern, moreover, acts to shield people from direct sunlight as well as lowering solar glare into the stadium. 

Sustainability is just as important (if not more so) to the landscape architecture as it is to the venues themselves. Landscape planting, in fact, began far before the stadium was finished and quickly had beneficial effects. “Along with the landscape flourishing, we’ve seen a lot of the wildlife starting to come back in and an ecosystem starting to actualize,” noted HKS’s Lance Evans

The historic Hollywood Park was well known for the parkland and small lakes in its racetrack’s infield, which inspired the design team to implement open land and water in its plans. One major project involved the landscaping surrounding the SoFi stadium. Each side of the stadium features plants representing a different part of the Mediterranean biome (Southern California’s primary flora ecosystem), and these plants also match the microclimate on that stadium’s side. For example, the foliage on the west side – the one closest to the ocean – is reminiscent of Chaparral coastal bluffs. 

The landscaping has even extended to still undeveloped areas. A series of tree boxes now reside on land currently used for temporary parking. These tree boxes now act to beautify the vacant lots and provide ecological benefits like CO2 absorption. However, these trees stand ready for landscaping use once the land is developed. Each box’s plantings match with the plant communities already existing around the stadium. 

The true heart of the landscaping project, according to designers, is Lake Park. The three waterfalls and a six-acre artificial lake provide environmental value. The lake uses 100% recycled water, annually conserving about 11.4 million gallons of drinking water

Photo Courtesy London Bridges

Additionally, the lake collects stormwater, which gets reused to irrigate the parklands. This water feature is just part of a more extensive stormwater capture system that includes bioswales, rolling arroyos, storm drains, subterranean cisterns, and the SoFi Stadium’s roof. The park designers have devised a filtration system, which they describe as “the first of its kind,” to reclaim water so it can be reused for purposes like irrigation. It’s estimated that 26 million gallons annually are reclaimed, including all the irrigation water. SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park’s Managing Director Jason Gannon states that “onsite recycled water is vital for sustainable water usage at SoFi Stadium.” And every opportunity to conserve water in drought-prone Southern California is much welcomed. 

Located around the SoFi Stadium parklands is signage with information on the various plants and biomes and environmental tips that people recreate at home. “It’s not just a stadium,” states HKS principal architect Mike Rogers. “This landscape is intended to promote education. As the site develops and becomes denser, hopefully, this landscape strategy can be applied to retail establishments, offices, and hotels.”

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