Think of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field like a child, one that grows up and graduates from law school. That is how AECOM’s Jon Niemuth views his design and the recognition it now gets for creating pure noise. He did all that work to get it there, but never quite knew how it would all turn out. CenturyLink has graduated, certainly, building a fact-based resume as one of the -- if not the -- loudest outdoor stadiums in all of sports.
And it was by design.
When Seahawks’ owner Paul Allen first met with Niemuth, Allen wanted the collegiate, roaring atmosphere he basked in growing up attending games in the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium. Niemuth obliged, bringing a stadium design to the NFL in 2002 that takes the raucousness provided by the fans and accentuates it. Now Seattle celebrates noise.
The Seahawks have set the Guinness world record for loudest outdoor stadium twice this year; the latest measurement coming at 137.6 decibels after Kansas City fans broke Seattle’s first record. And we all know about the little earthquakes that the fans set off by shaking the stadium. But how did we get there?
Some equate stadium noise to small, compact venues. Only part of that statement is true. CenturyLink offers compactness: it's built on the smallest footprint of any NFL stadium with heavily steeped seating close to the field. But it isn’t small. At 67,000 seats, Niemuth said containment, not size, proves primary. “If you’re trying to create a container,” he said, “the bigger the cup you can make it the better.”
Open air proves the biggest threat to noise, soaking up the decibels. But the Seahawks covered 70 percent of all seats -- also to protect fans from the often rainy weather -- serving to deflect fan-generated noise back toward the field. And in a joyous “unintended” result, the exact curvature of those big-roof parabolas coupled with the seating bowl design “keep the sound focused inward” at an even better clip than anticipated.
Once it starts getting loud in CenturyLink, it creates a “sustained momentum like riding a bike” that continues to build, Niemuth said. The added element of the Hawk’s Nest bleachers in the north end zone provide some aluminum-generated fun, adding a new element to pound on the field.
“The home-field advantage at CenturyLink, their home winning percentage in the playoffs being better than anyone, their regular-season home winning percentage, the Guinness Book of World Records thing, there are so many things,” Niemuth said, leaving out the fact CenturyLink leads the league in most false-start penalties by the opposition. “CenturyLink is starting to take on that reputation … like a cathedral.” That is, a cathedral of noise.Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and tech for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.