It has been a long wait for a soccer-specific stadium for D.C. United, but in three weeks, the long wait will be over. From all indications, the wait will have been worth it.
D.C. United is about to play its first game in Audi Field, a brand-new stadium in the city’s Buzzard Point neighborhood.
After more than 10 years of site wrangling and multiple facility proposals, the team will finally have a successor to RFK Stadium, its home from 1996-2017 (United has played two home games at alternate sites in 2018).
For D.C. United fans, the game experience is about to change drastically.
The stadium is unique because of its intimacy, a byproduct of the location’s role in its design. The stadium is built on a site of less than 10 acres.
According to Todd Spangler, lead designer on the stadium and Associate Principal at Populous, the project was “a tough challenge and a unique problem to solve.”
The first thing fans will notice is the steeply raked angle of the stands. The 35-degree angle for much of the seating provides both intimacy for fans and, they hope, intimidating surroundings for opponents. The stadium will have a capacity of 20,000 for soccer, which was driven by market studies, the desire for premium seating variety, and the limitations of the small site.
The design also includes a dedicated supporters section on the stadium’s north side, though it will not utilize safe-standing design as was installed in Orlando. Club owners wanted to prioritize intimacy and safe standing would have required moving stands back from the pitch to maintain sightlines, so the supporters section is also seated.
The pitch level also has some features which make the stadium stand out. There are pitch-level suites that include interior and exterior space, with some areas just eight feet from the pitch.
According to Spangler, one of the most novel aspects is that the “concourse is on pitch level and we’ve created an open area at the gate where you can see the pitch from outside the gates. For soccer fans the pitch is sacred, so this is really unique.”
Though the stadium’s interior design fits the site effectively, added bonuses come with how well Audi Field fits into its neighborhood and city.
The surrounding area is also home to Nationals Park, and the long-term plan is to develop the area with retail, restaurants and a river walk. Audi Field contributes to this by providing retail space built into the outside of the stadium, an adjacent thoroughfare that could be lined with additional retail, as well as a gate dedicated to facilitate access to future river walk development. The design also includes a 200-capacity bike valet lot, a nod to the biking culture of DC.
The stadium also uses its Washington DC location effectively — taking advantage of the city’s national architectural icons. Spangler described the significance of the monuments in the design process — “We have great sightlines to the Capitol building. The north patio and club was aligned… to take advantage of those views.” In suites higher in the stadium commanding monument views have also been created — one can imagine politicians or lobbyists entertaining with that view.
Spangler called the new stadium “bespoke,” and the term seems to fit the new stadium perfectly. It is tailored to its uniquely small site, includes a wide variety of premium seating options within those parameters, and takes marvelous advantage of its context in America’s most iconic architectural city.
Audi Field will debut when D.C. United takes on the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 14.
All Audi Field renderings courtesy Populous.