Project Story

Mortenson | McCarthy Raiders' Allegiant Stadium

Architectural Majesty in the Desert

Football Stadium? Desert Jewel? Yes.

When Mortenson and McCarthy Building Companies combined forces on the Las Vegas Raiders’ new home field, the Allegiant Stadium project, the joint venture became a study in how to seamlessly collaborate at scale. There was little choice. 12,000 total workers in round-the-clock shifts took the monumental Las Vegas design-build from a huge hole in the desert to kickoff—in a scant 31 months. Few things inspire hyper-focus like the approach of football season. As many will attest.

“There was diversity across the board, both in the office staff and in the field staff. It’s important that people of color and women—anybody, really—that they're able to see people like themselves on the job.”
Sara Rouse
Project Manager
Mortenson

Raiders of the Mojave Desert

It seems fitting that a move as momentous as that of the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas should necessitate construction of an engineering and design marvel like Allegiant Stadium. As an architectural statement, Allegiant Stadium trades on the boldness and beauty of a stark simplicity. The new landmark humbles the ostentatious Vegas skyline with a sleek, almost aerodynamic elegance that seems both out of place and right at home in the neon-lit oasis—the black, glassy colosseum juxtaposed against the austere desert backdrop like an enormous art object in a jeweler’s case.

The project’s planned engineering and construction achievements were making headlines before ground was even broken. That this history-making chapter in American sport should be enshrined in a joint venture of construction powerhouses Mortenson and McCarthy Building Companies—it makes perfect sense. “There was no division,” says McCarthy Building Companies’ Vice President of Operations, Paul Dudzinski. “We set out to have everybody on Team Mortenson|McCarthy. There was no, ‘Well, I work for so-and-so, so I want to go talk to my manager about this.’ We were going to operate as a group.” Joel Jacobson, Senior VDC Manager for Mortenson, couldn’t agree more. “For months you couldn't tell who was a Mortenson team member and who was a McCarthy team member.”

These complementary construction giants would throw their combined 224 years of expertise at a stadium that would be tasked with not only providing a fresh home field for the newly-christened Las Vegas Raiders, but with changing the professional sports paradigm of Las Vegas itself. Teamwork? That’s a resounding Yes. “We built this collaborative machine,” Mortenson Project Executive Sarah Narjes says. “We were able to overcome all the obstacles that Allegiant Stadium would ultimately present to us.”

Outside of allegiant stadium, from the front gates

Images provided by Mortenson.

Steel, Concrete, and Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene

The crystalline curtain wall that so elegantly wraps around Allegiant Stadium conceals an inner structure bristling with innovation. For instance, the Raiders’ insistence on a real turf playing field bumped up against their new hometown’s desert climate. It’s a dry heat (as people who live in desert cities are fond of saying); but a summery 113 degrees is as dry as fire. You can’t have an open football stadium in the Mojave Desert, and you can’t grow grass in a closed stadium—no matter how amazingly translucent the space-age domed ceiling. What to do? Put the playing field on an enormous motorized tray, roll it out into the sun to keep the grass happy, then roll it back in on game day. Piece of cake.

“That was my piece of the project,” says McCarthy Project Manager Bailey Ruff.  “The field tray is essentially a train. It sits on 540 wheels and it's powered by 72 one horsepower motors, and rolls along 13 rails. And it's heavy—somewhere around 19 million pounds or so after you consider the weight of the soil, the steel, the concrete and the mechanization.” Allegiant’s 19 million-pound mobile lawn isn’t the only nod to innovation-as practical-problem-solver. “There are two huge lanai doors right behind the Al Davis Memorial Torch, at the north end of the field,” Ruff says. “They can be opened if the weather's nice, so you can get a cool breeze through the stadium. And of course there is that view.”

That view? When Allegiant Stadium’s two enormous panels of smoked class whisper open—like the sky-revealing hatch of an observatory, it must be said—stadium guests are treated to a breathtaking view of one of the most neon-drenched main streets in the world—the Las Vegas Strip. The sliding panels also serve to frame the single most visually striking feature inside the vast stadium. The Al Davis Memorial Torch is a stunning 93-foot tall carbon fiber and steel homage to its legendary namesake. The Raiders’ storied and deeply beloved owner Al Davis passed away in 2011. It was his son Mark, the team’s current owner, who poured his heart into the Allegiant Stadium project. At this writing, Allegiant Stadium’s Al Davis Memorial Torch is the world’s largest 3D printed object—and one that ingeniously uses 21st century lighting tech to approximate primordial fire.  When the torch is in full display mode, 3,228 individual LED bars in the twisting, latticed structure mimic brilliant whirling flame at a grand scale. The torch’s LED panels are also “mappable”— able to receive and display video and other digital content suited to other occasions in the multi-use stadium.

The high-tech translucent domed roof has its own special design function: enclosing a climate-controlled stadium while providing the experience of an open roof.  The dome is constructed of strikingly translucent ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (EFTE), a lightweight, extremely resilient polymer. The dome’s support structure of 100 steel cables seeks to optimize the passage of light into the huge enclosure. McCarthy VP of Operations Paul Dudzinski elaborates. “We had the cables spun in Switzerland, shipped over, strung out inside of the bowl, and hoisted into place. Every one of these stainless steel cables are connected to a node at the top of what we would call the ring beam around the stadium. And all of those cables were cut to exacting length, and have roughly two inches of tolerance in them over the 700 to 800-plus feet we had to stretch them.”

Numbers alone can’t begin to paint a comprehensible picture of a thing like Allegiant Stadium—but just look at these numbers; 28,000 tons of steel, 1,750,000 sq ft of space, 46 escalators, 2,200 doors, 21,000 light fixtures, 52,000 feet of spun, roof-supporting steel wire, and 425 trees planted on the grounds. This is a “football stadium” like Las Vegas is a “desert tourist stop.”

Inside of VIP section at allegiant stadium

Images provided by Mortenson.

A Deep Design Bench

Allegiant Stadium’s design-build model allowed the project an element of real-time fluidity that helped the build’s many designers effect fairly spontaneous changes in the field when needed. And there were many designers. Ruff describes the Allegiant Stadium’s deep bench. The field tray alone required multi-tiered ingenuity and innovation. “You had Arup, who was the engineer of record—who really designed all of the tray’s steel components. Then you had UniSystems, who designed all of the mechanized components to make sure that the tray was going to move properly; and Lloyds Engineering, who designed the tray’s waterproofing and specified the soil and the turf.” She pauses. “And all of those people worked for the architect of record, HNTB.” Who knew grass could require such attention?

Every Allegiant Stadium design element received a level of best-in-class, expert focus one associates with a hand-built Ferrari. Ruff is still listing. “Industrial Door fabricated all of the steel and the mechanization components. And then you have Danny's who erected the steel. You have Gephardt Morse, who brought in all the electrical components and made sure it was wired correctly. Mortenson|McCarthy self-performed the concrete on the job. CMC did the rebar, Eberhard did the waterproofing, Fields Inc. did the soil and the grass and the drainage components.” Is that it? No. “And then ITSA supplied the goalposts and put in all the sports equipment.” To call this degree of productive synergy “collaboration” seems an understatement.

Inside of allegiant stadium looking at raiders torch in main area

Images provided by Mortenson.

A World-class Stadium Built on a World of Perspectives.

As amazing as the structural achievements of Allegiant Stadium are, quieter and arguably more potent gains were made on the ground, where a diverse spectrum of humanity literally put the thing together. The State of Nevada had attached legislation to its portion of the stadium’s funding. By project’s end—as a matter of law—the input of women and minorities on the build would need to have comprised a verifiable 38% of the onsite work hours. Mortenson|McCarthy far surpassed that target, the 12,000-strong workforce ultimately made up of 63% minority and female workers. Project Manager Sara Rouse liked what she saw. “When I walked in I saw a lot of faces that I was happy to see. There was diversity all across the board, both in the office staff and in the field staff. It’s important that people of color and women—anybody, really— that they're able to see people like themselves on the job.”

Construction keeps changing, as both industry and methodology, and an increasingly diverse cohort of young people are seeing it for what it is—the perfect storm of vanguard technology and hands-on, artisanal craft. Mortenson Project Executive Sarah Narjes is watching that realization dawn on the next gen construction family, whose work will cover tomorrow’s world. “I can hear them saying ‘You know what? This industry pays really well, it’s safe, and it gives me a lot of opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally.’”

The Allegiant Stadium project, and builds of a similar scale and complexity, are also reframing how the very idea of “construction” is received. “A project like Allegiant Stadium allows us to showcase a lot of what’s possible,” says Adam Hardy, Mortenson Market Director. “So much of wanting to work a job like this comes down to people’s perception. I can remember when I told my parents that I wanted to get into construction, or when I told my grandma what I do for a job. She pictures me with a tool belt, swinging a hammer. ‘Adam, you should have gone to school to get an education.’ That is such an old view of the world, and of construction. I’m happy to see it changing in my lifetime.”

Allegiant Stadium is People

Every construction project is a gathering of skills and expertise, yes. But a construction project is first a gathering of people—all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Gothic cathedrals used to take decades to build; England’s York Minster took some 250 years—entire generations of workers and families passing their lives in the service of a construction project whose majesty and permanence they would have to imagine seeing through the eyes of their descendants. Modern construction tech has shortened the schedule considerably. Or as Joel Jacobson says of the Allegiant Stadium build: “…yeah, so our construction schedule was 31 months...”

Whatever the duration, a mega project like Allegiant Stadium confers a gift of experience you can’t buy. Narjes never tires of spreading the news. “I say this to everybody I have a chance to work with. The tools and the skills that you learn when you navigate something like this––these are things that you can take into any industry, any business, any company. These responsibilities and accomplishments, they inform the rest of your life.” The Allegiant Stadium project, for all its structural wonder, was first a large gathering of people—most of them strangers to each other—all pulling in the same direction to achieve something remarkable. They’re now forever joined by participation in this huge endeavor. One of them was fresh out of school.

“I was interning with McCarthy,” says Project Engineer Matt Smyers, “and it was announced that we were chasing the Allegiant Stadium project. I was like, ‘Wow! I mean, what would it be like to work on that?’ I finished my internship and they said I was going to Phoenix to work on an airport job. Then I got a call from one of our HR leaders in Phoenix. He says, ‘Hey, Matt. We're not really ready for you in Phoenix, but we're ready for you out at the stadium. You want to go to Vegas?”

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