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Austin FC stadium designers looking to create ‘indoor-outdoor’ experience

Gensler's vision of the new stadium for Austin FC emphasized an "indoor-outdoor" experience. (Rendering courtesy of Austin FC)

AUSTIN, Texas — The vision put forth by Austin FC and its stadium design partner for the club’s planned soccer-specific stadium — detailed in a meet-and-greet event with fans Wednesday night — is for an “indoor-outdoor” experience that will showcase both the green spaces around the stadium, as well as the structure itself.

The Q&A session, featuring Gensler principal and design director Jonathan Emmett and Austin FC president Andy Loughnane, allowed fans to ask a range of questions about the 20,500-seat venue to start construction this fall in advance of its 2021 opening. 

Those questions included how mindful the design team would be of LEED ratings and other ecological considerations, how the stadium will handle the wifi demands of thousands of tech-savvy Austinites on game day, and whether the stadium will follow the lead of San Jose’s Avaya Stadium and Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium in creating pitchside bars. 

Emmett emphasized throughout the presentation that there’s a balance to be struck in creating just the right game day experience. While they want to provide opportunities for Austinites to celebrate their love of food, drink and socializing, they also want fans focused on the action, for TV audience optics as well as in-game atmosphere. 

In designing the stadium, Emmett said “we want to stay clear of gimmicks,” creating a space that serves Austin FC and its fans best rather than trying to be the first at something.

austin fc andy loughnane gensler jonathan emmett

Gensler principal/design director Jonathan Emmett speaks to Austin FC fans Wednesday night with team president Andy Loughnane. (Photo: Alex Rubio)

“I think there are two aspects [of making this distinctively Austin],” Emmett said in a post-Q&A follow-up interview.

The first has to do with what Emmett calls “indoor-outdoor connectivity, playing off this idea of the entire game day experience, and how that can translate in the outdoor spaces, seamlessly into the interior experience and stadium in terms of their operation and function, and also that visual connection as well.”

Current renderings of the stadium show open spaces in the corners of the stadium, connected to a plaza.

Since last summer, Precourt Sports Ventures officials began communicating their vision for the 24-acre McKalla Place site: A public park with a stadium in its midst rather than a stadium ringed by acres of parking lots. 

Yet, Emmett said, “One of the big struggles is to design an open space that works for 20,000 people on game day,” and added that “a lot of care and effort is being put into creating a whole series of smaller, intimate spaces and a lot of entry points around the stadium, so it feel doesn’t like everyone’s in one place trying to coming in through one gate.” 

(Courtesy of Gensler, TBG and CAA ICON)

Emmett said the second defining aspect of the stadium, will be the giant, airplane wing-styled canopy above the seating bowl. It will crucially protect fans from the relentless summer sun and occasional heavy rains that define Austin weather.

“I think the roof canopy is going to be an iconic element of the design,” he said. “People will recognize it, see it on TV and say, ‘That’s in Austin.'”

In addition to its aesthetic value and protective functionality, Emmett said it’s also being created with acoustics in mind. The roof is lower over the south end of the stadium in large part because that’s where the supporters’ section will be. As with Banc of California Stadium — the Gensler-built home of LAFC, a project Emmett also led — supporters will be in an angled, safe-standing section. Emmett said the canopy will help the sound created by those fervent fans resonate through the stadium.

As Jay Torres of Austin FC supporters’ group Austin Anthem said Wednesday night, “We, as an SG, plan on being really, really freakin’ loud … so we want to know what’s being done to keep the sound in.” 

A sign at the entrance of the new stadium site. (Photo: Phil West)

Gensler is actually designing the section to transform back and forth between a safe-standing zone for soccer supporters and a stage for live music concerts. Grass playing surfaces suffer most in field-to-concert-venue conversions when stages are constructed on the field, Emmett said. Plastic panels laid over grass, by contrast, can be in place for several days and protect the surface from fans quite well. 

Loughnane noted technology will be critical to the fan experience to create as “frictionless” an experience as possible. He even mused on where technology might be by 2021, picturing RFID ticket scanning that would allow fans to walk through the stadium gates without taking their phones out of their pockets or bags.

He also confirmed that while the stadium can be expanded to 22,500, with what Emmett terms “very little difficulty,” this would be a decision for 2022 or beyond. Austin FC’s focus, for the first year, would be selling out the stadium at its initial capacity. 

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