At the beginning of Silicon Valley's gilded age, the semiconductor chips that gave the place its name were proven to double in capacity every two years -- a formulation that became known as "Moore's Law." This biennial renewal of technology's fundamental architecture became the basis for the pace of everything: work and reward, innovation and avarice. People here wait for the Next Big Thing the way people in San Francisco wait for a bus -- the Google bus, the Apple bus or the Yahoo bus.
Even in Silicon Valley, things don't come much Bigger, or Nexter, than Levi's Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers' new $1.3 billion compound in Santa Clara. Completed in two years, it doubles the square footage of their former home at Candlestick Park -- matching Moore's Law like a state-of-the-art chip off the old block.
Every great civilization in history has relied upon monumental architecture to assert its power, from the Parthenon of ancient Athens to the cathedrals of France. In the same way, a colossus of concrete and crushing debt now bestrides many NFL cities -- including some, like Oakland, that face the possibility of abandonment, the remaindered stadium a staggeringly expensive symbol of municipal failure. In fact, when the 49ers didn't get the deal they wanted from San Francisco, the York family cast aside the tradition of five Super Bowl titles and set up shop in a Santa Clara parking lot, less than a mile from the headquarters of Intel, cofounded by Gordon Moore, the chipmaking lawgiver.
"Being in the birthplace of technology, our hope for the stadium was that it become a manifestation of everything Silicon Valley represents," said Paraag Marathe, the 49ers' chief operating officer. "To deliver on that vision, we needed to make sure that the stadium was focused on innovation, focused on technology, focused on being an open-source platform."
Like the Internet, a lot of Silicon Valley's architecture is invisible: single-story ranch homes surrounded by low-slung factories and big ideas. In that sense, the Niners' new home functions less as a trophy building and more "like an app," as architecture critic Alan Hess notes in his appraisal of Levi's Stadium on Page 6 of our special section today. The Giants' AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, makes a much gaudier grab for attention with the exposed brick retro look, a distinctly pre-9/11 form of faddishness.
But to be sure, the stadium is a valley landmark, and there are few enough of those. Any tourist knows that a trip to New York requires a pilgrimage to the Empire State Building, but even a nerd with pride of place would have trouble directing out-of-town visitors to a building here that evokes the local culture. Once you get past the HP Garage -- which is routinely padlocked -- where do you turn? When Apple opens its "Spaceship" headquarters in 2017, the 2.8 million-square-foot infinite loop will finally give the tech landscape its "there" there. Although given the company's history of secretiveness, good luck getting in for a look at it.
Apple has designed its new building in the manner of a crop circle, but Levi's Stadium will be a different kind of landmark. Triangulated with the skinless Hangar 1 at nearby Moffett Field, and Great America's Gold Striker roller coaster, which is visible from the stadium's upper deck, the Niners have given the valley a corollary to the great pyramids of Egypt -- a tripped-out triptych of megastructures that each require a leap of faith and imagination.
Levi's Stadium was consciously modeled on the elliptical amphitheaters of ancient Rome, its proscenium structure purpose-built to put more fans closer to the action than any modern football field, transforming third-and-long into epic drama. Given the blazing pace of change in stadium design, Levi's is unlikely to endure as long as Rome's most famous relic, the Colosseum, bathed in blood and still standing after nearly 2,000 years.
Remember the Alamodome? The San Antonio Spurs bugged out of their new stadium after only nine years, and after 22 years at the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Falcons are raising the roof -- called "Oculus" -- on a new home that will open like the iris of a camera lens. Locals have employed a slightly different metaphor, dubbing the building's active aperture "The Sphincter." It's unclear whether the roof will tighten during last-second field goal attempts.
Probably the most remarkable feature of Levi's Stadium is the number of people within a few miles of the 50-yard line who could have written a personal check to pay the entire $1.3 billion construction cost without blinking. Many of those Silicon Valley buccaneers have purchased space in the luxury $uite Tower, which is functionally an ATM for the franchise. Corporate logos rim the stadium's upper deck like salt on a margarita glass.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in July, construction workers who built the "sports and entertainment cathedral" were summoned to parade across a red carpet in their hard hats and brightly colored safety vests. That heartwarming tableau brought a blue-collar vibe to the stadium that will be almost entirely absent on game days. In a single stroke, the 49ers doubled their season ticket revenue to just over $100 million, while actually slightly decreasing seating capacity. They also drastically increased the cost of so-called "seat licenses" required to maintain the privilege of buying season tickets at a huge markup over a season ago.
This was the free market at its most breathtaking, with about 25 percent of Candlestick season ticket holders squeezed out to make way for a new cadre of corporate fat cats. There's nothing quite like a whiff of class warfare to make these buildings seem like an affront to the common man. But it was the über-rich who came Uber riding to the rescue, building the stadium on a welcome cloud of cash when Santa Clara taxpayers refused to fork over public funding for the project in 2010.
By way of thanks, the Niners have created a VIP wing that seeks to imbue in patrons a sense of membership. The stadium will have 10 clubs, four dedicated exclusively to people using private suites, which generated revenues of $400 million. The BNY Mellon East Club will be used by only 500 people who have entered the ballpark using a ticket that presumably will be gold-leafed. Members have a "patio" that gives them field access between the 30-yard lines, creating an interesting -- and potentially volatile -- mix of daiquiris and Dockers on the 49ers' bench.
The Niners' new home has all the latest bells and whistles, which is more than the fans can say: bells, whistles and vuvuzelas are strictly forbidden, according to the team's handbook. So are "inappropriate displays of affection." However, French kissing your bicep tats in the end zone? Highly appropriate.
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit