The new, HNTB-designed home of the Columbus Crew emerges as a bold, fan-centric stadium that breathes life into the city’s core.
When Columbus Crew President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko describes the Major League Soccer team’s new Lower.com Field as “intimidating,” he means it as a compliment. The HNTB-designed venue, emboldened with dark colors that are unique among stadiums around the world, is purposefully imposing and sophisticated.
The Columbus, Ohio, facility’s imposing black roof canopy – one of the largest in the league – caps the aesthetic. Covering every seat in the 20,000-seat stadium, it both provides comfort for fans and delivers the Crew a competitive advantage by reverberating noise back to the field.
“The goal was to create an iconic venue,” said HNTB National Sports Practice Leader Gerardo Prado. “The project team talked about what ‘iconic’ means and decided to create an aesthetic that hasn’t been done before in MLS. There are lots of angles, some perforated, on the exterior façade. The edges look strikingly sharp. The structural system for the canopy is at an angle. Even the canopy lights are arranged in an angular pattern that ties to the Crew’s crest design. These features enforce the brand and showcase movement and speed.”
Tough but sweet
Despite its powerful presence, Lower.com Field invites fans to an intimate experience. The 460,000-square-foot stadium occupies a footprint 150% larger than the team’s previous facility, but places seats 12 feet closer to the pitch at field level and more than 25 feet closer in the upper level. The stadium’s 360-degree main concourse provides unobstructed views of the field to enhance the fan experience and is designed to support 365-day a year activation by supporting non-soccer events.
“Lower.com Field is beautifully practical,” said HNTB Design Director Ryan Gedney. “There are a lot of stadia in the world doing sculptural gymnastics to create physical icons that don’t necessarily function well enough to make the game experience great. The stadium roof, the exterior and the seating all were driven to be honest and practical expressions of the game’s needs, which are to maximize intimacy and energy.”
Focus groups and town hall meetings with season ticketholders and Crew Supporters groups, allowed HNTB’s design team to hear from the most passionate fans and help inform the design of specialty spaces.
- Lower.com Lounge boasts 10 bunker-style private suites with seats just 16 feet from the field and at eye level to the action on the pitch. Windows in a bar and lounge inside the adjacent club overlook the pitch and an outdoor patio with fireplaces.
- Field Club, the stadium’s largest premium-seating option, lets fans watch players walk from the locker room to the pitch.
- Two main concourse clubs include the refined and classic River Club, with pizza ovens, a large bar and floor-to-ceiling windows that provide both pitch and city views, and the Rail Club, where a festive party vibe celebrates the spirit of the Crew.
- A suite-level club above the concourse, with a bar and lounge and amenities that rival an upscale retail shop, includes a variety of private suites and loge box seats, which provide some of the best views in all of MLS.
Crew Supporters cheer from the Nordecke, a 3,364-seat safe standing seating section and accompanying beer garden situated along the stadium’s north end. It is the second-largest supporters’ section in MLS. With most of the section at a 34-degree angle — and at 37 degrees at the top — players feel like the Nordecke and its boisterous ultra-fans are on top of the field.
“The stadium is spectacular, and it’s defied all of our expectations. It’s modern… It’s not your traditional stadium that’s been being built in so many environments around North America. I think it represents the modern view of the city and its young, aspirational focus. It’s perfect.”
“Lower.com Field is an exemplar of the next generation of soccer specific stadiums in theUnited States. With seating that brings fans closer to the action and its impressive array of differentiated premium spaces, Lower.com Field has deservedly made itself a destination for international matches and has raised the bar for all clubs in MLS.”
“This past summer I attended a match against the Columbus Crew at the Crew’s magnificent new Lower.com Field. It was an incredible exciting atmosphere and the stadium is state of the art. Another fantastic MLS venue.”
“Lower.com Field represents the best of next-generation MLS facilities. It fits seamlessly into the neighborhood; is incredibly well-designed for function (things like easy ingress and egress, access to amenities, etc); is beautifully appointed; and there is not a bad seat in the house to watch a match.”
Lower.com Field is an absolute gem among MLS stadiums. It is beautifully designed to deliver an amazing fan experience. The stadium seats are close to the pitch, there’s a variety of smartly-designed club and lounge spaces, a beer garden and multi-purpose plaza. The stadium captivates fans and creates a world-class soccer viewing experience.”
Fan-centric in every detail
Twenty-three years ago, the Columbus Crew was the first MLS club to open a soccer-specific venue. MLS facilities have evolved since then into more complex structures that lean into innovative, sophisticated design that caters to fan experience.
HNTB’s architecture team know that the overall experience is diminished if fans have difficulty getting into the match.
So, the team designed a 360-degree main concourse that allocates 5-square-feet per person, exceeding MLS recommendations. The feeling of spaciousness greets ticketholders on the stadium’s southern community plaza, where up to 70% of fans enter the stadium as they march down Nationwide Boulevard. They enter the stadium through a 6,200-square-foot plaza before reaching the Crew House Pub, a 300-capacity sports bar and grill, and then into the main concourse.
“Having this chance to reimagine the fan experience for one of the original MLS teams was special,” said Gedney. “It was an opportunity for the architecture to draw both from the team’s roots and its future. Once you get beyond the iconic postcard of a stadium image, venues can sometimes start to feel typical. Here, there’s a richness of thinking and detail that will deliver moments of surprise and delight fans.”
Besides giving the Columbus Crew a new home, the team’s ownership wanted Lower.com Field to connect to the greater community. The finished stadium is the spark for a new neighborhood, Astor Park, which brings life into an underused area in the urban core. Leveraging Lower.com Field’s plaza and other amenities as key community assets, the Crew’s ownership group and a development partner are creating a dynamic new, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in downtown Columbus.
“The project turned out much better than we could have possibly imagined,” said Dee Haslam, Chief Executive Officer of Haslam Sports Group, the Crew’s owner. “We worked hard to get the look and feel right. To open a new stadium is a great unifier for the community.”
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