This Sunday, February 12, Super Bowl LVII, between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs, will be played at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The striking 63,400-seat stadium has more than sports appeal: it was designed by Eisenman Architects in 2006, in association with HOK Sport (now Populous). In anticipation of the big game, RECORD contributing editor Suzanne Stephens talked to principal Peter Eisenman.
Are you planning to go to your stadium for the Super Bowl?
Since it opened, I’ve been to past games there, including Super Bowls. I thought of going this time, but it looks as if I won’t get to see the “Iggles” play Kansas City. Yes, I pronounce it “Iggles.”
Peter Eisenman. Photo © Chris Wiley
“Iggles” is right. If you’re from the Philadelphia area, it’s so exasperating to hear sportscasters say “Eeegulls.” Anyway, how well has the stadium survived over the last 17 years?
It’s been very successful. Because of the changes in naming rights leases, it was first called the Arizona Cardinals Stadium, then University of Phoenix, and now State Farm Stadium. Yet it is still home to the Cardinals and it’s a great place to play ball—it has a translucent operable roof, a retractable natural grass, playing field, clear sightlines, and offers multipurpose flexibility.
How does it become multipurpose?
After the games, the grass field rolls out to the side and then the interior can be turned over to convention center activities or other commercial uses. Natural light comes in through the roof and through glass slots on the sides. Also, it has air conditioning.
That all sounds expensive.
We came in at a low budget. We did it for $450 million—reasonable then. And today, stadiums are much more than that. But we had a great client [Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill]. We were working with the Cardinals to find a site in Arizona, and went from city to city, but some towns didn’t want to pick up part of the cost. Glendale agreed, and while it is out of the way, it’s still near Phoenix.
In the film Peter Eisenman: University of Phoenix Stadium and the Arizona Cardinals made by Checkerboard in 2006, Michael Bidwill said that the Cardinals didn’t want just a conventional stadium. They wanted high design, although they teamed you up with HOK Sport, since it had a reputation for well-functioning athletic venues.
Our firm had designed a lot of stadiums for competitions—in Munich, Leipzig, and elsewhere—but none were built. In this scheme we took local motifs, such as a spiraling snake form, and played with them so spaces unfold from the inside out. The overall shape itself is like a desert cactus with insulated steel panels that wrap around this barrel form. The asymmetry, plus a roof held up by two Brunel trusses, with a concrete frame and a secondary steel frame, make it more unusual: The Cardinals wanted something unique and we gave it to them. Architecture is always value-engineered out of a project, but we kept the price low, and construction time short, so it was left in. Both Bidwell and Hunt Construction wanted that.
The main entrance of the stadium. Photo by David Sundberg, © Esto (2006)
It seems unusual that someone who has been known for architectural theory, as well as designing houses, cultural institutions, and university buildings, would be interested in sport facilities.
I’m a football nut. I’ve had seats for the Giants in New York since 1957, although I stopped going last year because it got too exhausting. But I was interested even before 1957: When I was at Cornell University as an undergraduate, I was a cheerleader, and danced around as the Cornell Bear.
Eisenman, kneeling at left, pictured in Cornell University's 1953 yearbook. Courtesy Peter Eisenman
Why were you a cheerleader and not part of the Cornell football team?
I was a wimp—and a swimmer. There’s a huge difference between swimming and playing football. Cheerleading was more like a drinking contest and you got it through fraternity contacts.
Did the Cardinals know about your love of football when interviewing you?
I first said to the Cardinals representative, Mike Rushman, who had called Frank Gehry and me and others, “I bet I’m the only architect who can name the Cardinals’ entire backfield lineup in the 1947 game that won them the NFL championship.” And I did: Elmer Angsman; Charley Trippi; Paul Christman; Marshall Goldberg; and Pat Harder.
And, so we got the job.
The Eagles lost that 1947 game to the Cardinals. Where are you putting your money this year? On the Philly team or the Kansas City Chiefs?
I am an Easterner. So, I’ll put it on the Iggles.
Photo David Sundberg, © Esto (2006)