SBJ/July 1-7, 2013/Facilities

N.Y. architect designs shape of roofs to come

The inventor of a classic children’s toy has assumed a key role designing the retractable roof of the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium, the facility’s signature element.

Chuck Hoberman, inventor of the Hoberman Sphere, a geodesic dome that breaks down to a fraction of its original size, is part of a much bigger project after 360 Architecture won the job to plan the $1 billion NFL stadium.

A New York architect, Hoberman specializes in transformable architecture, the design of movable structures. His firm, Hoberman Associates, has a joint venture with Buro Happold, the stadium’s structural engineer. Their partnership is called the Adaptive Building Initiative.

Together, they have worked on several projects outside of sports over the past 15 years, including the transformable video screen for U2’s 360 stadium tour. They also designed the Hoberman Arch, a theatrical set for the 2002 Winter Olympics awards ceremony stage in Salt Lake City.

This model of the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium sits in Chuck Hoberman’s New York office.
Photo by: 360 ARCHITECTURE
The Falcons’ stadium is Hoberman’s first job working directly on a sports facility project. His expertise in kinetic design led to the development of The Pantheon, a design the team of architects says represents the next generation of retractable roofs.

Bill Johnson, 360 Architecture’s principal in charge of the project, coined the term to describe a design that reminds him of the Pantheon structure from ancient Rome.

In Atlanta, the roof’s design and its motion are unique in sports, Johnson said. The roof’s eight panels open from a point in the center of the building, at the 50-yard line. Johnson estimated it would take about seven minutes to both open and close the roof. The retractable roofs at other major league stadiums open and close from one end of the facility to the other, he said.

“There have been a whole series of these roofs built over the past few decades and they keep working about the same way and mining the same ground,” Hoberman said. “We wanted something new and exciting, and things kind of clicked in terms of how it came together.”

360 and Hoberman came together for the Falcons’ project last fall, after Johnson had lunch in New York with Buro Happold principal Erleen Hatfield. The two discussed how their firms could work together in sports, and Hatfield mentioned her company’s joint venture with Hoberman.

“I have always admired Chuck, because if you have kids and you’ve been in a toy store, one of the things he’s famous for is his little geodesic dome,” Johnson said. “I was always fascinated by that.”

Hoberman’s niche in the design world fit perfectly with 360’s search for creativity outside of sports to give it a leg up on the competition to win the stadium design contact.

“The idea was, How can you make buildings shift and move and surfaces open and close and control light and air and sound,” he said. “I asked Chuck, ‘How would you feel about taking your small scale thought process and ramping it up to a super large scale?’ He was intrigued by it.”

For Hoberman, the opportunity to help design an NFL stadium marks a high point in his career.

“It’s the ultimate dream for anyone who likes to do movable structures, to work on a roof over a stadium,” he said. “They don’t build bigger movable structures than that.”

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