Already the new home to the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is about to be home to the largest free-standing bird sculpture in the world. Standing at 41 feet tall with a 68-foot wingspan, this 73,000-pound stainless steel behemoth is an engineering marvel.
The statue is the first thing fans will see as they approach the stadium’s east entrance. And it seems poised to intimidate any fans of the opposing team with its fierce glare, razor-sharp steel plates stabbing out of its body like daggers, and talons seized tight around a bronze football.
“We think it will be one of the great landmarks of the stadium,” says Mike Egan, the senior vice president of AMB Group, who helped coordinate the project.
The sculpture was designed and assembled by 32-year-old Hungarian artist Gabor Miklos Szoke, who has more than 100 sculptures displayed around the world, including in Italy, Slovakia, and Russia. The project began two years ago with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who insisted that the new stadium have a special focus on art—and not just typical sports photos and paintings. Egan said Blank wanted something that was a “statement for our stadium,” pointing to examples such as the tigers at Detroit’s Comerica Park or the bronze Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. When looking for someone to design a sculpture for Mercedes-Benz, the stadium’s art committee received a portfolio of artists from the Savannah College of Art and Design. One of the first artists they looked at was Szoke.
“When we saw his work, we were like, ‘We’ve got to get this guy,’” Egan says.
Szoke is no stranger to constructing monumental steel animals. He said he has been an artist for a “lifetime,” focusing primarily on animals known for grace and power such as horses, deer, bears, lions, even dragons.
After agreeing to a design and scale, Szoke crafted the bird at his studio in Budapest. Then, the 1,000 laser-cut pieces were shipped more than 5,000 miles—boated in 4 containers to Savannah, where it was then trucked to Atlanta. The packaging had to be carefully considered to prevent the humidity and salt in the air from rusting the steel as it traveled overseas.
Once all the pieces arrived in March, they were slowly assembled one by one via crane. Because the sculpture weighs in at a whopping 36.5 tons (each wing weighs 3.5 tons alone) the statue had to be strategically placed in the plaza—directly over a vertical column underneath the platform—in order to prevent it from collapsing under its own weight.
The falcon is visible from Andrew Young International Boulevard, making photos easy for passers-by, but since the statue is situated inside the main gate, you’re going to need a ticket before you can get up close and start snapping selfies with it. Once the sculpture is completed at the end of May, Egan says he thinks it will be a symbol for football fans to rally around.
“We believe the falcon will be one of the iconic, signature statements about this stadium, and we expect it to be an absolute fan-favorite.”