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Volume 23 No. 14
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LAFC acts on supporters’ stadium design ideas

Supporters of the LAFC gather at the L.A. offices of architect Gensler to discuss concepts for the team’s new home.
Photos by: ANDREW QUIRK / LAFC (2)
As the Los Angeles Football Club began the process of building Banc of California Stadium more than two years ago, owner and President Tom Penn said the ownership group came to a quick realization.

“It dawned on us from day one that we didn’t know anything about our supporters’ culture or their preferences. We could try to guess what they’d want, but it’d be the completely wrong thing to do,” he said. “We had the benefit of creating everything from scratch, so we wanted to take the time to engage with them and listen, not just do something as a stunt.”

It is not uncommon for MLS clubs to work directly with supporters on design elements around their section. LAFC looked to go beyond that, however, highlighting the high level of community involvement it has sought since the club’s founding in 2014, and so it’s become a central component of the $350 million, 22,000-capacity stadium that is set to open for the team’s first season next year in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park neighborhood on the site of the former Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

“We were charged to create a design process that was inclusive of the community, to build something that was not just for Los Angeles, but of Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Emmett, principal and design director of stadium architect Gensler. “It’s the notion of not just building a team, but a football club from the ground up that is embedded in the community.” That’s led to installing safe-standing seats in the section, becoming the third MLS club after Orlando City and San Jose to have that feature.

That led to more than three meetings at Gensler’s Los Angeles offices with designers, team executives and representatives from the club’s six supporter groups, which have formed an umbrella group called The 3252, named for the number of seats in the supporters section. More than 40 supporters reconvened last month at Gensler’s offices to talk about a 75-foot bar to be situated behind the supporters section and sponsored by Heineken, as well as elements of the game-day presentation and experience. The supporters weighed in on not only the bar’s colors, potential team-related art and materials for surfaces, but also on how to best create a system that would allow them to get food and drinks back to their seats quickly and keep the raucous atmosphere both they and the club are expecting.

One of the new concepts is a bar to be built behind the supporters’ section.
“The decisions now are helping to decide how we’re frosting the cake, but the reality is that they’ve helped us design the cake from the start,” Penn said.

Penn said the collaboration with the supporters has been invaluable for the expansion team, especially as it has aimed to create a relationship and bond with the community without having yet played a game.

Fernando Varela, who has been involved in a number of the meetings as the coordinator of supporters group the Expo Originals, said LAFC has listened closely to every suggestion they’ve made and used many of those ideas.

“You know that they want to build a club and not just another sports franchise, a club that is based around the city and community,” Varela said. “I don’t think you’d be seeing this level of excitement and passion from the community for another team that hasn’t played a game yet if that wasn’t the case.”

Emmett, who also has become an LAFC season-ticket holder, said that while having this level of input from fans in a stadium design process is due somewhat to the unique elements of soccer and supporter culture, he believes this may become a common practice in any new sports development.

“It’s been inspirational for us as designers to be able to open up our approach and have these conversations,” he said.