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Superb Owls: Rice alums help design SoFi Stadium, home to Super Bowl

Daniel Schrager / Thresher

By Chloe Singer     2/16/22 12:02am

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in their newly constructed home stadium. The stadium’s architectural features were on display all night long from a seating bowl pressed up against the field, to the 360-degree, 80-million-pixel video board that allowed fans to relive Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp’s game-winning touchdown, to the sharp curves of the exterior seen in aerial shots. Behind the design of the most expensive stadium ever built were two Rice Alums, Michelle Stevenson, the Senior Project Architect for the seating bowl, and Neil Prunier, the Senior Project Architect for the exterior.

Stevenson and Prunier are both passionate about creating community through architecture. While the $5 billion SoFi Stadium provides Los Angeles football fans with a unique facility, Prunier believes the stadium serves a larger ambition of bringing people together for a common experience.

“Our goal was to make a stadium that speaks not just to the diehard football fan, but for all the other people that find themselves coming to this venue” Prunier said. “How [do we create an environment that promotes] that social interaction, that energy, and that phenomenal feeling you get anytime you bring a whole bunch of people together to share in an exciting event? How do we facilitate the interaction and exchange that [attendees] have with each other?”

Wiess College freshman Maciej Koszut, a sport management student who worked the NFL Honors earlier in the week next door to the stadium, said he found the design of SoFi impressive in person.

“Some of us ended up walking around the entire stadium and it was amazing,” Koszut said. “Something that automatically stood out was the design …The landscaping around the stadium was beautiful, especially the water in front of the stadium [that you can] walk around. [In general], the design was very unique because of its shape, style, and the curved aspects of it, which make it seem futuristic compared to other NFL stadiums.”

Stevenson and Prunier attribute much of their success to their time in the Rice architecture program. Stevenson said that she developed into a professional while at Rice.

“My experience at Rice was a time where I was learning to become truly independent but in doing so I was finding my strengths and weaknesses and how to accept both,” Stevenson said. “Rice is an exceptionally challenging place that really taught me the skills to be able to be nimble. In studio I benefited from being pushed by all my peers but at the same time encouraged to be unique and find inspiration that was authentic to me.”

Professor John J. Casbarian, whom both Stevenson and Prunier cited as a mentor, said that he is proud of his former students’ achievements.

"It is no surprise to learn that Rice Architecture alums played a significant role in creating such a wonderful stadium,” Casbarian said. “[Stevenson] and [Prunier] deserve great credit for their creative and skillful hand in designing the two most important aspects of the building, the remarkable seating concept and the beautifully detailed canopy. In the school, we instill leadership in the collaborative enterprise that is architecture so it gives me great institutional pride to see this realized in [their] great achievement.”

In the next ten years, SoFi Stadium will host millions of people at the 2028 Olympic Games, and other sports and entertainment events. According to Stevenson, she is proud to have worked on a project that will bring happiness to many people.

“One of the most rewarding things I experience is watching people enjoy themselves,” Stevenson said. “The pure excitement and sheer joy seen on their faces when they are cheering for their team or an artist and knowing that I was part of the team that made it happen.”

For their next acts, Stevenson is currently working to design the University of California, Los Angeles Jackie Robinson Stadium, and Prunier recently finished a project for the University of California, San Diego. 

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