Covering the Super Bowls

02 May 2023
Mark waggoner news

This interview by Geoff Weisenberger, chief editor of Modern Steel Construction, originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Modern Steel Construction as part of the Field Notes podcast series.


Mark Waggoner’s experience designing long-span steel roofs has led to his working on multiple massive stadiums, including several that have hosted the Super Bowl in recent years. Thats not to say he doesn’t consider the small details. It’s just that he happens to have designed long-span roofs for more than a dozen professional sports stadiums, including SoFi Stadium, a winner of this year’s AISC IDEAS2 Awards program. Here, he discusses his work on some of these projects, as well as texts, travels, and experiences early in his career that put him on the path to being a long-span leader.

When you were younger, were there certain buildings or structures that influenced you to get into the field?

I would say that came a little bit later when I was in college. You take a lot of classes where you learn how to design a beam and those kinds of things, but they don’t do a lot of teaching in terms of, ‘Hey, here’s how you come up with, say, the Hancock Building or something like that.’ At one point, I read David Billington’s TheTower and the Bridge: The New Art of StructuralEngineering and devoured a lot of those kinds of books. When I was in grad school, that was pretty influential, just seeing what people were doing out there in the real world and how innovative and creative they could be, and also seeing the kind of stuff that’s possible. Perhaps the culmination of that for me was when I finished up grad school at UT [University of Texas at Austin], someone from SOM came to campus and pitched this great opportunity. They were doing a structural engineering traveling fellowship every year where they would provide money to travel and see some of these kinds of amazing structures. I was fortunate enough to get to do that the summer after I finished grad school and before I started work at Walter P Moore. I traveled around Europe and got to see a lot of the buildings that I’d learned about in the books I’d read. That was quite an experience.

I can imagine. Obviously, there are countless examples of great architecture and structural engineering in Europe. Was there one city or building in particular that wowed you more than any other?

Munich Olympic Stadium, which was built for the 1972 Olympics. It’s one of the first structures to use steel cables on a large scale to stabilize the roof and was a very influential building. That one certainly stood out.

It is a beautiful stadium. And clearly struck a chord since stadium roofs are now your specialty. Once you started working at Walter P Moore, were there any projects that served as important lessons early in your career or that perhaps changed some of your preconceived notions about designing buildings?

Early on, I worked on NRG Stadium in Houston—previously Reliant Stadium— when it was replacing the Astrodome. I came in when that one was already underway and the design had been going for a little while. But my second project after that was what’s now called State Farm Stadium for the Arizona Cardinals—previously Cardinals Stadium and University of Phoenix Stadium. And I worked on that one all the way through. I’d say it was pretty formative for me, seeing the whole process and also realizing that we do a lot more than just design stuff. We have to be very aware that we’re an integral part of getting something very complicated built. So working with the builders and understanding how that interaction goes really set the stage for a lot of other things that i’ve done since.

I’ll bet! So you go to work on State Farm Stadium, which just hosted this year’s Super Bowl, as well as sofi Stadium, which hosted the Super Bowl last year. That’s pretty cool.

Yes, and when it came to State Farm Stadium, we had to check the roof for all of Rihanna’s platforms that were going up and down. That was interesting.

Indeed. When that performance started, I was just hoping she wouldn’t fall!

I’m sure she was tethered, but I can definitely say that the roof was capable of handling the platform loads.

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