It would bring more of the regular fans closer to the field, offer "party decks" to watch the game in an outdoor sports bar atmosphere, and feature field-level club seats where high-rollers could see players sprint past onto the turf.
There would be a half-acre of solar panels, a "green roof" made of living plants, and office space for a Silicon Valley company that wants a high-visibility address. The technology could let fans order food or watch replays through their smart phones, and the open, "airy" construction would be unlike the retro brick ballparks and metallic domes that have dominated recent sports architecture.
The new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara is still five years from reality — if it happens at all. But in the two years that the city and the team were figuring out how to finance the $937 million project, a building that tries to blend a Northern California tech/environmental ethic with a classic football experience has been taking shape on architects' computers.
One way to think about the evolving stadium design, as described by architects with HNTB, the Kansas City firm designing the 49ers stadium, is Silicon Valley meets Notre Dame football.
"From the very beginning working with the Yorks, they had some different ideas," said Tim Cahill, the national director of design for HNTB. "There was never really a lot of discussion of, 'I have to have this many luxury suites to make this amount of money.' It was about increasing the fan experience of every fan and giving them a lot of options."
Given that 49ers president Jed York and his father John York attended Notre Dame, it's not surprising the owners asked HNTB to evoke the "ambience" of the Fighting Irish's iconic college stadium. The result was a lower seating bowl that would hold most of the Santa Clara stadium's 68,500 seats.
But the architects say the stadium, a project already registered with the U.S. Green Building Council, would be a creature of Silicon Valley. The team expects to present its design at a July 14 city council meeting.
The Yorks told the architects "to make sure we think about the future; make sure we think about this being the first of a new generation, not the last of a past generation of stadiums," said Joe Diesko, project director for HNTB.
The architects say refinement of the structural system allowed them to make the stadium's outer surface more open, by replacing more massive supports with thinner cables and rods.
One of the design's unique features is that most of the 170 or so luxury suites and 8,000 to 9,000 club seats would be enclosed in an eight-level tower on the west side of the stadium, rather than wrapped around the bowl as in most stadiums. The structure would be topped by solar panels and a plant-covered living roof, similar to the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, to help cool the tower.
The stadium also would feature new ways for fans to experience an NFL game. The 49ers are still working out the details for how that would happen, but the team plans to have club seats adjacent to the players' entrance, where fans could watch players take the field at close range. The architects also are working on ways to allow fans in selected stadium sections to go on the field before a game. And if those fans get too rowdy, there will be a cell right there in the stadium for police to lock up scofflaws, said Santa Clara Police Chief Stephen Lodge.
Cisco Systems is among the companies developing technology that would allow a smart phone or other mobile Internet device to be not only the "ticket" that gets a fan into the stadium, but a tool to select customized replays, call up player stats or buy a beer from your seat.
No one knows yet what the state of that fast-changing technology will be in 2014, when the stadium would open if Santa Clara voters approve a public subsidy of $114 million. The 49ers "want, soup to nuts, the connectivity" between fans, concessions and electronic marketing, said Santa Clara Assistant City Manager Ron Garratt.
A modern stadium is all about making more money. Revenue produced by a new stadium typically adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the value of an NFL franchise, and the term sheet approved June 2 by Santa Clara's city council suggests connections between stadium design and income for both the 49ers and the city.
The city-run stadium authority would get the money from selling rights to name the stadium, but the 49ers kept the right to sell sponsorships of all gates, levels, plazas and concession areas.
Santa Clara also negotiated a moneymaking opportunity that architects said is rare for an NFL stadium — street-level office space.
"It was a way to drive some more revenue to the city," Garratt said. "It will probably be folks who are looking for presence and a recognition factor."
The environmental features, and the availability of indoor spaces to be rented as an annex of the nearby Santa Clara Convention Center, are part of designing a "community-oriented" stadium, the architects said.
"That's appropriate to a civic building," Cahill said, "as opposed to saying it's just a football stadium."