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Above & Beyond

Roof covers new ground by bringing unique elements into play

By DAVID BARRON

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

As you drive at night along the South Loop and gaze at newly built Reliant Stadium, you may think that you see one building that, in the words of its designer, twinkles like a giant jewel box amid Houston's skyline.

What you really see, in the orderly, mathematical world of David Manica and his colleagues at HOK Sports, is two projects -- the stadium, which is impressive in its own right, and the roof, which is unlike anything in the history of American sporting palaces.

Roofed stadiums are, of course, almost old hat in Houston. Reliant Stadium, after all, towers over the building that broke -- and redefined -- the mold, the Reliant Astrodome. From the upper regions of Reliant Stadium's north side, it is possible to see downtown Houston and the baseball complex now known as Minute Maid Park.

Reliant's roof, however, is unique in the small circle of retractable-roof stadiums.

It has two retractable panels, as opposed to three at SkyDome in Toronto and six at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. The panels retract in opposite directions, similar to the BOB's roof but unlike the two moving panels at Minute Maid and Safeco Field in Seattle, which travel in the same direction. Miller Park in Milwaukee also has two moving panels, but they retract in a fan-shaped pattern.

Manica's first challenge in designing what would become Reliant Stadium actually came back in the days when the NFL's return to Houston was little more than a pipe dream.

In 1997, the stadium-to-be was a decidedly different project. For one thing, the roof was fixed, not retractable.

"That was the initial design," he said. "But the tenant requirements between the football team and the rodeo were such that the rodeo would require the roof to be closed. They were not interested in being a part of an open-air facility. INS &

"Houston was competing with Los Angeles at the time to get the team, and there is no doubt that the NFL prefers an open-air stadium with natural grass. So the best way to solve that problem was to design the new building here with an operable roof."

Manica's first drawings of a roof that would open and close began in the summer in 1997 and proceeded in fits and starts for the next two years as Texans owner-to-be Bob McNair wooed and eventually won the rights to the NFL's 32nd franchise.

HOK's original plan for the roof called for an "accordion-style" roof -- one that, in visual terms, would simply "fold up and go away" when opened. That plan, Manica explained, would prevent the roof from "overpowering" the stadium by setting too heavily, in a design sense, over the rest of the building.

"But that started to present some interesting engineering complications and cost and maintenance worries," he said. "And so we moved away from the accordion to the simple roof panel."

To be exact, two roof panels -- each 240 feet long and 385 feet wide. From midfield, one panel slides to the north and one to the south along a set of tracks placed along the 967-foot long "super trusses" that frame the roof structure.

When the roof is fully retracted, the open space above the playing field is 350 feet wide by 500 feet long -- 175,000 square feet. Unlike Texas Stadium, which has trusses that span the open portion of its roof, the Reliant Stadium roof is completely open to the elements when the two panels are retracted.

And, unlike the roof at Minute Maid Park, which whether open or closed is easily the defining element of that stadium, the Reliant roof is just that -- a top that doesn't overwhelm everything beneath.

Smiley N. Pool / Chronicle

Reliant Stadium is completely open when two of the roof panels are retracted, a process that takes only seven minutes.

"We keep the visual weight of the roof down by not stacking panels, like they do with the roof at Minute Maid Park," Manica said.

The second unique element -- at least as it applies to retractable-roof stadiums in the United States -- is that the roof material is made of fabric. Specifically, a Teflon-coated, fiberglass fabric manufactured by Birdair Inc. of Amherst, N.Y.

"We wanted to have the feel of an open-air stadium, even with the roof closed," Manica said. "When you walk around the Astrodome, you walk through circular, dark concourses. We wanted to have more light with the comforts of climate control, and the fabric was an important part of that design."

Birdair fabrics were used in the United States for the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Elsewhere, the company installed fabric roofs on the Millennium Dome in London, Olympic Stadium in Rome, Hiroshima Stadium in Japan and Shanghai Stadium in China.

"We used a high-translucency version of the fabric, which requires a lot of special care to install as opposed to the standard fabric," said Clark Martens, project manager for Birdair. "It allows 24 percent to 25 percent of the outside light to get through. The Georgia Dome roof, by comparison, allows maybe 10 percent."

As with all projects, there are tradeoffs in using fabric, Manica said.

"Fabric is more expensive than using a hard roof surface of decking and membrane," he said. "However, we found that not needing the additional amount of structural steel to hold up the weight of the roof would offset the cost of the fabric. So we came up with the most cost-effective roof that could be designed for this building."

This particular element of architectural haute couture cost about $10 million. However, Martens said, it is engineered to carry full hurricane loads, including winds of more than 100 mph. Try that with your garden-variety Armani frock.

The fabric also creates a vaulted frame over the roof frame to help shed water and to "give a sense of space for those inside inside the seating bowl," Manica said. A series of 10 steel cables, each two inches in diameter and capable of exerting 200,000 pounds of pressure, secure the fabric to the roof structure and create the series of peaks and valleys.

"This is relatively new for the United States, but if you go to Europe, fabric roofs are much more of the norm," Martens said. "The next domed stadium that will be built in this country will be the football stadium in Phoenix, and that also will be fabric. We think it is a cost-competitive system, and it gives you a lot of nice attributes, such as that feel of natural daylight."

The job of making the roof panels and their giant fabric swatches move to and fro fell to Cyril Silberman, president of Uni-Systems Inc. of Minneapolis, who also designed the transport system at Minute Maid Park.

This system, however, is as different from Minute Maid's as football differs from baseball, Silberman said.

For one thing, the Reliant Stadium roof is lighter -- 3,000 tons, as opposed to 9,000 tons at Minute Maid, including the sliding glass wall that runs along Crawford Street. That difference made for some, as Silberman gingerly described it, challenging design problems.

"The Reliant roof could depart the stadium under a number of different circumstances if we didn't do something special with it," he said. "In winds of 50 mph from the right direction, in theory it could sail away if you didn't have a retention system. And you have 50 mph winds at least 10 times a year during thunderstorms.

"Consequently, this roof has a very complex electrical and mechanical system that measures the wind and keeps the roof gripped firmly on its rails and moves it with timers and sensors that make it absolutely impossible for the roof ever to get away."

Another challenge in designing the transport system, Silberman said, is that buildings are subject to lateral defractions.

In other words, they wiggle.

"To build the trusses strong enough so that they wouldn't have had any movement would have required 400 to 600 extra tons of steel and concrete," Silberman said. "But, by allowing this to be a semi-flexible structure, they saved a lot of money and complexities and erecting hazards."

The roof is designed to allow 21 inches of lateral wiggle room as the building expands and contracts. To cope with those changes, Uni-Systems installed what it calls a four-bar linkage system on the north roof panel that keeps the roof on track as the building breathes. The south edge of the roof is on a rigid series of transports engaged to a rail that does not allow movement.

"We only needed (the release mechanism) on one side," Silberman said. "The other side has to be rigid. Otherwise, the building could fall over sideways."

The roof track also has a series of what Silberman describes as hurricane hold-down clamps that are not present on any other transportable roof in the United States.

"It's like a series of giant scissors with teeth under the railroad track (on which the roof moves)," Silberman said. "There's enough clearance for the roof to move, but not enough for it to leave the track. When the roof comes to a stop, they clamp on tightly."

If you're concerned about leaks, don't be. When the roof panels come together, it activates a system of inflatable seals, powered by a system of six to eight 15-horsepower air blowers, to keep fans protected from the elements.

Silberman's transport system can close the roof in seven minutes, as opposed to 12 minutes for the one-way system at Minute Maid Park. He estimates the total cost of the roof, including the transport system, the fabric and the structural steel, at about $48 million.

opensky.jpg

Reliant Stadium is completely open when two of the roof panels are retracted, a process that takes only seven minutes.

rooftop.jpg

Even at night, it's clear that the Reliant's fiberglass roof shaped up to look very different from the fixed-glass one that covers the Reliant Astrodome.

roofrail.jpg

The retractable roof rides this rail when it is set in motion.

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  • 2 years later...
Reliant Stadium is a nice place.

This is a nice article featuring Reliant Stadium.

a blurb:

"Oceanside, you have no real idea what lies ahead if the stars align, if the voters approve, and the Chargers put their big foot down on Goat Hill.

But don't feel bad.

Neither do I. Neither does almost anybody.

Well, Jim Steeg, whom we'll meet later, does, but he's probably the most creative thinker in pro football.

But if you're thinking of an updated Qualcomm, you are so last century. You need to get out more. Houston, perhaps. "

San Diego Newspaper

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  • 4 years later...

There's an article in the National Football Post ranking the nation's football venues based on architecture, history, weather, fans, and location. Reliant Stadium did poorly, coming in 16th -- even behind the now infamous Superdome!

Quote
Give the people something to cheer about, and I’ll bump you up. Until then, nothing here really stands out. Sure, the actual stadium is nice, but how often do you hear people talking about Reliant the way they talk about Qwest or Lucas Oil?

Linky: http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Ranking-the-NFL-Stadiums.html

Here's a few rankings of interest:

#1: Lambeau Field, Green Bay

#2: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington

#15: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

#16: Reliant Stadium, Houston

#18: LP Field, Nashville

#31 (last): Metrodome, Minneapolis

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Poorly? 16th is squarely in the middle of the 31 stadiums, making it squarely in mediocre territory. Additionally, the author complimented the stadium. He merely stated that the team sucks...which it does. Most of the stadiums ranked ahead of Reliant host Super Bowl teams and contenders (the Cowboys notwithstanding).

But, really, a guy who's been to barely a third of the stadiums...and seen an actual football game at fewer than that...is no expert on the matter.

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I do not give a fiddler's damn about sports teams or events.

As a music venue, Reliant Stadium ... oh, how should I put this? SUCKED big-time in its first major role - the Stones, in '03.

I was lucky to be in expensive seats - and the sound quality was mediocre. Those who spent less than a month's rent complained that they couldn't even hear the band.

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  • 2 months later...

Typical Houston conservatism...Reliant and Toyota Center are very bland and nothing like our Dallas counterparts when it comes to the AA Arena or Cowboy Stadium. Looks like more effort was put into Minute Maid. We'll see about the Dynamo

The Texans gameday atmosphere is pretty boring also

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Typical Houston conservatism...Reliant and Toyota Center are very bland and nothing like our Dallas counterparts when it comes to the AA Arena or Cowboy Stadium. Looks like more effort was put into Minute Maid. We'll see about the Dynamo

The Texans gameday atmosphere is pretty boring also

Conservatism, or better design? Reliant Stadium is considered one of the better stadiums for actually seeing the game. Cowboys Stadium is very nice to look at, but much of the stadium seating is too far from the field. But, if your goal is simply to look at it, well, I guess it wins on that count.

Edited by RedScare
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Typical Houston conservatism...Reliant and Toyota Center are very bland and nothing like our Dallas counterparts when it comes to the AA Arena or Cowboy Stadium. Looks like more effort was put into Minute Maid. We'll see about the Dynamo

The Texans gameday atmosphere is pretty boring also

Cowboys stadium ill leave alone, but AAC is very boring. The inside looks like a suburban office building. Victory Park, looks really cool but we all know how that place is.

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I agree - this is all about the team and the lack of history. If you look at facilities, then there's no way Lambeau is even close to the top. Create some memories and it gets ranked much higher.

I'm sure location plays a big role as well, move closer to downtown, or the galleria area, and it would get higher marks. I think even more extreme, if you were to move the stadium to a city with a better football team we would get higher marks for location as well.

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Articles like these are usually worth the paper they are printed on - and as they aren't printed, well... there ya go.

The author of this "effort" seems to be basing his rankings of a stadium mainly on the availability of beer, both inside and outside the venue. Like that really has anything to do with a stadium. Pretty funny stuff.

I remember a similarly worthless list from ESPN on baseball stadiums. The writer had all kinds of nice things to say about Minute Maid Park, but since he couldn't possible rank a retractable roof stadium next to his idols (Wrigley, Fenway and old Yankee), he had to ding them for something in order to shave off points. And he even said so in the article! LOL! So what was his "gripe"? The restrooms. They were too "clean and boring". ROTF!

At least writing this article kept the author off the streets and out of the neighborhood bars for awhile, as drinking seems to be his main focus.

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Typical Houston conservatism...Reliant and Toyota Center are very bland and nothing like our Dallas counterparts when it comes to the AA Arena or Cowboy Stadium.

Reliant was the first ever football stadium with a retractable roof. Conservatism ? I think you misspelled "cutting edge' there amigo.

NBA stadiums.. of all professional stadiums, they are the smallest and have to be fully enclosed. Usually the only defining factor for new arenas is how much glass do they have on their front facade. Compared to MLB and NFL stadiums.. all NBA arenas are conservative and very few stand out.

AAC went retro with the bricks and arches and detailing.... the whole concept of going retro in sports arenas is now 20 yrs old, since the opening of Camden Yards.. so they aren't even original in their style copying and attempt to appear American classic. More progressive than Houston.. I think not.

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It'll still be better than Reliant...I've been all over Reliant from floor 1 to floor 7 and up and down the Texans' offices...nothing stands out and I'm not the only person who has said that. In high school, you looked forward to going and playing in the dome, you can't even get into reliant as a high school team unless it's a special occassion.

I've been all over the Superdome also....I like the mystique about it...hate the upper deck but something about it is cool...

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It'll still be better than Reliant...I've been all over Reliant from floor 1 to floor 7 and up and down the Texans' offices...nothing stands out and I'm not the only person who has said that. In high school, you looked forward to going and playing in the dome, you can't even get into reliant as a high school team unless it's a special occassion.

I've been all over the Superdome also....I like the mystique about it...hate the upper deck but something about it is cool...

yeah, there really is something about knowing that within the walls of the venue that the absolute worst that our society has to offer was on display for the whole country to see for a full week, rapes, murders, suicides.

it's odd to see how people react less than 10 years after the stadium is built? even into the superbowl, I recall listening to everyone rave about how this stadium was THE best, great everything, what changed?

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Cowboy stadium looks retarded. It looks like a big broken easter egg sitting out on the prairie. It looks completely out of place, works against it's setting and is visually awkward. I predict it will age very badly and look even stupider as the years pass. It is to stadiums what the polyester jump suit was to fashion in the 1970's - cool for a while, but 10 years later "what the f were we thinking?".

I like the understated elegance of Reliant. Blandness is in the head of the beholder.

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In high school, you looked forward to going and playing in the dome, you can't even get into reliant as a high school team unless it's a special occassion.

also, not sure whether you are speaking from a highschool student who went to watch your team play in the dome, or from the perspective of a football player...

I've had the opportunity to stand on the floor of both the astrodome and reliant. astrodome felt so damn wide and expansive, but reliant, you can't imagine how tall that roof looks from the ground!

if you're talking about as a person going to the venue, the dome was horrible, seats were so far away from the action, and you would probably be stuck behind a beam that would only allow you to see half the field anyway, not to mention how dark and small the walkways were to get to your seats.

The astrodome has some great history, and some great things going for it, that reliant will never have, The Bad News Bears, and a name, an actual name, not a sponsorship, even when reliant bought sponsorship for the astrodome, it was the reliant astrodome. it really saddens me that they didn't give it an official name that spoke of texas, or the achievement of the stadium. even the "astrodium" would have been acceptable.

Anyway, reliant is huge, tall, very bright, very crisp. as I haven't been to a lot of football stadiums around the country, how many of them have as many windows as reliant that let you look out at the city, or let as much sun in on a cold january sunday?

as far as I know, reliant is a great stadium and pretty unique (only 2 domed stadiums in the AFC, Reliant and Lucas Oil).

as far as naming goes, since Texas Stadium is no more, can't we name this one The Real Texas Stadium, Reliant The Real Texas Stadium has a nice ring :)

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For every one person that finds Reliant bland there are 100 people that find it awesome. I can live with those numbers.

I also like how Houston will have 4 major league stadiums within a 6 mile radius. 3 of them less than a mile from one another with an exceptional urban park, a convention center, several nice hotels and a shopping plaza connecting them all within walking distance. Houston's sports venues ROCK.

When you compare the BIG picture in regards to stadiums between Houston and Dallas. Houston wins again.

Bland my arse. :rolleyes:

Edited by Mister X
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I'm talking about amenities...AAC has more to offer behind the scenes than Toyota....

As for Reliant....bland...if you don't put 40,000 in there the game is dead. The Dome in its glory days had mystique.

Heh, Amenities, I'm sure you weren't thinking of the 'dome, unless you count rats, and cat urine as amenities....

http://m.caller.com/news/2005/sep/11/astrodome-flaws-soon-forgiven-in-time-of-need/

I suppose Rice Stadium is as bland as they come, if you count it based on attendance records, I bet they don't get 40k in 5 years worth of games. Some great history in that venue though! Hosted a SB, hosted Kennedy for one of his more memorable speeches.

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2 things suck about Reliant, everything else is great.

1) Concerts suck there. Acoustics blow, and you will be so far from the band you can't see jack.

2) The immediate surroundings. It's a really depressing setting. Sure, the blimp can get an angle where you can see downtown or the med center, but with the flatness you could do that from anywhere within 15 miles. They should have put the thing somewhere else and just let the Astrodome rot it its own grossness.

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I'm talking about amenities...AAC has more to offer behind the scenes than Toyota....

I seriously doubt you have any idea what you are talking about. Having been to both, the seating bowls in both are comparable, and I thought that the suites in both were comparable. I thought Toyota had slightly better layouts. But, I will be willing to hear about your experience in AAC and Toyota, and what "amenities" you found in AAC that made it so much better.

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Typical Houston conservatism...Reliant and Toyota Center are very bland and nothing like our Dallas counterparts when it comes to the AA Arena or Cowboy Stadium. Looks like more effort was put into Minute Maid. We'll see about the Dynamo

The Texans gameday atmosphere is pretty boring also

the sound in cowboys stadium is horrible.....just ask the people at the superbowl how they liked cowboys stadium.....standing in massive lines to get inside.....only a few entrances that allow you to get to specific areas where your seats are.....the inability to walk around the stadium if you happen to enter at the wrong entrance

and the AAC in dallas has been slammed for having very narrow concourses and being very crowded inside and difficult to move around

typical dallas......all style over substance......if the AAC was so great.....they would not be hosting major basketball games at the football stadium......and ask anyone that was at the Houston Superbowl and the dallas superbowl which stadium they would go back to.....it will be Houston by a mile

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I seriously doubt you have any idea what you are talking about. Having been to both, the seating bowls in both are comparable, and I thought that the suites in both were comparable. I thought Toyota had slightly better layouts. But, I will be willing to hear about your experience in AAC and Toyota, and what "amenities" you found in AAC that made it so much better.

there is the Chili's that closed after a month of being opened.....after the remodeled the former space that held the old restaurant that had closed about a year after opening

and again typical dallas.....going to sporting events to see restrooms, "cool bars", and amenities instead of actually going to see the game

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  • 2 years later...

AAC- looks great on the outside.  Mall on the inside.  The upper concourse is small and the sighlines are terrible.

TC-  Escalotrs are neat to ride up inside the main entrance.  On the upper  concourse you can see the court from 90% of it.

ATT Center-  Sight lines from the uppe concourse are worse than in Dallas.  Paint and color schemes are terrible.

 

Cowboys Stadium- Looks amazing and is  fun to attend a game at.  Only did SRO, so was far away from the seats but could watch the game from the side of the giant scoreboard.

Reliant-  Roof is great and first of its kind.  Rest is bland but you can tell they spent most of the money on the roof and skimped on the rest.  Good sight lines in all parts of the seating bowl.

Alamodome-Small scoreboards and decent sight lines.  Not a great place to watch a football or basketball game.

Superdome-Cool, old stadium.  Even with all of the rehab done after Katrina the sight lines are still terrible in some sections and not worth the cost of the ticket.  No room around the stadium for tailgating.  Small areas under the freeway interchanges and in parking garages.  Champions Square is fun to go to before the games.

 

 

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  • Highrise Tower changed the title to NRG Stadium
  • 6 months later...

https://www.click2houston.com/sports/local/2020/09/11/what-does-the-future-hold-for-houstons-nrg-stadium/

 



This year, there will be revamped concessions at NRG Stadium. But to stay in the game long-term, Walsh knows they have to attract more than just football fans.

“That’s exactly what we’re looking at for the future, to find a way that we can create NRG Park as an event destination, not just an event facility,” he said.

 

For a good example, you only need to look 250 miles up the highway at the complex shared by the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers which features two state-of-the-art, sport-specific stadiums, hotels, shops and restaurants.

 

A field of dreams, hoping if they build it, more fans will come.

 

“There’s lots of great ideas that we’ve seen in trends around the country,” Walsh says, "including, obviously, mixed-use retail developments with restaurants, bars, and nightlife.

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At the very least, they need to give it a sense of place. Right now, the Texans have the most generic branding in the NFL, and NRG shows it. I really get the sense that their marketing since 2002 has been no more than "slap a Texans logo on it, that's good enough". Fits in with Houston's conservative business culture, but it's nowhere near modern.

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