Rethinking the idea of a stadium

ASU Design School students reconsider how to use 1.32 acres of turf, 60,000 seats and a concourse full of possibility

A student team's idea of creative use of Sun Devil Stadium.

The fundamental concept of a stadium has remained unchanged since ancient Greece: an enclosed space, tiered seating and amenities to accommodate large crowds gathered to watch competitions.

Now, design students at Arizona State University are drawing on faculty research and their peers’ creativity to rethink the idea of what a stadium can — and should — be. Their ideas are being incorporated into plansPlans range from architectural and transportation strategies to phone apps, branding and foldable furniture. for the re-envisioned Sun Devil Stadium, which is expected to complete in September 2017.

“In the last 40 to 50 years, we have acknowledged that stadiums are an asset in the city or campus infrastructure, adding to its original programming of its specific use for a particular sport,” said assistant professor of design Milagros Zingoni. “You see concerts, exhibits, shows, conference, but these variances are only from the programming point of view.

“We are looking at the overall stadium as a place that is used every single day. And that’s how ASU is becoming unique in rethinking the Sun Devil Stadium as an emergent taxonomy.”

Zingoni’s research focuses on emerging typologies as a result of changes associated with technology evolution — that is, the physical characteristics commonly found in buildings and urban places, such as the “type” of dwelling typically inhabited by a single family in a suburban landscape.

She explained that activities used to be bound to a place: people lived in a home, worked at an office, learned at a school or gathered with friends in a park. Because of changes in technology and culture, many of those activities can now be completed at any of those places.

“Looking at how these typologies are emerging is part of the design thinking process we want students to be exposed to — to basically think in a different way and challenge everything thus far to do it differently to address the needs of today,” she said.

The Design School’s 2016 Interdisciplinary Cluster Competition winners presented “Sun Devil Central” — ASU’s own urban park in the middle of bustling campus and commercial communities. Team Lotus members are (from left): Patrick Griffin (visual communication), Liz Madsen (architecture), Olivia Morley (industrial design), Matt Phan (visual communication) and Callie Raish (interior design).

For the past nine years, Zingoni and clinical professor Will Heywood have led a competition for all junior students enrolled in ASU’s The Design School, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The competition, the Interdisciplinary Cluster Competition, brings together students studying to be architects, landscape architects, industrial designers, interior designers and visual communicators to propose solutions to a design question. This year saw 35 teams composed of 162 students.

The competition originally focused on so-called “wicked problems” — that is, broad issues that are often too complex or in flux to be solved: climate change, social injustice, pandemic influenza.

In a particularly successful year, a winning team created a rolling water-purification device to transport, clean and store drinking water. The invention is patented and is being used in developing regions throughout Africa.

More recently, teams have applied their ideas to improving spaces closer to home by addressing needs of users at local non-profits, including the I.D.E.A. (“imagination, design, experience, art”) Museum and Maricopa Workforce Connections.

In 2016, the competition turned personal.

Few individuals better understand the lives and cultural and socioeconomic conditions of college students than, well, college students. When asked to reinvent Sun Devil Stadium, the students displayed a special sense of ownership.

“They were very committed and felt that they had a voice,” Zingoni said.

Over the course of 10 days, the teams — composed of students with different design specialties — considered and presented their ideas for what Kendon Jung calls a “disruption of the idea of what a stadium means.” Jung, a master’s candidate in postsecondary education who graduated in May, spent his required practicum working with the student groups and synthesizing how to increase the life of the stadium.

Student submissions included a running track around the main concourse; concessions open for daily use and food vendors inspired by Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport’s commitment to local restaurants; new methods of entering, exiting and traversing the field so that the Tempe campus is connected to Tempe Town Lake and adjacent commercial developments; pop-up tents that cover stadium seats and double as lecture spaces; showers for bike commuters; child-care facilities; and new ways — including movie nights and a beer garden — to activate the stadium as a “third space,” which is sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s term for somewhere outside home and work that serves as a place to find comfort, retreat and community.

Faculty judges from each discipline within The Design School — as well as Herberger Institute Dean Steven Tepper; Craig Barton, director of The Design School and professor of architecture; Isaac Manning, Sun Devil Stadium project representative; Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and associate vice president of cultural affairs, who is overseeing news projects involving the stadium; and Jack Furst, founder of Oak Stream Investors, who has been instrumental in providing private support for the new stadium — said picking a winner was formidable, and at least one aspect from each of the six semifinalist teams’ submissions is being considered for implementation into the new stadium.

The competition’s winning team envisioned Sun Devil Stadium as the Central Park of the Tempe campus, with a goal of "making sure every student uses the stadium in ways that speak to them." Pictured at the top of this story is another image from the team, that of the stadium’s concourse as a gathering place for the community.

“Our overall concept was ‘Sun Devil Central,’” said junior Patrick Griffin, who is studying visual communications. “The name refers to New York City’s Central Park because our main idea was to open the field during the off-season and turn it into a park students and the public can enjoy.”

“It was the first experience I had working with other disciplines, which was very interesting because we got a glimpse into how the other disciplines worked,” said junior Matthew Phan, who is also a visual communication major.

As part of the winning team, Griffin and Phan were given the opportunity to spend a day shadowing professionals in their field. Zingoni says the local community has been very supportive of the competition, and in many cases offers students summer internships to continue their work.

Such was the case for Griffin, who will spend his summer at Gould Evans/Canary Studio, the downtown Phoenix architecture firm and in-house graphic design studio that is overseeing renovations for the stadium project — or what is now being referred to as “Sun Devil Central.”

As its envisioning continues, Zingoni and her colleagues plan to repeat the competition at other schools at ASU to incorporate the ideas of students with expertise in business, engineering and other areas.

“Wow, this is the kind of thought that’s happening? It’s no wonder we’re able to achieve such great stuff and that ASU has been prominent in the public eye for its innovation,” Jung said. “It’s been humbling to be a part of the process.”

More stadium ideas

See what a team of MBA students proposed to turn the stadium into a year-round cultural hub here.

More Arts, humanities and education


Photo of Nick Cartell's album cover, "A Thousand Spotlights."

ASU alum returns home for album release, celebratory concert at ASU Kerr

After touring with the national Broadway production of “Les Misérables” and performing at ASU Gammage, Arizona State University alum Nick Cartell is returning to his home state to celebrate the…

Exterior of Armstrong Hall, home of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, on ASU's Tempe campus.

4 new leaders are joining The College this fall

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences welcomed four new administrators to its roster in July, just in time for the new semester.“The College is home to incredibly talented faculty and staff who…

Two photos pasted together of two men in uniform

ASU music alumni conduct premier US Navy bands

Arizona State University music alumni hold two of the highest-level positions within the United States Navy Band.Cmdr. Robert Joseph “Seph” Coats ('15 MM) was recently appointed as both commanding…