Big in Texas

Big in Texas

The new Cowboys Stadium is supported by two massive trusses that allow for equally massive sliding doors on one side.
Daryl Shields/Courtesy HKS

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could have renovated the well-loved but worn-out Texas Stadium in suburban Irving, but instead he chose to build a $1.15 billion monument to his team in Arlington, 20 miles west of Dallas, that may literally change how people view the game of football.

With voters willing to put up $325 million in sales tax revenue, Jones broke ground in 2006 on a 140-acre site within earshot of the Texas Rangers’ ballpark. Three years later, the Cowboys Stadium, as it’s currently being called—no one has paid for naming rights—has opened.

At three million square feet, the venue is the largest stadium in the world, with a roof that is 660,800 square feet and one of the largest domed structures bar none. Two epic arches create a record-breaking column-free span of 1,225 feet while supporting a retractable roof that soars 292 feet above the playing field. An 86-foot-high glass curtain-wall surface slopes outward at a 14-degree angle. The wall features a fritted glass system that, when illuminated at night, transforms the stadium into a giant glowing orb.

The stadium is the most expensive in the NFL, with many flourishes that recall the old Cowboys stadium, like a retractable roof, though they are outnumbered by new features.

But the superlatives don’t stop there. At both end zones are operable glass doors comprised of five panels, 120 feet high by 180 feet wide, that lend the building an unexpectedly sleek appearance. Within 18 minutes the panels slide open, the roof retracts, and the interior partially opens to create the feeling of an outdoor stadium. Meanwhile, party spaces abound in luxury suites that go for as much as $275,000, plus Vegas-style clubs, party platforms, exterior plazas, and concourses where watching the games on one of 3,000 screens is almost an afterthought.

The ensemble is truly enormous, but being “large was secondary,” said Mark Williams, principal and project director for HKS Sports and Entertainment Group. The Dallas-based firm won the 2001 design competition by developing a concept based on an analysis of Cowboy brand identity. The HKS team focused on the star power of the Cowboys, but also on the personality of the fans and city. “The stadium needs to be stamped with the DNA [of its surroundings],” he said. “Sports facilities are very meaningful places for people because of the memories associated with them.”

The interior is capacious, with the largest video screen of any stadium in the world, so big it has already been hit by an errant punt.

That sense of nostalgia could make it difficult for fans who bonded with the 38-year-old Texas Stadium to fully embrace the scale of the new venue and the over-the-top experience it offers: Two high-definition screens running from 20-yard line to 20-yard line hang 90 feet above the field, flanked by two smaller screens, each 27 feet tall by 48 feet wide. Fans, whether seated in a luxury suite or at the top tier, have unencumbered views more akin to indoor arena seating than to that of a traditional stadium. (Unfortunately, NFL punters have already proven that they can hit the screens as well.)

While the Cowboys originally expressed an interest in going green, announcing in 2008 that they were signing onto the EPA’s now-defunct National Environmental Performance Track, HKS did not respond when asked to discuss any sustainable features. If the apparent lack of green bothers Cowboys fans, you wouldn’t know it.

Less than one year before the stadium opened, the Dallas News reported that 85 percent of the 2009 season tickets had been sold. Cowboys fan Steve McPherson voiced the opinion of many when he said that the new stadium “doesn’t really matter to me, but I’ll probably make it to one game this season. I am interested in seeing those big screens.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.30.2009_CA.