Lowly Guardrail Becomes Design Feature

Custom railings help define spaces, add grandeur in new stadiums

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: May 3, 2017

Elegant glass railings highlight the Valhalla Club experience in U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.

What was once considered a requirement—railings—simply for fall protection has turned into an opportunity to showcase design within new stadiums and arenas.

“It was once an afterthought, and I think in recent years architects are using the guardrail to further specific design elements within the building,” said Dan Stachel, vice president of SC Railing Company, the Minneapolis-based firm that has handled railing needs for roughly 80 percent of all new professional stadiums and arenas built in the last decade. “We can serve a structural purpose for a building and allow architects to show off creativity.”

SCRailing_SunTrustPark_Picket_Railing_Custom_Half_Round_Table_Supports.jpgCustom railings at the new SunTrust Park, Atlanta.

Take SunTrust Park, Atlanta, with its black and steel railings in a premium area behind home plate, bronze stainless steel cables across other premium spaces or inlay glass. “Anytime we get an opportunity to work on something unique,” Stachel said, “every one of our 25 engineers enjoys the challenge.”

SunTrust Park, which opened in April, includes 41,000 linear feet of railing, equating to more than seven miles of aesthetically driven railing design. The building includes 20,000 linear feet of aluminum vertical picket and track for clear views of the field, LED-lit handrails on the Chop House bridge and mezzanine, 5,500 linear feet of clear-tempered laminated glass and 3,300 feet of drink rail to set ballpark concessions on while still in full view of the field.

Outdoor venues provide the most opportunity for railing work as railings cover the field-facing direction and behind the fans, but no matter the location, SC Railing puts a focus on custom, working with architects to pick materials and combinations that can result in up to 40 different railing styles in one stadium. As architects have started to turn to railings as another way to infuse design into the venue, Stachel said material choices can help give off the right aesthetic, whether a renovation—such as Madison Square Garden—or a new build.

Target Field, Minneapolis, for example, opened in 2010 and created a new style of rail in MLB. “Nobody wanted to see a railing, but when you sit down at Target Field it has a crimped mesh infill,” Stachel said. “When you sit in the seating bowl and watch a game, you see silver rails pop against the green seats. It certainly provides a design element to the building and gives the patron the feel of higher end. If you are sitting by glass and expensive mesh, you know you are not at a high school baseball game.”

Railings provide an opportunity for designers to “dress up venues where structures are more budget-driven.” At Avaya Stadium, San Jose, California, the use of ornamental metal and perforated panels give the building a higher-end feel despite its budget-conscious bones.

Using glass infill can also help reduce the look of other materials. In Madison Square Garden, New York City, the sandblasted glass helps conceal precast concrete to give the impression of a more “finished space.”

The obvious big trend in railing systems right now, Stachel said, comes in the use of stainless steel systems that accommodate glass, with or without graphics and sponsorship built in. With point-supported glass, venue designers no longer have to rest it in a channel on the floor and can get creative with the finishes.

LED lighting provides another growing trend, as seen recently in the National Football League at Levi’s Field, Santa Clara, Calif., and U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis. “People are getting more creative beyond a light inside a pipe,” Stachel said. “You will see some progress there.”

And as WiFi becomes more important, railings play a key role in placing technology in and around the seating bowl.

For SC Railing, the next big projects include everything from Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, to Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, and DC United’s new soccer venue in Washington, D.C., to future major professional venues coming online in California.

Each venue will bring a specific requirement, not just in safety, but also in aesthetics. Railings now work to meet both those needs.

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: May 3, 2017