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Volume 21 No. 2
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Speedier roof mechanisms may affect decisions

The Atlanta Falcons could potentially change the way retractable roofs look after their new stadium opens in 2017. Could they also cause a policy change at the NFL?

Bill Johnson, a principal with 360 Architecture and the firm’s chief designer heading the Falcons’ project, thinks so. The stadium’s “camera shutter” roof is designed to open and close in as little as 4 1/2 minutes, which would make it one of the fastest-moving structures in sports.

The Falcons’ innovative roof is designed to open and close in as little as 4 1/2 minutes.
Photos by: 360 ARCHITECTURE

“I’ve told the Falcons that it gives them an advantage in negotiating with the NFL, that perhaps they can have longer to decide” whether to keep the roof open, Johnson said.

NFL teams decide 90 minutes before kickoff whether the roof will stay open or closed for regular-season, wild-card and divisional playoff games, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said. League officials make the decision for conference championships

and the Super Bowl.

NFL policy dictates that after a decision is made, the roof must remain in that position for the entire game. There are exceptions: If it’s open, it can be closed if officials believe oncoming inclement weather may threaten the welfare of fans, players, coaches and stadium personnel.

On the other hand, the roof can remain open in the rain or snow if officials believe it does not pose harm to those in the stadium, McCarthy said.

Those situations almost never happen though, according to 360 Architecture’s research. The firm’s data show the four NFL teams playing in stadiums with movable roofs — the Cardinals, Colts, Cowboys and Texans — keep those structures open an average of less than three games a season.

Teams play it conservative on the roof issue for a reason you might not expect, Johnson said: a lack of weatherproofed interiors in premium spaces, Johnson said.

“A lot of these buildings are not waterproofed inside the suites,” he said. “So if there’s even so much as a 20 percent chance of rain, if you leave the roof open, then you risk losing your materials through water damage.”

Soggy hospitality spaces will not be an issue at the Falcons’ new stadium. The team prefers to play most of its games outdoors, so it went the extra step of having 360 Architecture choose waterproof materials for the seating bowl and the front of the suites.

“The other thing is, they’re going to play MLS in that building and MLS wants to be outdoors whether it rains or not,” he said. “So we can leave the roof open and have the rain come in and rain on everything and it’s OK. A lot of NFL and MLB stadiums cannot do that.”