HKS’s sunken SoFi Stadium is ready for its moment in the Super Bowl spotlight

All Eyes on Inglewood

HKS’s sunken SoFi Stadium is ready for its moment in the Super Bowl spotlight

Nearly four years after first breaking ground, the $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium officially opened in September 2020 as the world’s most expensive stadium and the anchoring attraction of Hollywood Park, a nearly 300-acre sports and entertainment district rising near Los Angeles International Airport in the South Bay city of Inglewood. Designed by a team from the L.A-based office of Dallas-headquartered HKS Architects, SoFi Stadium has experienced a fair amount of pandemic-era turbulence since its debut with a spate of cancellations, postponements, and the like. But the show(s) (and games) have since gone on and with some safety precautions in place, the 70,240-seat stadium is now ready to bask in the spotlight as the host venue for Super Bowl LVI.

Squaring off this weekend are the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, the latter of which is one of two National Football League franchises that share SoFi Stadium alongside the Los Angeles Chargers. (The only other stadium shared by two NFL franchises is MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which is home to the New York Giants and New York Jets). Super Bowl LVI marks only the second time in Super Bowl history that a championship contender has played at its home stadium, the first being last year when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31–9 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium during Super Bowl LV.

exterior of a stadium with a plane flying in the distance
SoFi Stadium is located near LAX, a factor that played heavily into the stadiums design and construction. (Nic Lehoux)

In addition to its record-setting cost and shared nature, SoFi Stadium can claim several other notable superlatives. At 3.1 million square feet, it is the largest of any NFL stadium as well as the first indoor-outdoor arena of its kind to be built. Featuring open sides, the venue is topped by a colossal, cable net-supported translucent roof structure framed by a structural steel shell and comprised of a single layer of over 300 ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) panels, some of which are operable and can be opened and closed for ventilation proposes. More than half of the LED-embedded canopy features a frit pattern that shields guests from direct sunlight on particularly bright Southern California days and reduces solar gain into the venue. Weighing 3.6 million pounds, the wireframe cable net system supporting the fixed canopy is the first of its kind ever constructed in the United States and the largest in the world.

In addition to sheathing the bowl itself, the swooping, sail-like canopy also covers a 2.5-acre pedestrian plaza, American Airlines Plaza, and an adjacent 6,000-seat concert venue known as YouTube Theatre. Essentially, the complex features three open-air venues under one massive, all-encompassing roof.

“SoFi Stadium’s architecture is informed by extensive research into Southern California’s industry, architecture, lifestyle, climate, geography, and landscape, combining to create an authentic Southern California expression and experience,” elaborated HKS in its design narrative. “The sweeping coastline and the beauty and strength of the Pacific Ocean contribute to the clean and dramatic curves of the stadium’s unmistakable architecture that reflects the region’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle.”

roof detail of a stadium from interior
The stadiums lightweight ETFE canopy shields spectators from harsh sunlight. (Nic Lehoux)
looking out into a palm tree-studded landscape from a stadium concourse
Visitors travel down into the stadiums sunken bowl through a lushly planted landscape. (Nic Lehoux)

SoFi Stadium is also physically deeper than its NFL franchise-hosting peers. Because of its proximity to LAX (the airport is located roughly three miles directly to the west), the FAA placed restrictions on the new stadium’s height. As a result, the distinctly sunken stadium truly sits within a bowl and is roughly 100 feet below existing grade level—that’s about double the depth of any similar multi-use stadium. Per press materials provided by HKS, 7 million cubic feet of soil was excavated from the stadium bowl, which is accessible via “an indoor/outdoor meandering series of paths that guide fans through visually rich landscaped environments replete with amenities along the way,” per the firm.

And then there’s the all-important videoboard. Not surprisingly, the stadium’s Samsung Infinity Screen, which weighs over 2 million pounds and spans 70,000 square feet, is the largest and only dual-sided videoboard ever created in sports. It’s 1.2 times longer and 1.5 times wider than the field itself at SoFi Stadium.

a stadium with swooping roof canopy pictured at night
Although topped by a fixed roof, SoFi Stadium is open on its sides making it the first indoor-outdoor NFL stadium. (Nic Lehoux)

As mentioned, the venue has 70,240 fixed seats (expandable to over 100,00 seats for major events like the Super Bowl) including 13,000 premium suites and 260 luxury suites along with a dozen total individual club spaces.

While SoFi Stadium, which will also host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics in L.A. as well as the games’ soccer and archery events, has garnered plenty of accolades since debuting, it’s the larger “live-work-play” Hollywood Park development that has earned the privately funded project even greater acclaim. Whereas many major sporting venues are surrounded by a sea of surface parking lots and/or a modest smattering of commercial development, SoFi Stadium is the centerpiece of a built-from-scratch neighborhood-slash-sports and entertainment destination that, when completed, will sprawl more than 3 times the size of Disneyland and include a hotel, as many as 2,500 residences, a bustling retail district, and up to 5 million square feet of office space that will be built out in subsequent development phases.

Named after the historic racetrack that once populated the development site, Hollywood Park will also eventually feature in more than 25 acres of public parks and open space, including the completed Lake Park, a 12-acre green space flanking a large, stormwater-harvesting man-made lake. No strangers to stadium and stadium-adjacent landscape projects in and around L.A., Studio-MLA served as landscape architect for SoFi Stadium and the public realm elements enveloping it. Denver-based Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, led by Rams owner and chairman E. Stanley Kroenke, and San Francisco-headquartered Wilson Meany are the developers of Hollywood Park.

interior of a stadium concourse busy with people at night
SoFi Stadium can seat 100,240 people during major events, including the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics. (Nic Lehoux)

Joining HKS and Studio-MLA on the larger SoFi Stadium team were, among others, structural engineer Walter P Moore and Associates and project contractors Turner and AECOM/Hunt.

In addition to this weekend’s Super Bowl LVI and the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, other major forthcoming events at SoFi Stadium include a concert from L.A.’s own Red Hot Chili Peppers this July and the College Football Playoff National Championship and Wrestlemania 39, both scheduled for 2023.