Inside and out, Minnesota United’s new home offers fans a world-class sensory experience of Major League Soccer

By Bruce N. Wright, AIA

At night, Allianz Field, the new home of the Minnesota United FC, hovers above Interstate 94 like a glowing UFO. In daylight, its shimmering screen makes an equally commanding impression. Whatever time of day and from whichever direction you approach the newest Major League Soccer stadium, you can be sure the taut fabric that wraps the playing field will not disappoint. A unique combination of fiberglass mesh and PTFE-laminated film with a prominent silver cast, the translucent skin can change in appearance from moment to moment, in all levels of light and darkness.

Inside the stadium, the visual drama is amplified by sound. Seating is unusually close to the field (or “pitch”), placing spectators nearly on top of the action in a 360-degree seating bowl that includes a vertically angled standing section at one end. Dubbed the Wonderwall and reserved for the team’s most passionate fans, the standing section creates a wall of sound during intense game action that deflects off the fabric enclosure and back onto the pitch. “We knew that if we designed the Wonderwall right,” says Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright, “the 2,900 fans in that section would lead the entire game experience.”

“We’re committed to designing soccer stadiums, like Wembley Stadium in London, that become second homes for fans,” says architect Bruce Miller, AIA, a senior principal with Populous, a global design firm with a long résuméof notable sports venues, including several in the Twin Cities (see sidebar below). “We want fans to feel intimately connected to the game through supporters’ sections and technology.”

The 19,400-seat Allianz Field borrows its continuous canopy over the seating bowl from other, larger soccer stadiums around the world. The canopy protects fans from the elements and reduces the spill of light and noise into the neighborhood, all while creating a home-field atmosphere that’s exhilarating for fans and intimidating for visiting teams.

At every turn, the stadium also echoes its Minnesota roots. “We worked really hard to integrate a number of connection points for the fans here,” says Miller, who drove to northern Minnesota to observe the aurora borealis, trekked along the rocky North Shore of Lake Superior, and took in the colors and textures of the state’s taconite mines.

Those experiences can all be read in the design of Allianz Field. A colorful nighttime LED show emanating from the fabric wrap, for example, mimics the Northern Lights, and the walls of the four entry gates are composed of rough, board-formed concrete with horizontal lines that evoke the geologic layers in North Shore cliffs. The entry walls are also painted a deep graphite gray to match the color of raw taconite. And speaking of taconite, a large chunk of it is mounted on a short concrete pedestal at the home team’s entry onto the pitch; Minnesota United players rub the rock for good luck as they file onto the field.

But if you ask fans what they remember most about their first game at Allianz Field, most will talk about the sound. The driving, pounding sound. The kind you can feel in your chest.

“The most important design influence for us was understanding the needs of the different fan segments we wanted to attract to this facility,” says Wright. “We tried to make sure that every fan can absorb the embellished experience at Allianz Field.”

No seat in the stadium is more than 125 feet from the playing field, and even when fans get up to grab food or a drink, they rarely lose sight of the game action. That’s because the seating bowl features a series of decks, balconies, and other stage-like perches with panoramic views of the stadium environment.

On the concourse level, fans flock to the Brew Hall, a 4,100-square-foot space filled with TVs and lined with transparent garage doors that open onto the concourse in nice weather. Spectators in the Stadium Club and Upper 90 Club sections on the west side of the field enjoy access to premium food-and-beverage spaces, while the subterranean, ultra-premium Field Club offers fans a chance to see Minnesota United players up close and personal as the athletes walk through the space on their path from the locker room to the pitch.

The array of seating and food-and-beverage options offers something for every fan segment, but it’s not what differentiates Allianz Field from other professional-sports venues in the Twin Cities. “The biggest difference,” says Wright, “is that Minnesota United is a fan-led organization, and it shows in every detail in our building.”

Others agree, including Sports Business Journal, which lauded Allianz Field as the gold standard for soccer-only stadiums in the U.S. in a recent cover story. “Right now, we are the standard,” says Wright. “Allianz Field is the best in the business in terms of design and operations.”

Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
Client: Minnesota United FC
Architect: Populous
Principal-in-charge: Bruce Miller, AIA
Structural engineer and fabric developer: Walter P Moore
Fabric installation: FabriTec Structures
Fabric manufacturer: Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics
Landscape architect: Populous
General contractor: Mortenson
Seating capacity: 19,400
Completion: April 2019
Photographer: James Ewing (unless otherwise noted)

Architects have long favored fabric as a roofing material for stadiums because it is strong in tension and light in weight, which allows it to cover large areas with significantly less structural support. The fabric wrapping Allianz Field is a fiberglass weave laminated with a PTFE membrane newly developed by the project’s structural engineer, Walter P Moore. While PTFE fabric has been used on stadiums since the 1970s, the Allianz Field fabric achieves a new level of stability and strength. The advance in performance enabled the architects and engineers to use larger—and thus fewer—pieces for a more streamlined appearance. Less weight, less structural steel, and increased durability—it all adds up to big savings and a lower carbon footprint.

Allianz Field is Populous’ fourth Twin Cities sports venue, after Xcel Energy Center, Target Field, and TCF Bank Stadium. The firm has designed several Major League Soccer facilities, including Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City and Exploria Stadium in Orlando, as well as a number of noted venues across Europe, Africa, and Asia, including the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.