Talk About It
Profile: Charlotte Jones Anderson
Charlotte Jones Anderson, executive vice president and chief brand officer of the Dallas Cowboys, played an integral role in the design of AT&T Stadium in Arlington and The Star in Frisco. Like Charlotte, her office at The Star exudes power and confidence. Mementos from key events and experiences form a backdrop to the plush seating we sink into to begin our conversation:
So you’ve got a bachelor’s degree in biology. Now with your involvement in The Star in Frisco, you have a “doctorate” in sports facilities.
I love that. I always wanted to have a doctorate and I actually feel like I have.
What’s the big lesson about architecture that you’ve learned through this process?
What has been so amazing on this journey is creating shared spaces for people to create memories. When we built the stadium, I remember experiencing our grand opening with my father [Cowboys owner Jerry Jones]. We’d done an intense amount of work on the design; it’s like we finally got the design exactly the way we wanted. In that process to get that design, we did the basic things you might expect including a study on best practices for sports facilities. We also did a study of how people enjoy space. What are the buildings that inspire? What are the buildings that evoke emotion? And where are they? It took us all over the world.
We went to Beijing, China, to see the Bird’s Nest [National Stadium] there because that obviously was a very big statement. While we were in China, we visited big spaces where they gather millions of people. In these giant spaces, how did they move people — and what moves people?
We went to museums to analyze great space. How do you make a big space a personal room? We got inspiration from great fashion houses. You know the Times Square of sensory overload and everybody’s getting all this new information at the same time. So how do you put all of those things together to create a space where you can share a memory?
In that process, we put this video together and we compared this experience to the building of the Roman Coliseum to the beauty of ballet and dance to where people come together and they share an experience. It was all about building something to share an experience to where people go, “Wow! They did this for me, and I'll never forget it.” And so it was all about the process of evoking emotions.
My only experience to date had been part of building a home. You know when you build your home, you think about what you put in it that inspires you, what makes you feel good. It just seemed like the natural thing is to surround yourself with things that make you feel good and make people want to be there and make them feel valued. That mindset took us on the trajectory: How does that goal shape the space at AT&T Stadium?
We then brought that perspective with us when we came out here to The Star to create this space. How do you have a sense of commonality for people where they share an emotion with people they do not know? That’s been our journey.
So how does the brand manifest in the architecture? How does the architecture speak specifically to this powerful brand of the Cowboys?
Expressing our brand didn’t mean blue and silver stars all over the place. It was just the opposite of that in the building of AT&T Stadium and here at The Star. Our players speak for the brand. The live action on the field in our AT&T Stadium, that’s the brand, where you’re going to get all your stars literally and figuratively. The building itself needed to speak to strength, to power, to resilience, to determination, to the things that build the backbone and the character of who we are. You’re not the literal interpretation of the brand.
But it was also about technology. How do you revolutionize the way people see sport? That really was our goal at AT&T Stadium — that we’re going to change the way people engage and interact in the game.
From an aesthetic standpoint, it needed to feel good to everybody. So how do you find a palette that feels good to everyone? And you know, we definitely overinvested in that experience. People felt like, “Oh, it’s like going into the lobby of a hotel!” But we learned in the beginning that if you invest in people and they feel valued, then they’re going to keep coming back. That was our ethos to really bring our brand alive.
The Star is a great public-private partnership with the City of Frisco and the [Frisco Independent] School District. There was a tangible function of needing a venue so that kids could play their game. But there was an intangible function of the aspiration of where kids could realize their dreams.
And that is what we had to create here: Use who we were to inspire kids to achieve their dreams in an environment that would actually do that.
Courtesy of Shaun Menary
So how did the community influence the design of The Star?
They were mainly focused on: This needs to be our community, which is about family. This needs to be family-friendly. So we set out raising the bar on ourselves.
Have you seen The Star influencing other projects?
Stadium venues historically have not been in great real estate locations, so integrating a vibrant community in a not great real estate location is quite a challenge. When we came to Frisco, it was first a great real estate deal. The idea focused around how can you bring community. Our plaza outside is like Times Square meets town square. It’s bringing both of those great things together and doing it in a very strong way but not in an overdone way.
The Star was designed, developed, and opened on a tight three-year timeline. What were some of the more memorable moments and challenges in the design and construction process?
Oh my goodness! I got fired on this project.
Courtesy of Shaun Menary
It started with, “You’re spending how much money?” And then it became, “You’re not spending enough money!” Which was crazy.
My father started this project and said, look, we’ve just come off building the stadium. That was a huge financial undertaking. He did not have the appetite to get so heavily underwater again. Yet my brothers [Jerry Jr. and Stephen Jones] and I are like, oh my gosh, we must do this! It is a critical investment to stay relevant in the future. You need to stay young with your audience. You need to create an evergreen experience, not just host 10 days a year.
Dad is like, well, go find your own money. So every concept needed to fund itself.
The Ford Center [the indoor stadium at The Star] had gone over budget. And so everything that went over budget, we had to deal with, we had to eat. So we revised the front of the building Then my father saw it and said, “Are you serious?” I was in a room with the architect and my father, and he said, “How many times do have to tell you I did not like that building!”
The architect and I walked away saying, “I think we both got fired.” I’m pretty sure we did — that’s what it felt like. We then changed the whole thing. We did exactly what Dad wanted. We spent way over the budget in order to go do it. But you know what? It was great. It was the right thing to do. We should have done it all along.
How does art play into the experience? Because it’s such an important part here at The Star and AT&T Stadium.
We knew building the stadium would attract sports fans. Our goal was to attract people beyond the world of sports.
So how do you engage people who are not fans of your game? You can do that through architecture, through art, through music. Give people an experience that they appreciate, then along the way they become a fan of your game.
And the biggest barrier to going into the museum is that we feel like we don’t know enough about it: “I can’t appreciate what that is. I don’t know enough about the history of that. I don’t get it.” We wanted to remove that barrier. If you’re coming to have your hotdog and your popcorn, you’re not intimidated by what you see.
We didn’t know anything about contemporary art. So I suggested that we put together a panel of experts that could advise us. We selected the curator from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Dallas Contemporary. We had two great international collectors who happened to be friends of my mother and live in the area and an art consultant from San Francisco.
What has been the most rewarding is we do all these stadium tours with the kids — in a setting that you want to go to and let’s teach you about art. So that has been incredibly successful. But almost the better part is having all of these amazing people in the art world nationally and internationally coming in to take a look at the collection — and, with some, a bit of skepticism. But when they leave, they’re so marveling at how it all came together and that the people who led the way are artists themselves.
The architecture and art journey has really kind of become a part of our brand.
In one article I read, you were referred to as a “power woman.” In another, “the most powerful woman in the NFL.” What does that mean to you?
I don’t view it like that. It’s flattering to hear, but I know I have an unbelievable platform — the visibility and the interest and the magic of sports. I believe the platform comes with a true responsibility to do something bigger than the game itself. I've always felt that the true value of the game is the ability to bring people together who normally wouldn’t be together, today especially. So if we can use that to do something successful, I think that’s where the power is.
You’ve worked with some incredible architects and designers in Dallas. Any advice you can give them in creating unique guest experiences?
I think I am complicated and maybe sometimes difficult. My mindset every time I sit down for a meeting is that I know it can be bigger and better than this. And to challenge each other to raise the bar on what we think greatness already is.
I think it does stimulate architects and creators in their profession. My best advice to them is don’t be afraid of the passionate, involved client. Listen to the direction they’re trying to go. Help them get there.
A lot of people used to ask us about our selection of the architect for the stadium — we could have hired any designer in the world. We selected an architect who would listen. And that’s not an offense to anybody, but we also knew how passionate we were about what we believed in.
Courtesy of Shaun Menary
You have been interviewed countless times over the years. What question have you never been asked that should be asked?
You allowed me to touch on that when you asked the power question. I mean, what does that mean to you? What’s the most valuable thing that you do? That to me is the why. Why do you do what you do? And I think that’s the question everybody should ask. Themselves. In every profession they are in there. What is it we’re trying to leave with the legacy that we’re trying to create? Who are we trying to inspire? Where are we trying to take those on a journey who’ve chosen to join us? I think that’s the crux of.
We can use the sport to inspire people and to take people away from their challenges of the day. Where you can see people struggle and fail and get back up and have to do it again, be motivated by that and inspired by them. And somehow, some way be encouraged and find hope in that.
Perhaps instead of chief brand officer you should be chief why officer.
I don’t like that [brand officer] title at all.
I actually hate that word. There is a great Roy Disney quote: “Brands are something that ranchers do to cattle.” I think that we’re more like a culture or more like an aspiration.
And I think that if you are just trying to separate yourself from the person next to you, you lose yourself in comparison. You should think about something that’s a whole lot more inspiring!
Interview conducted by Lisa Lamkin, FAIA, a principal with BRW Architects. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.