Levi's Stadium is about a billion times larger than a smartphone, but it captures the essence of Silicon Valley today in much the same way.
The building's skeletal architecture by HNTB architects is not as stylishly polished as most garden-variety smartphones. It's rather starkly utilitarian, with exposed steel I-beams, concrete block food stands, and endless utility pipes exposed to view -- a 21st century version of old steel frame ballparks like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.
But that's OK. What it lacks in sleek surfaces and sculpted forms it makes up as a framework into which any desired function can be plugged -- just like an app. And each piece of the design is stretched and massaged not only to serve the stadium's functions, but to intensify them.
In keeping with its 21st century vibe, the utilitarian structure is enlivened by the colorful ornaments of logos and advertisements. We're accustomed to living in a nation of multinational corporations, and their brands are as much a part of our environment as the fog.
As a piece of design, the stadium also translates the high-def experience of a game we see on TV -- the roaring crowd, the superhuman action of the players, the intense color of the grass under the TV-studio lighting, the camaraderie of loyal 49ers fans celebrating (or commiserating) en masse -- into an enormous three-dimensional architectural spectacle.
The structural I-beams angling up from the ground serve their function by placing almost 69,000 seats as close to the excitement on the field as is possible. That's also the purpose of another innovation, the suite tower on the west side; by collecting most of the suites there, the upper decks of general seating can be lower -- and closer to the field.
Within the lacy steel framework, generous concourses circle the stadium to smooth the flow of people entering, exiting and mingling throughout the game. Invisible, but omnipresent, is the electronic web that brings video and food service delivery to every smartphone. And to enhance the diverse experience of everyone from average fans to corporate suite owners, different gathering places (including nine clubs) offer a variety of options to heighten socializing and views of the game from multiple perspectives and in multiple environments.
Here's where the stadium's deep design is as refined, sophisticated, and well thought out as a smartphone. As a modern design it may not be as sophisticated as the 1966 Oakland Coliseum by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (before remodeling ruined it in 1996), but it is fully in touch with the way people live and pursue happiness in the 21st century.
For example: The stadium design proves just how much television has reshaped the way we experience events today.
A couple of the clubs are right down at field level, allowing fans to eat and drink while watching the real-time action literally eye to eye with the players -- just as you expect from the HD big screen TV in your media room at home. Other clubs are high above the field, giving fans a panoramic blimp-eye view of the action. The architecture lets each fan move around and create their own game experience. The beauty is the experience is real, not just virtual.
Levi's Stadium is not just a monument to the euphoric cult of pro football in our media age, either. It also has a strong sense of place.
For the 21st century, there is no location more appropriate for this venue than Santa Clara's Great America Parkway. This is the city of the future. It is a multiuse city of workplaces, entertainment, theme parks, convention center, schools and hotels, stitched together with light rail and cars -- and now it has a stadium.
Even more important is the way the design is tied to the magnificent beauty of the Bay Area. The stadium's openness and spaciousness is transcendent.
Here is a public place where you can enjoy the hills ringing the bay and views all the way to San Francisco and Mount Tamalpais. It's about living life outdoors in our gentle climate -- even if the wind off the bay (the ghost of Candlestick) still hangs around.
This is Levi's Stadium's real contribution to Silicon Valley. Our suburban metropolis is maturing, and the stadium contributes a new kind of public place for Bay Area citizens to gather, mingle, celebrate and become part of the larger community. The architecture amps up every detail of that communal experience. It's what we have come to expect from the global, instantaneous world that Silicon Valley has ushered us into.
It is a stadium in, of and for Northern California. And that's good design.