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The way people have been talking, you would think that the decision to host the Super Bowl for the first time in a part of the country that is merely moderately football-obsessed, and to hold it in a non-domed stadium in the depths of winter, was an extreme fluke.
But the Philadelphia architects who designed MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., always knew that they would be creating a custom stage for America's biggest sporting event.
As in football itself, the most important criterion for attracting the Super Bowl was size. Because the NFL demands that potential contenders be able to offer a minimum of 70,000 seats, and preferably a lot more, the designers at EwingCole were instructed by the teams building the stadium - the New York Giants and Jets - to create a colossus in the Jersey Meadowlands that could crush the competition. The result is a machine for sports with 82,500 permanent and 4,000 temporary seats.
To accommodate that number, EwingCole's lead designer, Craig J. Schmitt, said the design team rejected the traditional U-shape and organized MetLife as an unbroken ring around the gridiron. In the NFL, only the Redskins' FedEx Field has more permanent seats, just over 91,000. (Lincoln Financial Field has a paltry 68,500.)
But just as size isn't everything in football, it's not the only thing that won MetLife the honor of hosting the 48th Super Bowl. To appeal to the NFL decision makers, the stadium was equipped to do combat in a world in which technological prowess and luxury accommodations matter as much as athletic conditions.
Opened in 2010, MetLife is a stadium of firsts and onlies.
It is the first to be fitted with a blazingly bright lighting system that obliterates shadows. It is the first to incorporate sustainable design features such as waterless urinals. The industrial-chic exterior is ruffled with silvery aluminum baffles that resemble truncated airplane wings, so there are no identifying team colors. The desire for neutrality also drove the choice of seating, which comes in three shades of gray.
And did we mention that the $1.6 billion stadium received no direct government subsidies, a rarity in modern sports? It's also transit-friendly, with a train connection from New York.
From the start, the design - a joint effort by EwingCole and the Kansas City-based 360 Design Studio - was a response to a unique football partnership. MetLife is the only stadium in the NFL that houses two teams. Not only are the Giants and the Jets rivals on the field and at the box office, they are the product of two very different cultures. Yet one stadium design had to fit all, said Schmitt.
The Giants are football royalty, an 85-year-old franchise with conservative tastes. The family of co-owner John Mara has been involved in the league for three generations. "They care only about football," said Schmitt.
In contrast, the Jets are run by Woody Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson fortune. An admirer of Europe's elegant soccer pitches, like Munich's Allianz Arena, by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog and DeMeuron, he wanted the team's arena to be a design statement, Schmitt explained.
It was EwingCole's job to find common ground for the two franchises. Both teams agreed the stadium should be eye-catching enough to make a pitch for the Super Bowl. Despite being the most densely populated part of the United States, the Northeast has never hosted the game.
The problem for the architects was that they had to ensure complete equity in the facilities. They were also banned from using anything green, white, red, or blue - the colors of the two home teams.
EwingCole solved the problem by working with an industrial palette of neutral grays. Because color is so central to sports rivalries and essential in television coverage, they used technology to provide temporary splashes of color.
On game day, exterior lighting turns the arena itself into a colored emblem of the home team. With the push of a button, the baffles are bathed in green or blue lights, which can be seen at night from Manhattan.
Inside, every branding element is designed to be reversible. Like most stadiums, each team has its logo embedded in the synthetic turf in the end zones. The logos are separate panels that can be popped in with a forklift. With a push of a button, the names of Hall of Famers for each team can be flipped over, like the numbers on an old-fashioned baseball scoreboard. Only the team banners need to replaced by hand. Switching from Giants blue to Jets green takes less than 24 hours.
Perhaps the most impressive technology involves the stadium lights. Because HDTV replays require intense clarity, the architects installed almost 400 foot-candles worth of lights - about 10 times the intensity of the lighting levels found in a typical office. The lights eliminate even the slightest shadow. Schmitt is convinced it is the brightest building on earth.
In contrast to the visual dazzle, MetLife's aural conditions are relatively muted, especially compared to the Seattle Seahawks' CenturyLink Field, where the fan roar is known as the "12th man." That's because the sound there reverberates off large canopies. At the roofless MetLife, the noise dissipates.
MetLife has also turned out to be a huge moneymaker for the owners. Billboard magazine recently ranked it the No. 1 grossing concert venue in the United States.
Like all football stadiums, the owners have ramped up the luxury quotient in the private boxes and the stands. Football has become such a television game, Schmitt said, that it is hard "to get people off their couches to come to a game."
He's guilty himself. He turned down a chance to watch the game in person for the comfort of his living room. But that doesn't mean it will be a relaxing experience.
Recalling last year's electrical failure during the third quarter of the Super Bowl in New Orleans, he said: "I'm going to be worrying the whole time that nothing goes wrong with the lights."