Super Bowl stadiums are usually surrounded by a sea of asphalt. Not th

Those tuning into the Super Bowl this weekend may see a curious sight. In the inevitable aerial shots, viewers will be shown an uncommon landscape. Instead of the typical oval stadium ringed by dozens of acres of parking lots and pavement, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, is surrounded by a park.

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

The $5.5 billion stadium designed by the architecture firm HKS is a cavalcade of technological wonders, and the obvious centerpiece of this weekend’s event. But it’s just a part of a 298-acre mixed-used district in Inglewood that was built atop the former grounds of the Hollywood Park racetrack. Spreading around the stadium, and sometimes into its walkways, is a largely public park designed by Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA. It’s a huge pivot away from the sports stadiums of the past, where seas of parking made up almost all the land around the stadium itself.

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

Through the breezeways that connect it to the outdoors, the stadium bleeds out into a vast network of public walkways, gardens, plazas and a 5.5-acre lake that collects stormwater in what is a drought-prone region. In total, there are about 24 acres of park beyond the stadium’s borders.

The development also includes new residential, retail, and office space, all interwoven with walking alleys, planters, and public spaces. Around the lake, visitors can just as easily stroll or picnic as gawk at the stadium. “It’s more of a separate civic experience,” says Mia Lehrer, founder of Studio-MLA.

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

Lehrer’s firm has become the go-to for L.A.-area sports stadium landscapes, designing the space around the new Major League Soccer venue Banc of California Stadium and a multiyear redesign of Dodger Stadium—a poster child of the concrete-ringed sports stadiums of yore. Those projects, like SoFi Stadium, prioritize the experience of fans in and around the stadium, not just their mostly car-based arrival.

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

The site offers a combination of spaces and venues. There’s the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater, a 2.5-acre outdoor amphitheater called American Airlines Plaza, and, of course, the stadium, which is designed to flex its capacity from 70,000 seats to more than 100,000—in order to host big events like the Super Bowl, the (potentially) 2026 World Cup, and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics. Many of the concessions at the stadium have both interior- and exterior-facing fronts and dining areas, making them accessible for serving the public even when there’s no game inside the stadium. And yes, there is currently surface parking around the stadium, but these sites are slated for future development; stadium parking will eventually be pushed to the periphery, with transit and shuttles becoming the encouraged route in. “This is not your fortress-looking stadium. It’s a community space. It’s a community amenity,” says Kush Parekh, an associate principal at Studio-MLA.

[Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images]

The playing field itself is also a topographical feat. Due to its close proximity to Los Angeles International Airport—the stadium sits directly under the flight path—the height of the building had to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. That required the playing field to be sunk 100 feet.

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

The soil from that excavation was dispersed throughout the site, creating some opportunities for slopes. Within the stadium itself, the voyage from the surface level down to the various seating concourses opened up opportunities for Studio-MLA to layer in cascading gardens and planters above and below, giving visitors a unique indoor-outdoor nature experience on the stadium’s porous edge.

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

“We were inspired by Southern California’s geologic formations,” Lehrer says,”the mountains, the canyons in the desert, lowlands, and what kind of plants grow in those areas.”

[Image: Studio MLA]

Studio-MLA chose plants from around the world but with biomes similar to L.A.’s—including palms, cacti, succulents, and pines from Chile, South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean. “At some point, we realized oops, we have a botanical garden,” Lehrer says. “We’re surrounded with trees. There’s always something going on. Right now the aloes are blooming. All the aloes are going crazy everywhere.”

[Image: © Craig Collins 2021/courtesy Studio MLA]

They may be hard to see from the aerial views during the Super Bowl, and the park itself will be less accessible during this weekend’s big show. But Lehrer says the landscape is designed to have something to offer visitors year-round. She sees it not as a stadium that’s surrounded by a park, but rather a park that happens to have a stadium in it.

“There’s maybe 50 events of different sorts a year. At all the other times, it’s another place,” Lehrer says. “There’s still all this experience to be had.”

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