A Super Stadium for Super Bowls
NRG Stadium hosted its second Super Bowl (LI) on February 5, 2017, as the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons. Its first Super Bowl (XXXVII) was held in 2004, the year of the infamous halftime wardrobe malfunction.
Signaling a new standard for stadiums throughout the world, NRG (formerly Reliant Stadium) — home of the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — opened to national fanfare on August 24, 2002. At the time of its completion, NRG broke a number of records, setting several “firsts” for sports stadia. The adage that “everything is bigger in Texas” certainly applied in this case. NRG was the NFL’s largest stadium, covering over 12 acres and comprising 1.9 million square feet. It soars 265 feet high — more than 40 feet taller than the adjacent Astrodome, long dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” and is half again as long.
NRG was the first NFL stadium with an operable roof, and at an area of 3.75 acres, it was the largest such roof in the United States (at the time of its completion). It also featured the first portable grass field in the U.S. (which was converted to turf in 2016), and with 12,000 tons of cooling capacity, it’s one of the largest indoor air conditioned spaces in Texas. And outside of multi-terminal airports, NRG is also one of the largest public assembly spaces in Texas.
The most distinctive feature of the stadium — the soaring operable roof — was also the most challenging. The enormous bi-parting panels abut over midfield, spanning 354 feet between supertrusses, and are moved by a computerized system of electric motors. Several design and engineering innovations were incorporated, including unique stress relief detail and an electrical system allowing the roof to be quickly installed. An elaborate steel structural system had to be created to support this enormous roof, for which the construction had to be extremely precise. And lastly, the 2,000-ton roof wants to “fly away” under high winds, so a first-of-its-kind computerized clamping system was designed to hold it in its place. The translucent fabric roof creates an instant architectural landmark and a positive image for the City of Houston.
Fun Fact: In a move to help bring the Super Bowl back to Houston, NRG’s end zone displays were replaced with the largest digital displays in any professional sports venue. Structurally engineered by Walter P Moore and revealed in August of 2013, the video screens are the second largest of their kind, at a total of 14,549 square feet of displays. This topped AT&T Stadium’s previous record, and has since been topped by the digital display boards at TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and now home to the largest digital display boards of any stadium in the world. Walter P Moore engineered the digital display screens for both of these stadiums as well.