Finishing Touch At U.S. Open's Home

Complete rebuild of Louis Armstrong Stadium brings end to eight-year project

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: August 8, 2018

The new Louis Armstrong Stadium, which will make its debut at this year's U.S. Open, will offer more than 14,000 tennis fans an intimate setting to watch matches. (Rossetti)

When the new Louis Armstrong Stadium opens for the U.S. Open later this month, it will be more than a new beginning for the tournament’s No. 2 court. It will also provide a big ending to a $600 million, eight-year project that overhauled more than 90 percent of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

All under the purview of design firm Rossetti, the phased transformation introduced a host of changes to the expanded 46-acre complex in the New York City borough of Queens beyond the new Armstrong, including:

• A new 2,800-seat Court 17.
• A West Campus that added 3,000 seats around remade competition courts and a practice gallery.
• New LED lighting on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the No. 1 stadium.
• A retractable roof over Ashe.
• A new 8,125-seat Grandstand stadium that opened in the southwest corner.
• A 500-foot-long and 40-foot-wide boulevard that connects Court 17 to Grandstand on the south.
• More than 2,000 new seats on the southern courts.

“This is the last leg of this transformation, with the big goals being more open space, fan amenities, shade and an improved experience,” said Danny Zausner, chief operating officer of the center. “We are able to check that box for everything.”

For the final act in the transformation of the grounds, architect Matt Rossetti wanted to create a modern take on intimate tennis, all while welcoming fans coming through the front door of the campus—85 percent of all fans attending the U.S. Open will walk past Armstrong on their way in—with a terra cotta exterior to anchor the base and a silver-and-white structure atop. “It really is an architectural gem,” Zausner said. “This is part of the greeting of the site, and it is just really going to pop for people.”

The design features 6,400 reserved lower-bowl seats and more than 7,000 seats cantilevered in the upper bowl open to anyone with a grounds pass, attempting to keep the fan experience rocking and maintaining the number of grounds pass holders that streamed into the old Armstrong, which was torn down after the 2016 event. At 14,061 seats, Armstrong holds more fans than the 10,200-seat version that played to crowds most recently. The original Armstrong, which was the No. 1 court when the U.S. Open moved to the tennis center from Forest Hills in 1978, held 18,000.

Armstrong_3.jpgTerra Cotta louvers aid air circulation at Louis Armstrong Stadium. (Rossetti)

The 14,250 individual terra cotta louvers on the outside help to circulate air through the venue, the first retractable roof stadium of its size naturally ventilated. Using an octagon shape, shortening the ends and expanding the steep sides, Rossetti embraced the north-to-south breeze, using the louvers to control ventilation, even with the PTFE fabric roof closed. “It is going to be a really different viewing experience,” Rossetti said.

The .03-inch-thick roof is made of PTFE, a lightweight plastic material similar to ETFE, used at new NFL stadiums. The roof opens larger than the court surface at 38,160 square feet, larger than 18 singles courts, but when the panels close they still let in 73 percent of the sun’s energy. With the roof acting like an umbrella, natural air will flow through the venue, creating what Rossetti calls a “complex stackable sun room.” The design of the upper deck and roof guarantee that no fewer than 60 percent of fans will sit in shade the entire day.

The design of the 8,000-seat Grandstand proved popular upon its 2016 opening, especially with an upper concourse that provided fans open views toward the court and across campus. Armstrong borrows from that idea with two amenity-filled concourse levels that include views to the court or the grounds. “We have found over the years when you have these open concourses that view out over the campus, it adds a huge amenity to fans,” Rossetti said. “It is a great place to sit and drink and be the shade. It is worth every penny to build them.”

The USTA has high hopes for Armstrong. Before opening, the USTA announced the new stadium will feature five matches per day—one more than in the 23,500-seat Ashe—including two night sessions for virtual non-stop tennis for roughly 12 hours. The plan rewards holders of grounds passes with guaranteed night matches, a treat of the U.S. Open.

“Armstrong will have all the creature comforts in that bowl with concessions, guest services, video screens,” Zausner said. “It will still have the intimacy of old Armstrong, but on a bigger scale. We didn’t want to ignore that everyone felt Armstrong was one of the greatest places to watch a tennis match.”

While the revamped National Tennis Center features the new Court 17 and Grandstand stadiums, along with the new Armstrong and roofed Ashe, Rossetti said, pushing into more space on the southern portion of the site really allowed the entire campus to open up and create a promenade connecting the different aspects with enough room for fans to comfortably move.

Rossetti calls the new Armstrong a fitting finish to the work at the tennis center. “It is such a unique building,” Rossetti said, “and such an elegant building.”

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: August 8, 2018