December 6, 2015 is a day that world-renowned architect Brad Cloepfil will never forget. It wasn't because one of his projects, like the National Music Centre of Canada or the Museum of Arts and Design, had a grand opening.
It was the day his beloved Portland Timbers hoisted MLS Cup.
The Timbers season-ticket holder was ecstatic and couldn't hear enough about the game, the team or the win. To satiate that desire, he had lunch with Timbers President of Business Mike Golub, who happened to be a friend.
“When the Timbers won MLS Cup, I took Mike out to lunch because I wanted to bask in the glory," Cloepfil told MLSsoccer.com Thursday. "I wanted to hear all the stories, but I asked him: What are you guys going to do? This is just as a fan, you know, I just wanted the team to afford to get good players!”
The wheels started turning.
"Have you ever considered expanding Providence Park?" Cloepfil asked. "You know, we never really have," Golub admitted.
"Let me take a look," Cloepfil asked, but Golub pointed out he wasn't a stadium architect. "Just let me look!" Cloepfil pleaded.
“He let me take a look because I wasn’t charging him anything," Cloepfil said with a laugh. "We’ve never done this before, so we looked at every stadium possible. Tons of research. We’re known as a creative firm, so I think we had a fresher look. Mike put his fingers on the keys to work the numbers and what it meant. He said ‘Fantastic, let’s do it.’”
Four years after that initial, innocuous, look, renovations to Providence Park have been completed, done by Cloepfil and his firm Allied Works Architecture. Saturday, Portland's renovated home will host its first Timbers game of the season with league-leaders LAFC in town (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2, TSN).
All in all, the renovation has added 4,000 seats across three new levels on the remade East stand, and much more. The added seats, like Boca Juniors' legendary stadium La Bombonera and the original Globe Theatre in London, add to the stadium's capacity on a purely vertical plane. When filled on gameday, it'll form a wall of fans.
“It’s a unique type of stadium, how it’s so vertical," Cloepfil said. "It’s amazing to be on the third floor it’s like you’re in a drone, you’re right over the field. I think the fans will have a lot of fun.”
As someone who has never been helmed a stadium project, Cloepfil had a number of challenges as well as advantages. He researched a litany of the world's biggest and best stadiums, playing catch-up along the way, but he also got to look at it with a fresh eye.
“It was challenging," Cloepfil admitted. "Stadiums have a lot of alchemy, they’re very mysterious. There are no rules, from Camp Nou to Old Trafford. We looked at them all, they’re all different. It’s magic as far as I can tell.”
The Portland office for Allied Works Architecture is just two blocks from Providence Park. Every day, they could see the progress being made, with Saturday's Timbers home opener in mind.
“It meant an awful lot to metaphorically come home," Cloepfil said. "If I could do any project in my home state, it would be this. It is genuinely a fantasy.”
Cloepfil's fantasy project will soon be on display for all to see.
“It gives me shivers just thinking about it," Cloepfil said. "I cannot wait. It means a ton to me, it means a ton to the city—this city is so committed to the Timbers and the Thorns. It’s going to be an amazing weekend.”
This weekend, Cloepfil won't be a guest of honor at Providence Park. He's back to his role as a season-ticket holder and fan.
“We’ve done museums, music centers and all kinds of stuff," Cloepfil said. "But this one is like, once you’re in there, all the matters is that we win. I don’t care who made the building!”