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Volume 23 No. 14
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Xan Young, Meis Architects


an Young has stopped apologizing for being a sports designer. It’s a specialization shared by a relatively small number of firms, and she’s embraced the practice of developing seating bowls for arenas and stadiums.

Xan Young
“I didn’t really intend to go into sports architecture,” said Young, a principal and lead designer at Meis Architects. “But once you have an expertise in it, I guess it behooves you to make use of it. I realized that’s what I wanted to keep doing.”

For the past nine years, she’s worked with Dan Meis at various firms, including now at Meis Architects, a small, independent firm. She’s currently designing two European soccer stadiums (for AS Roma and for Everton FC), plus renovations at Staples Center and Paul Brown Stadium.

In Rome, the key issue for Meis Architects is re-creating the feel of the historic Colosseum without having it look like some cheesy, Las Vegas-style attraction. The $340 million stadium is due to open in 2019.

“Walking that line between acknowledgment and slavish replication is a little touchy,” she said. “You can see where the inspiration came from, but at the same time, it doesn’t look like something that could have been built centuries ago.”

Young fell into the discipline by chance after initially accepting a job at Morphosis, a Los Angeles firm that does about everything but sports design. As a backup plan, she had applied to a few more firms in Los Angeles, including KAA Design, where Dan Meis’ wife, Brandie, was marketing director. Brandie Meis forwarded Young’s résumé to her husband, who at the time was starting a smaller practice after leaving NBBJ.

In the end, Young accepted a job with Meis Architects and never worked for Morphosis. Her first project was a big one: to design an NFL stadium proposed for City of Industry, a Los Angeles suburb. The stadium never got built but the design exercise taught Young the importance of driving revenue from sports facilities.

“I think that was one thing I had to get used to when I got into this,” said Young, who now works in New York. “At architecture school, it’s all about the design. With these big sports projects, they have to get paid for. It’s a mental shift.”

— Don Muret

  • An attribute I look for when hiring: Curiosity.
  • A networking tip I’ve learned: The best connected people I’ve met hate networking.
  • Biggest challenge I face working in sports: The status quo.
  • Best advice I’ve received for career development: Learn to be good at only the things you want to do more of.
  • Woman in sports business I’d most like to meet: Mary Wittenberg. No one knows how to use sports to bring people together better than her.
  • Most memorable sporting event attended: Soccer state finals in high school. You’re young enough so sports are everything, but old enough to know that if you don’t leave it all out on the field now, you never will.
  • Causes supported: TransAlt (we should all drive less), Central Park Conservancy (we need to make the best use of our shared outdoor space; it’s what keeps the city breathing).