SEFW volunteers discuss structural engineering at a STEM Expo at a Puget Sound area school district.
SEFW volunteers discuss structural engineering at a STEM Expo at a Puget Sound area school district.
2021 Fall Forum
Washington Sports Venues Then and Now: Evolutions in Design
November 17, 2021
Town Hall Seattle & Virtual Event
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Disaster Preparedness & Response
The Structural Engineers Foundation of Washington presented "Washington Sports Venues Then and Now: Evolutions in Design," its 11th Fall Forum held both in person at Town Hall Seattle and virtually on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.
In 1915, back before the Supersonics were NBA champions, the Seahawks won the Superbowl, or the Bulldogs fought in the NCAA final, the very first Washington state professional team, the Seattle Metropolitans, started its quest for the Stanley Cup. Since that time, games have been won and lost, teams have come and gone, and the backdrop for both hard-fought victory and heartbreaking defeat has been one of the Washington state sports venues. The very experience of viewing Washington sports is shaped by the design and engineering of the stadiums, fields, arenas, pavilions, and facilities our teams call home. Just as hockey in Seattle has evolved and will now take to the ice as the Kraken, so have these venues been architecturally and structurally modernized and improved over time. SEFW invites you to the 11th Annual Fall Forum, where local historian and journalist Knute Berger will present the stories behind several Washington sports venues and moderate a panel discussion with three structural engineers who brought them to life. With special attention given to the revolutionary reincarnation of the Climate Pledge Arena, the event will showcase history and evolution of venues all over Washington, including Husky Stadium, Martin Stadium, and more. Join in to learn more about the venerated Washington sports venues of the past, present, and future.

More than 100 individuals attended the event in person, while another 225 viewed the virtual livestream. Attendees were from 7 states and 4 countries and represented many design firms, professional organizations, municipalities, universities, media publications, and tech companies.

First, Knute Berger talked about the history of several prominent state sports venues, focusing on the community aspect. He mentioned Sick’s Stadium (which is now a Lowe’s), Stadium High School, Rogers Field, and the Kingdome – a “giant concrete alien spaceship” which arguably drew its largest crowd at its implosion. He remarked on the “wise adaptive reuse” of the Seattle Coliseum into Climate Pledge Arena, and how it keeps with the original vision of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair of “waste not, want not.” These iconic venues create peak moments of excitement, engagement, and emotional experience, and our community is richer for it.

(Be sure to check out an excellent article on where Knute Berger reports his experience participating in the Fall Forum and offers additional insight on sports venues in Washington.)

Next Mark Aden, Principal at DCI Engineers in Spokane and Los Angeles, gave an overview of the $45 million renovation and expansion of Washington State University’s Martin Stadium. The project expanded the stadium by building over and around the existing IT building south of the south grandstand, which had fortunately been engineered with additional foundation and column capacity to support up to three decks of future seating. Using a performance-based design approach, the design was able to isolate the IT building from any new lateral loading, allowing the existing structure to provide vertical support for the new building while not triggering a seismic upgrade of any existing buildings, which would have been expensive. Slide bearings and hinge columns were used as isolation methods. The project was designed in six months and constructed in twelve months. A subsequent effort expanded the facility further with a new football operations building.

Following Mark, Jon Magnusson, Senior Principal at Magnusson Klemencic Associates in Seattle, presented a combined 200 years of University of Washington history, showcasing both the Hec Edmundson Pavilion and Husky Stadium. Hec Ed, home for university basketball and volleyball, opened as a multipurpose fieldhouse in 1927, with obstructed views from columns affecting about one third of the seats. The renovation in 2000 included a seismic upgrade, restoration of upper level windows (which were covered during WW2), and removal of the columns by transferring building load to a supertruss. In total, the vertical movement of the roof during construction was less than 3/8 of an inch! Today, there is not a single obstructed view in the house.
Jon also spoke of the origins and evolution of the UW football team’s Husky Stadium. The original 1920 structure was took just 6 months from the initial idea to the start of construction (!!!) and had a construction cost of only $500,000! Several additions and renovations occurred over the years, including the first south stands in 1950, a north stands in the mid 1960s, expansion to the north stands in the late 1980s, and the most recent south stands expansion in 2013. Jon spent quite a bit of time explaining the stadium collapse during construction in February 1987, giving insight into what went wrong and how the structural team discovered what went wrong, as well as some of the miraculous stories from that day where not a single person was injured.
Lastly, Steve Hofmeister, Principal at Thornton Tomasetti in Kansas City, presented the $1.1 billion transformation of the Seattle Coliseum-turned KeyArena into the Climate Pledge Arena. Steve outlined several features from the various efforts to highlight the evolution of the facility:
In 1965, the pavilion featured a seating bowl at grade.In 1995, the renovation reinforced the 44-million-pound concrete roof with steel, dropped the seating bowl 35 feet, and expanded program space, with the entire expansion within the existing structure space.The 2021 renovation lowered the seating bowl another 15 feet and expanded program space outward beyond existing structure. A 500-stall parking garage (and tunnel to accommodate a semi-truck!) was also added below grade. 

The steel-reinforced roof from 1995 remains today, as does the original 1962 concrete structure and original curtain wall system on three sides.

Steve discussed the various challenges of design and construction, pointing out that traditionally the roof is the last thing to be built, but in this case the team was essentially building an all-new arena under a roof. The team joked they were building a “ship in a bottle.” The project also had to account for a new modern catwalk grid, speakers, lightshow equipment, scoreboards, and more, totaling 400,000 pounds of rigging capacity under the iconic roof.
The project drew in six Thornton Tomasetti practices from 10 worldwide offices, while the contractor Mortenson also brought in staff from all over the country. Steve remarked that the teamwork and collaboration led to zero clashes in the field, a truly monumental achievement – as if floating a 44-million-pound concrete roof in the air for over a year in a seismic zone wasn’t already impressive enough.
Finally, the four speakers joined onstage for a brief Q&A with the in-person audience members.
The event also included a few words from emcee and SEFW board member Melissa Verwest of Knife River in Spokane, who shared some of the SEFW successes for the year and took a moment to recognize Richal Smith, former SEFW board member and local structural engineer who passed away earlier in 2021. He will be missed.

Video Recording
 A recording is available on the SEFW Vimeo page. Thank you to everyone who attended!
 View the video on Vimeo here.

Knute Berger 
is Seattle-area journalist journalist, television personality, and avid historian. He is an award-winning columnist for, host of “Mossback’s Northwest” on KCTS9-TV, and author of several books, including a history of the Space Needle published for the 50th Anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair. Knute grew up a couple of blocks from the late, lamented Sick’s Stadium in the Rainier Valley, home to the Seattle Rainiers and the Seattle Pilots, and watched the Kingdome get blown up in 2000. At the Forum, he will present a historical perspective on Washington sports venues and moderate Q&A with our structural engineer panelists. 

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