The polycarbonate canopy at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. (Photo Credit: Alistair Tutton Photography)

A second Major League Soccer stadium is preparing to roll out a polycarbonate entrance element following its success with the material at Livestrong Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Duo-Gard, located in Canton, Mich., is installing a near-translucent entry design at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the MLS Houston Dynamos. 

“Translucent structural elements are becoming a trend because you can do so much with them,” said Duo-Gard CEO Dave Miller. “Natural light flow during the day creates a better environment for the fan and, at night, interior light can make the structure glow which provides a really cool element.”

The $100-million BBVA Compass Stadium designed by Populous and operated by AEG will include vertical, geometric designs for the entrance of the stadium, made out of orange polycarbonate, said Miller. “It will be done by the end of February, but the Dynamos will probably play their first game of the season in May.”

Miller said the material amplifies the screams of excitement from the crowd, lets in 80 percent of the available natural light and can withstand 90 pounds per square foot — and it’s cheaper than most other roofing materials.

Soccer stadiums are opting for cheaper roofing structures because “the economics of soccer aren’t such that you can afford a retractable roof at MLS stadiums,” said Livestrong Sporting Park’s VP of Design David Ficklin. “The retractable roof would have been $70-$100 million, which was not economically viable.”

Last summer, Duo-Gard design engineered the canopy for the home of Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City. The $200-million stadium opened June 9, 2011, with the largest polycarbonate stadium canopy in North America.

In contrast, the polycarbonate materials for the canopy on Livestrong Sporting Park ran $2 million. “Now I’m not saying installation or structural costs, but just the actual polycarbonate material,” said Miller.

“And, because it’s a light material, we were able to save the venue more than $2 million in steel.”

“You’re looking in the neighborhood of $50-$70 per square foot for a roofing solution,” said Miller. The stadium’s polycarbonate canopy stretched more than 1,800 feet long, with sections from 25-70 feet deep, with a 12-foot span between structural members.

“For a simple canopy system it could be about $20-$27 per square foot, but we’ve had jobs that have gone for up to $100 per square foot,” added Miller, “because it all depends on what structural materials have to go into it.”

Livestrong Sporting Park and BBVA Compass Stadium both use natural grass turf, which means they’ll need sunlight transmission through the roof canopy to hit the field.

“We also needed a system that was strong enough to withstand all of the different loads on the roof — primarily being the wind load pushing up, as well as snow or rain load pushing down,” said Ficklin.

While it is not a FIFA rule that soccer stadiums need to have natural grass, many players have been vocal in their preference of real grass to synthetic.

“They think that it’s easier to get injured on synthetic material or affects the way the ball handles,” said Ficklin, who pointed out that Toronto’s BMO Field, which hosts Toronto FC, changed from synthetic to real grass when they ran into player complaints.

The noise factor was aso important to Ficklin, who wanted the energy and excitement in the stadium to run as high as possible.

“Psychologically, we wanted it to be a very intimate-feeling venue and we wanted it to be very loud — and I can report that it’s very successful in both of those goals,” said Ficklin.

Architects are increasingly including translucent materials into their designs as light becomes an important part of the design process.

“You can do so much with it,” said Miller. “Natural light flow during the day creates a better environment for the fan, and, at night, interior light can make the structure glow which provides a really cool element.”

Another large translucent structure in the works is Farmers Field in Los Angeles. Duo-Gard is not involved with the Farmers Field project, but design renderings show a pillow-skin, translucent material is planned for the outside of the building.

“We used to give an architect a piece of polycarbonate and they wouldn’t know what it was, but now it’s recognized as a legitimate material,” said Miller. “Something like Livestrong Sporting Park proves conclusively that we can use it on a huge scale.”

Interviewed for this story: Dave Miller, (407) 767-0452 x223; David Ficklin, (734) 207-9700