Portland, Oregon, has dubbed itself “Soccer City, USA,” and cultivated an ardent fan base for its two professional teams, the Timbers and the Thorns. Allied Works founding principal Brad Cloepfil is among those fans and has watched various iterations of the Timbers play since the mid-1970s. When he heard that the teams’ owners were investigating adding seats to Providence Park, their historic stadium, Cloepfil volunteered his firm to do a study.
What followed was an exploration of how to design a stadium expansion in a tight urban space hemmed in by roads, utilities, buildings, and a light rail line. Where previous expansion studies had looked at the south side of the stadium, Allied Works focused on the east side and expanding upwards. The architects found a precedent in the raucous Estadio Alberto J. Armando in Buenos Aires, known as La Bombanera, where steep stands form a “U” around three sides of the pitch with a fourth flat side—a configuration the designers adapted in their new plan. Not being traditional stadium architects, they found another successful example of going vertical in London’s Globe Theatre, a venue whose stacked levels of outdoor seating manage to bring audiences close into the action below.
From the outset, the project’s signature gesture was an arched canopy that sweeps from the edge of the existing seating on the lower level over three new tiers of seating. Fret-like trusses support a 117-foot cantilever and wrap back across the top of the building, transitioning into subtly modulated clusters of pipes as they extend down the facade and anchor to the sidewalk. “We looked at what would give it presence, knowing we weren’t going to make a solid, historicist, site-cast addition,” said Cloepfil. “We let the structure be the expression and had the tension pulled back to the street, which allowed the rest of the building to be quite simple.”
With limited space between the field and the property line, and the need to get the right number of seats, the new levels of seating trays cantilever over the sidewalk, creating an airy, 25-foot-high street-level arcade behind the filigree of steel pipes. At each level, the architects “tuned” the angle of the seats to achieve the right slope and floor-to-floor heights to give visitors wide views of the pitch and accommodate the high-ball line.
Providence Park is one of the oldest stadiums in Major League Soccer, and Allied Works wanted to respect that history. The stadium’s original 1925 master plan by prominent Portland architect A.E. Doyle and Morris Whitehouse proposed a classically styled facility. While the west and north sides hewed more or less to the architects’ design, the stands on the east side morphed over time, eventually becoming a partially covered, low-slung seating area. Allied Works’ design visually reinstates the more vertical east side stands envisioned by Doyle and Whitehouse. “It was a missing piece,” said Chelsea Grassinger, project lead at Allied Works, “and this was an opportunity to bring that back.”