Founded in 1975 under the North American Soccer League (NASL), the Portland Timbers had shared a 1930s-era downtown stadium with the city’s Triple-A baseball team for decades. But when the Timbers were selected to join the Major League Soccer League (MLS) starting in the 2011 season, the challenge was clear: the Timbers needed a stadium that adhered to MLS standards, with a field and sight lines configured for soccer and one that created an atmosphere that would honor the fans and the legacy of soccer in Portland. With an extensive network of mass transit and a commitment to sustainability, the adaptation of the existing multipurpose stadium — rather than new construction — was the right solution for Portland and the Timbers. Connections to transit, including a light-rail stop in front of the stadium, further embed the stadium in the urban fabric. The energy created by bringing the fans closer to the field is shared with the city: the stadium features a promenade and an open concourse with public views to the action inside. Other amenities include the new KeyBank Club, view terrace, a community meeting room, and three group and family decks. Additional restrooms, concession stands and widened concourses serve the new seating areas. All spectators in the new stands can see every aspect of the game, without any obstructed views. Team amenities include upgraded locker rooms, new weight training facilities, office space, a team meeting room, and a renovated press box.
The challenge for the design team was to create a balance between a contemporary architectural solution and respect for the stadium’s most beloved characteristics. The solution grew out of a desire to provide a design that was regional and resonated with the adjacent neighborhood. Designers looked at the qualities and materials used in the existing stadium and extended it into modern construction. For example, the original facility’s roof structure is constructed of large timbers from the 1930s. A new dynamic floating steel canopy is clad in cedar and covers most of the new seats in the 19,000-seat stadium, providing a contemporary interpretation of the existing wood roof structure while paying homage to its Pacific Northwest context. The poured concrete in the original stadium features a wood grain pattern from its original wooden forms; this approach was carried into the new construction and left unpainted to express its natural qualities.
To increase their home field advantage, the Timbers desired a stadium that was as intimidating as possible to opposing teams. To convert the baseball field to soccer dimensions, the field configuration was modified and aligned to the north-south stadium axis, with 4,000 new fixed seats constructed in the former baseball outfield. The seats were moved as close as possible to the field to bring fans closer to the action. Additionally, the stadium boasts acoustic design strategies that maximize crowd noise, with premium field-level seats as close as 15ft from the sideline.
To meet league requirements and industry standards, new video and broadcast technology was an integral part of the renovation. This includes new camera positions, permanent broadcast cabling and floodlighting. An enhanced public address system adds to the distinctive atmosphere and home field advantage. Specific seats in the new section are grey rather than green, spelling out ‘PORTLAND’ so that the stadium is immediately recognizable as the new home for the Timbers. To enhance the fan experience, new technologies at the stadium include a video scoreboard installed at the south end, LED video ribbon boards placed at various areas of the seating bowl, and television monitors installed in the concourse serving the new seating areas.
JELD-WEN Field is a rarity in the sport: a completely urban stadium. People can walk or bike to the stadium and enjoy the space, even on non-game days. To add to Portland’s network of public open space, a public plaza was developed at the corner of 18th Avenue and Morrison Street. The plaza frames the stadium’s main entrance and serves as an accessible public gathering space during non-game hours. Views of the field from this public promenade and an open concourse further enhance the venue’s relationship to its larger urban context. A new Adidas team store is open to the public during non-event hours.
The new plazas can play host to community markets and programs, while connecting the activity inside the venue with the rest of the city. True to its civic roots, the facility will continue to host more than 250 events annually — including Portland State University football games, concerts, high school sports and community events. Photography credit: Steve Wanke Photography