As the latest addition to the National Football League, the Houston Texans gave the city an opportunity to create a state-of-the-art facility that would not only house the football team, but also the Rodeo and other public events, including the Super Bowl next January. And the resulting 69,500-seat facility - dubbed Reliant Stadium - did not disappoint the people of Houston. Not only is the stadium the first-ever NFL facility with a retractable roof, but it also provides fans with a first class way to watch the games. With 8,200 club seats and 147 luxury suites, Reliant Stadium offers ample opportunity to watch the games in style. These spaces were designed with premium materials throughout, including a broad range of granite for the floors and countertops.

The design of the stadium and its amenities were the result of collaboration between several architecture firms. Houston-based Hermes Architects teamed with Lockwood Andrews & Newman, Inc. to form Houston Stadium Consultants, which served as the primary architect, with HOK Sport as the design consultant.

"The whole idea of the suites and the high-end areas was based on the modern Texan look - a modern cowboy," explained Peter Justl of Hermes Architects. "We wanted to integrate softer materials like leather panels on the wall with harder materials, such as the stone. We initially considered Texas Pink granite, because it was indigenous, but ironically, the people didn't prefer the stone because it was light pink in color."

The majority of the stone flooring is comprised of Rockville Beige granite from Cold Spring Granite Co. of Cold Spring, MN, with borders of Afton Black granite from A. Lacroix et Fils Granit of Quebec, Canada. All of the stone for the project was supplied through Stone Marketing International of Houston, which coordinated the delivery of stone from the U.S. and Canada as well as material from India.

"The Rockville Beige had enough of a pink look to it, but it was more compatible with the rest of the suite and not so light," Justl said. "The black granite was really to accentuate the borders and transitions between the carpet and the natural stone."

In addition to the stone floor tiles, the design includes English Brown granite for the counters, quarried and fabricated in India by Pokarna Granites, Ltd. "The stone for the countertops throughout the project was trying to match the natural wood and the Texan kind of look," the architect explained. "We didn't want to use too light a stone, but we also didn't want a black counter, so we found a nice dark brown. The stone was cut in India and transported here. Even with all of those intricate cuts and mergers with the sinks, it all fit perfectly."

The staircases also utilize natural stone, with treads and risers comprised of Afton Black granite. Fitting the modern provisions for safety, the treads feature anti-slip profiles from K-Grip North America, Inc., a Houston firm.

The design of Texans Owner Bob McNair's suite brings in an additional material - Dakota Mahogany granite. "I didn't want to go as dark as the rest of the suites. Originally, I had the Texas Pink granite on the counters and on the floor, trying to get the Texas theme in there," Justl said. "[But] we all agreed that the Dakota Mahogany had enough of the Texan red in it, and we used blue suede panels on the walls. It was really an abstraction of the blue and red in the Texans' logo."

In addition to satisfying the requirements of the football team, the design of Reliant Stadium had to fit the needs of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLS&R), which is also a main tenant at the facility. "The initial intent was to please the Texans, but we also had to be sensitive to the rodeo, which will actually have more use in the stadium, although it will be more concentrated," Justl said. "Fortunately, the colors of the Texans and the rodeo are both basically the same - blue and red. However, the rodeo was not so interested in a modern look, while the Texans wanted something new and bright. It was always a compromise. We had to figure out how we could use things that would be agreeable to the Texans and also to the rodeo."

Feature areas

Some of the more specialized stonework at the stadium can be found in the four bars at suite level. "A lot of these newer stadiums have four quadrants, and each has a bar in them," Justl said. "And in many of them, all of the bars are identical. [At Reliant Stadium], the owners and design team decided it would be better to have four different bars, and each was individually designed. We had the same palette of materials, but we moved them around a bit."

At the "Football Bar," Rockville Beige granite tiles were installed in an oval pattern to resemble the shape of a football, surrounded by a border of Afton Black granite to make the transition to the carpeting. The base of the bar itself - which is also shaped in an oval - features a single strip of light, "to look like the football had been thrown and it happened to land in that spot," Justl said. Additionally, the lighting fixture above the bar was custom-made to look like the laces of the football, and the side panels of the bar are made from the same material as an actual football.

The other three bars - the Star Bar, Horseshoe Bar, and Spur Bar - were designed with the same interplay of stone and light, and each is unique in shape and individual design.

Given the high level of scrutiny that is currently associated with new stadium construction, the specification of natural stone required careful consideration by the architects and owners. "Originally, there were several alternatives [to stone]," said Justl. "Stone was one of the major concessions, and there was talk of removing the stone altogether. But we had done a mockup of the suites earlier, and they were sold [with the stone as part of the design], so it would have been difficult to remove the stone later on."

Installation details

In all, the project included 32,000 square feet of granite tile and over 200 granite countertops. The majority of the floor tile was installed with thinset mortar over a Texas Cement Products 3-to-1 leveling compound, according to Ares Peredes of Sigma Marble and Granite Inc. of Houston, TX.

"One thing that surprised us was the sagging of the subfloor at

the suites," said Peredes. "Large cantilevered spans at these areas caused the sagging, and necessitated the use of leveling compounds."

Peredes explained that the biggest challenge was the completion of the kitchen countertops in the suites. "During the contract negotiations, the general contractor's foremost concern was the completion of the suite areas prior to kickoff day, as they were a major source of income for the owners," he said. "The project schedule did not allow enough time for field measurements prior to fabrication. It took careful planning and a tremendous amount of coordination of all the associated team members, as well as several mock-ups to produce a sound set of shop drawings for fabrication in India. The pieces fit like a charm without any field cutting. This part of the work was completed one month ahead of schedule."

The deadline of the project was unyielding, as the stadium needed to be completed in time for the 2002 NFL season. "The whole project took us about eight months to complete, with about 10,000 manhours for the granite," Peredes said. "We had more than the usual number of workers, with an on-site superintendent and from a minimum of five to 15 crews of two workers each. Before signing the contract, we had to make sure we built in enough workforce at the tail end of the construction to make sure it would be done by kickoff."

In addition to the preseason games, the Texans' first regular season game would be viewed prime time by a national television audience, showcasing Reliant Stadium for millions of viewers. And with the successful opening of Reliant Stadium, Sigma Marble and Granite has benefited from the high profile of the project. "It has opened opportunities for us in Houston," Peredes said, adding that the company is also installing the stone and ceramic tile work for the Houston Rockets' new NBA facility, which will be completed by the 2003-04 season.

In January of next year, Reliant Stadium will be showcased for an audience of billions of viewers, as it hosts the Super Bowl .