Home of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide
The tour rolls along, to the great state of Alabama and the city of Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bryant-Denny is another colossal, on-campus southern stadium originally built at the end of the 1920’s with a capacity under 20,000.
Although only an 18,000-seater when it was originally built in 1929, then University President George Hutchenson Denny intended it to become a 66,000-seater bowl. This is evident in the early aerial image of Denny Stadium. While it is open behind each end zone, one can imagine the elliptical line of the bowl continuing around to form an enclosed arena similar to the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT. The elliptical shape of the stands left considerable space between the field and the seats and remains a feature of the stadium today.
Expansions in 1937, ’50, ’61 and ’66 saw the two sides expanded and enclosed to become a 60,000-seat bowl, fulfilling President Denny’s original vision. Though now an enclosed bowl, the elliptical line of the original sideline stands were truncated as the end zone seats were made parallel to the playing field, perhaps in effort to bring fans closer to the action. The combination of curved and straight seating would set the tone for future expansion as we will see.
Similar to the relationship the University of Arkansas has with Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, until the 1990’s Alabama home games were split between Denny Stadium and Legion Field in Birmingham. Not only did the University not get all home games at their on campus stadium, big games like the Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn) and the LSU game were played some sixty miles away. This split home field would continue through the 2000’s until Denny Stadium was expanded and surpassed its counterpart in the State Capital.
The stadium was renamed Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1975, in honor of legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, winner of six national championships over his 25-year run.
In 1988, Bryant-Denny got its first upper deck on the west side of the stadium, bringing capacity to over 70,000. Ten years later, Heery International were hired to design a new upper deck on the east side. A combination of public and private funding covered the $35 million project. The new stands consisted of 81 skyboxes on two levels, new video screens and 10,000 additional seats, bringing capacity to 83,000. The new upper decks followed the curve of the lower bowl and each had partial roof covering. Access to the new levels was via one of four circular concrete ramps at the corners of the building. Despite its growing size, the curved symmetry provided an elegant solution to the successive expansions and created a harmonious building that appeared to have been designed all at the same time.
The curved harmony would be disrupted in 2006 when a $47 million expansion brought a new upper deck to the north end zone. Three levels of skyboxes took the stadium total to 123 boxes, while an additional 10,000 seats brought capacity to 92,000. The uncovered north end zone upper deck is now primarily parallel to the playing field below, with a bend at each corner. A subsequent expansion in 2010 brought additional luxury suites and 8,500 seats to the south end zone, mirroring its northern counterpart.
Seating capacity at Bryant-Denny is now 101,000, making it the fifth largest stadium in the US and eighth largest non-racing stadium in the world. The exterior is largely concrete and an expression of the vertical circulation, while the end zone upper deck projects each came with a brick-clad entry building, as though the architects couldn’t resist the lure of brick. Altogether, Bryant-Denny is an impressive structure wedged into this campus setting and will no doubt be home to many big moments this season.
Part of a series on the stadiums of the Top-10 Preseason College Football teams. Next up: No. 1 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA