49ers vs. Cowboys.
The NFC Championship Game.
The Niners’ Joe Montana lines up on Dallas’s six-yard line, with San Francisco trailing 27–21. It’s third down and three yards to the first-down marker with 58 ticks left on the clock. The play call: “Red Right Tight; Sprint Right Option.” Wide receiver Freddie Solomon and Montana had already connected for a touchdown using the same play earlier in the game. The Niners hike the ball, and Montana rolls right. This time, the Cowboys cover Solomon perfectly, and with the Dallas defensive ends bearing down on Montana, everyone in the stadium is anticipating fourth down. But then a Montana pump-fake gets Dallas defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones off of his feet, and it buys the quarterback enough time to throw the ball away. His pass is high, but instead of sailing past the end line, it finds the fingertips of wide receiver Dwight Clark at the apex of his leap in the end zone.
Touchdown. Ballgame. Niners win, 28–27. History is made.
Ask any NFL fan with a pulse and a reverence for the game, and they’ll know this play, simply referred to as “The Catch.” A watershed moment for the 49ers franchise, the dramatic pass is so iconic that its spiral directly inspired the design of the team’s new Museum and Hall of Fame, conceived by Cambridge Seven Associates Inc. (C7A), a renowned architecture and exhibit-design firm. The 20,000-square-foot museum—which will have curved walls covered in artifacts, video projections, and interactive displays—is being built as part of the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium. The venue will move the organization 38.3 miles from its namesake San Francisco to Santa Clara, in the heart of Silicon Valley, so C7A’s design reflects not only the 49ers’ storied past but also the spirit of the team’s new locale, largely through the inclusion of some of the most tech-savvy features of any sports-heritage museum in the country.
The 49ers organization requested C7A to design “the hall of fame of the future,” so the firm took that challenge and ran with it. “It’s a little daunting,” says Timothy Mansfield, AIA, C7A’s principal for the project. “We’re certainly pushing technological boundaries; we have been fortunate to utilize the amazing innovation resources available in the valley. The 49ers Hall of Fame will unquestionably be at the forefront of sports-museum experiences. It’s very exciting.”
C7A won the bid for the project partly because of its strong history in the field of sports-heritage design, dating back to 1984. It has designed the original Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, and the recently completed World of Little League Museum, among others, and this depth of experience affords the company the ability to introduce bold, innovative concepts with authority. “The strength of our design work has always been to consider ‘the big idea,’ coupled with our ability to synthesize architecture and exhibits, graphics and the environment,” Mansfield says. “The big idea” for the 49ers Museum and Hall of Fame was the spiral of Montana’s famous throw. “It’s all about immersing visitors into the stories and moments,” Mansfield says. “The challenge is capturing the feeling, the energy, and the excitement of a moment in a unique and powerful expression.”
“The focus of our design work has always been to consider ‘the big idea’ … [and] to synthesize architecture and exhibits, graphics and the environment.”
—Timothy Mansfield, Principal
C7A decided that curved, corkscrewing walls would provide both a dramatic exhibit framework and a distinctively immersive spatial experience, and the firm chose gleaming white Corian for the walls so that they could also function together as a projection medium—on which the 49ers’ greatest moments will come to life as videos and images. The walls will allow physical artifacts and memorabilia to sit on display without distracting protective cases, and “graphic rails” running along the walls at hand level will contain interactive monitors, images, dates, and narratives that will help fans delve deeper into the team’s history.
The 49ers Museum and Hall of Fame will feature other high-tech elements as well, including a 10-foot-tall 4K video wall and “augmented reality” exhibit in one of the entry galleries. Fans will be able to virtually insert themselves into classic 49ers moments and see themselves on the gridiron or in the huddle with their favorite players. The guests will also be able to change scenes using a control monitor and make history come to life. The gallery experience is a technological first in the sports-heritage field. Cortina Productions, C7A’s media-production partner, is shooting all the museum’s video in high-definition 4K resolution—the most technologically advanced available—and it will also be used for the hall’s introductory feature film.
C7A will bring 49ers fans closer to their sports heroes in unprecedented analog ways as well. While most halls of fame recognize their members with pictures, plaques, or bronze busts, the 49ers museum will feature a gallery of life-size statues of all the team’s honored players and coaches, with additional room for 25 years’ worth of future inductees. C7A partnered with Brooklyn-based Studio EIS on the 26 likenesses created thus far, and they will give fans the opportunity to stand, literally, face-to-face with franchise legends such as wide receiver Jerry Rice and coach Bill Walsh. The gallery, like the rest of the museum, will be unlike that of any sports-heritage space in the world.
C7A has certainly succeeded in conceiving the hall of fame of the future, and thanks to the firm’s signature thematic, big-idea thinking, the 49ers museum as a whole belongs in the “win” column.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
Located in Canada Olympic Park, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame is a dynamic facility that C7A designed
in collaboration with Stantec to celebrate Canadian sports heroes and legends. The hall of fame consists of nine themed galleries that are connected by a central grand hall featuring a statue of Wayne Gretzky and a hall of fame photo wall. The galleries are organized by sport and accessed by “timeline” exhibit ramps and stairs, showcasing milestones in Canadian sports history. Like the interactive elements at the upcoming 49ers’ Hall of Fame, visitors to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame can shadow box with Lenox Lewis, step into hockey’s goalie position and try to defend the net, experience the impact of a fastball pitch, wheelchair race against Chantal Petitclerc, and more. The museum won a 2013 Thea Award from the Themed Entertainment Association.
It’s A Small World
Timothy Mansfield explains, in his own words, the personal connection that helped him and his firm land the revamp project for the World of Little League Museum.
This was a very personal project. My son Peter played Little League for six years, and I coached him all the way through. I was very involved with my local Little League as a member of the board of directors.
C7A was one of nine design firms asked to submit for the project. What we learned after being selected was that Little League chose us not only for our sports-heritage experience but also because of my personal passion for the league. During the interview, the last slide I showed was a picture of my son pitching in his last Little League game. I was able to share my emotional connection and how important the project was to C7A and to me. In the end, they wanted an architect who really understood their mission.
The 10,000-square-foot museum was originally designed in 1982 and was never renovated, so my partner Peter Sollogub and I sat down and … saw this opportunity to create a journey telling the story of Little League. We used the framework of six innings [the typical duration of a Little League game] as our ‘big idea,’ and the design took off from there.
The ‘First Inning’ is the feature film introducing visitors to the amazing story of Little League. ‘Inning Two’ tells the story of the founder, Carl Stotz, with a gallery showcasing the history of how
[Little League] began in 1939. ‘Inning Three’ is the Global Connections gallery, demonstrating the vast reaches of Little League around the world. ‘Inning Four’ is the interactive gallery, where kids get the chance to run the baselines and leap for balls. When you have a museum for kids, you have to have some room for them to blow off steam! From there, ‘Inning Five’ tells the story of how you get to the Little League World Series. Finally, ‘Inning Six’ recognizes Little League’s Hall of Excellence. It’s a huge amount of content and moments, and the six innings worked really well to tell that story.”