AFTER YEARS OF maddening rain delays, the U.S. Open finally bit the bullet and installed a gargantuan retractable roof for its prime venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium. The $150 million, 270,400 square foot addition, built over the last three years, consists of two 800-ton, steel framed structures, covered with teflon-coated fiberglass panels, that glide on 27-inch wheels along a track. The topping closes in about six and a half minutes. Many believed such a huge appendage could never be built atop the marshy land of Flushing Meadows Park, but it’s resting on massive steel and concrete-filled pilings 180 feet below the surface.
It appears inclement weather will no longer stop us from enjoying our beloved sports. Neither will our imagination, as retractable, fabric, plastic, and other innovative and audaciously designed roofs gain traction around the world. The biggest obstacle is cost, but that is retracting too, as designers use lighter, cheaper, more flexible materials. And as the technology and knowledge to build these structures proliferates, stadium roofs are becoming more and more fantastical. Because who doesn’t want a Fabergé egg over their head?
Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes Benz Stadium will open for the 2017 season. HOK’s steel frame structure, clad with ETFE (an especially strong, inflatable plastic composite) was inspired both by the Falcons’ angular logo and the oculus in the Roman Pantheon. Eight petals, which allow translucent light inside, slide past each other and open like a camera aperture in less than eight minutes. Now if the team could just fix its offensive line.
U.S. Bank Stadium , Minneapolis
The Vikings’ $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in July, is built for the harsh Minnesota climate, but still manages to be green. Its angular, transparent ETFE roof admits copious natural light, rising to provide views of the downtown skyline to the west and lowering to transition into the low-density Downtown East neighborhood. The peaked roof forces hot air to rise, keeping the building naturally cooler. The pointy design, say its architects, HKS, also reflects the area’s strong Nordic influence. Could that be a Viking Ship heading for downtown?