Designed for Sound

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

136.6 - this number, along with 12, has cemented itself into Seahawks lore.

Seattle fans carry these symbols of pride, suiting up every game-day to do battle inside the walls of the forever-feared fortress of fulmination. Tucked away in a city south of Alaska, a rabid fan base supports its neon warriors with deafening shouts of disruption. But how did we get here?

  • Outsiders, ones that have never set foot inside CenturyLink Field, will explain their ignorance with architectural rationalizations - "It was designed to be loud!"
  • Non-believers will shout shenanigans - "They pump in the noise!"
  • But for the 12s who have visited other NFL stadiums, it is crystal clear why the CLink boasts the loudest fans in the league - "It's the 12th Man!"

The point of this article is to cut through the noise and give credit where credit is due. Just how much recognition should be given to the team of engineers responsible for designing CenturyLink Field (FKA Seahawks Stadium, Qwest Field), and how much acclaim should be placed on the shoulders of Hawks fans?

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

It seems fitting to first revisit the past. By now, we all know the story: Paul Allen, who had fond memories of attending UW football games during his childhood in the ‘60s, wanted to recreate the "experience" he remembered from his boisterous Husky Stadium days. As Allen explained, "Open air was definitely the direction I gave, in trying to get everybody as close to the action as possible."

By utilizing a novel cantilevered design, the upper seating levels were tightly stacked on top of the lower ones, which also created the smallest stadium footprint in the NFL. Allen later stated, "That's the kind of football I grew up with, but here you're much closer to the action." Conveniently, the arrangement of the upper and lower decks, along with the partial roof, helped to protect 70% of the attendees from the Seattle elements. Allen also outfitted his new stadium with a special north end-zone bleacher section (i.e., The Hawks' Nest) to give 3,000 fans a top-down look onto the action.

But how does this all relate to noise?

Allen simply wanted the raucousness of notoriously loud indoor stadiums (e.g. The Kingdome) and the wonderful experience of open-air stadiums. So the challenge that Allen posed to his designers was simply this - How do you make outdoor stadium as loud as a domed arena? As principal architect Jon Niemuth put it, "Those were the marching orders from owner Paul Allen when planning began to replace the late, great Kingdome."

  • Was the stadium designed with noise in mind? Yes.
  • Was it designed to be the loudest stadium in the world? Absolutely Not.

Niemuth and his team investigated different areas of the stadium's design to see where they could influence sound. Bringing fans closer to the action achieved some of that, however, to take it a step further, Niemuth made modifications to the Hawks Nest to enhance sound. He explained that the Hawks Nest was originally "intended to be a no-frills pricing" section for "Joe Six-Pack... In the north end zone, the design team created rows of aluminum bleachers. When fans stomp on them, things get really loud." Allen hired a team of sound engineers to model the effects of a metal seating section, stating, "we have the Hawks Nest, which is designed to be noise-enhancing. We've done some acoustic modeling of the sound reverberations. The sight lines, we think, are fantastic."

What about this parabolic roof shape that we keep hearing about?

When people try to attribute the extreme noise levels at CenturyLink Field on the curvature of the roof, I question how this is any different than a dome. When Niemuth was asked about the roof design, he honestly acknowledged that his team did not anticipate any sound effects on the curved canopies, calling the result a "happy accident." Bill Steward, the sound engineer responsible for measuring the record-setting 136.6 dB Niner-beatdown, extrapolated, "The curvature and angles of the canopies act to focus the sound energy onto the playing field, producing higher noise levels." Sounds like this same rationalization could be equally applied to the Metrodome, Superdome, and Georgia Dome, too.

This is where the fans come in

Sometimes in life, a strange phenomenon comes along and the human mind struggles to fully grasp the idea. In an attempt to rationalize the facts, we blindly neglect Occam's razor and reach for a number of factors that help diminish our confusion. Hell, even the BeastQwake was attributed to Seattle's spongy, tidal soil!

So let me ask this final question: Why is CenturyLink Field so loud? Maybe it is simply because Seattle has very loud fans... Is that so hard to believe? Coming from a Seattle homer, I can understand the hesitation to take my words as truth. What if we ask a subject matter expert like American Football star Aaron Rodgers? Here's what he had to say about the CLink and its resident 12th Man. "Those fans are really intelligent fans," he told reporters before the Week 3 Monday night game. "They get so stinking loud out there. They do a really good job of giving the defense that advantage when we have to go on some silent counts or when we're trying to hear each other. They should be commended for that." Thanks, Aaron!

It's very true that Seattle has some of the loudest fans in the NFL, creating arguably the best home field advantage in the league. While I have not yet traveled with the Seahawks to all 31 other stadiums, I feel I've attended enough to get a representative sample size. From my experience, there is simply no stadium experience quite like it. And what's exciting is that each year, the 12s try to improve upon their own game. From the first down of the opening drive to the last snap of the game, whether we're winning or losing, the noise levels in the CLink are incredibly loud and incredulously sustained. As Steward later acknowledged, "Fans get caught up in it. They experience an intense increase in the sound levels that they would not normally experience in an outdoor environment, and are energized by it." In a related post, I thought 1970GTOdroptop summed up the 12th Man duties quite nicely:

"Loud is only part of the story. Our crowd is loud at the right times, and consistently. That's why there's success in disruption, false starts, and the defensive edge of drowning out snap counts and getting a jump. Hard counts? No way. I feel we are there to 'work', to participate in the game. Not to spectate. Yell at me to sit down? Never happen at the CLink."

Loud is only part of the story

So in closing, I just wanted to posit the idea that Seattle's stadium design is only a small part of the noise equation. As more and more media outlets try to understand why visiting teams struggle in the Pacific Northwest, they seem to be snowballing this notion that Paul Allen hired a team of diabolical acoustic wizards to formulate a secret blueprint in sound engineering. It's getting a bit ridiculous. Even Niemuth pointed out that his firm "can't create fans to be loud and rabid and crazy the way [Seahawks] fans are." The CLink was built to rival indoor venues by moving the fans closer to the field while including a section of metal bleachers. That's the simple truth of the matter. The stadium designs serve to level out the playing field with other indoor/domed stadiums. What takes the volume at Seahawks home games to a whole other level has everything to do with the passion and commitment of the 12th Man.

Go Hawks!