Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ vision for The Star in Frisco goes through O’Brien’s eyes

Sean O’Brien is vice-president and director of design at O’Brien Architects. Among his projects is The Star in Frisco.
Sean O’Brien is vice-president and director of design at O’Brien Architects. Among his projects is The Star in Frisco.

Vision. Planning. Production.

And you have to be able to adapt.

Those are the core principles of one of the key men behind the look of The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, which includes the new Dallas Cowboys headquarters along with the mixed use of office, medical, event center, retail and restaurants.

O’Brien Architects master planned the 91-acre development. Leading the way was Sean O’Brien, vice-president and director of design.

Historically, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys like to do things in a big way.

It’s the Cowboys way of sorts.

The Star in Frisco is no different.

“It was a dream come true. When you’re working with the Cowboys, you have the most valuable sports franchise in the world and to have those people in your office every day, you form a bond with them and they’re such kind people,” O’Brien said. “Every time they come in here, they are always so nice, positive and eager to work with — very good people.”

The development is so impressive that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already taken a tour of the Cowboys’ headquarters and was reportedly “blown away” by the plan.

O’Brien’s vision was to take a holistic approach to the design, building something that would appeal to a cross-section of people and fans and every generation.

The Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor Walk and Dallas Cowboys Community Ring of Honor are two signature features in the development.

“It had to be a place that appealed to every person in some way. The Cowboys are unique in the fact that there is a rich history that appeals to older fans as well as a bright future that engages the younger community,” O’Brien said.

The football-centric portion of The Star will open this summer. The mixed use component will open in the spring of 2017. The Cowboys are having their final practices at Valley Ranch in Irving this week.

O’Brien received his undergraduate and master’s degree in architecture from Texas Tech. Some of his projects include the Grandscape for Nebraska Furniture Mart, Irving Music Factory, Cole Ranch for Stratford Land, and The Domain for Stonelake.

What goes into developing a vision with such major projects as The Star? It takes a deep background and understanding about the different components and uses that make up that project. Offices, retail, multi-family and these different components come together in planning. When you understand those uses, you can massage all them together into a master plan where those uses can be leveraged to help each other out.

How long does it take to make a plan this big? Tagging onto the planning aspect of it, you really need to know your client on a personal level to tap into what that vision is and you need to really listen. That takes time, sometimes years on a project like this. We worked on the old Irving Stadium site to come up with a master plan for a site similar to the Star and that was maybe four years ago. So this deal, the Cowboys were talking about going to Frisco and from that moment it was a go and it’s been three years of coming up and refining and refining because the Jones family always wants to take what’s good now and improve on it and it’s always a process and it goes on for a long time.

Outside of what you designed, what’s your favorite part of the Star? Going into the project, my favorite aspect is how all the components come together. The vision is that people from all around the world will come here, not just from North Texas. All these uses create this environment that is the ultimate Cowboys experience, which I think is even beyond what AT&T Stadium may be. They also have these storylines as you walk through the project. They have the ring of honor and all these numbers that will kind of be scattered throughout the project so as you’re going through it, you’re actually learning about Cowboys history.

What is the biggest surprise when you’re out on a project? From an architectural standpoint, it’s amazing to see those buildings come up, having 3D models for two or three years, just feels really nice to see. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s always nice to design something for so long, these $300 million projects come out from the ground, and it feels good. When I had my son three months ago, Charlotte [Jones Anderson] sent over all this baby Cowboys gear. She’s so sweet.

Where did you go to high school and did you grow up a sports fan? I was actually a soccer player. I went to St. Rita (Dallas) to start, then I went to a private school in Irving and ended up transferring to public school and I played club soccer growing up, but my dad is a huge diehard Cowboys fan. We actually bought season tickets once we started working with the Cowboys and we love it. I’ve always followed the Cowboys, you know Monday Night Football, when the Cowboys are playing and watching it with my dad were some awesome memories.

What’s your favorite Cowboys game or moment? The game where Emmitt Smith broke his collarbone — I forget how much he ran for — that was incredible. [Smith rushed 32 times for 168 yards and had 10 catches for 61 yards in 1993 regular-season finale against the New York Giants, playing with a sprained and separated right shoulder]. I couldn’t believe that and then of course the Super Bowls.

What’s your normal work day like? Well, I have two little kids so it starts off pretty crazy. Once I get past that and drop them off, I answer emails for about an hour and a half, so it’s nonstop. Days I work with the Cowboys, we’ll have three-hour work sessions. They’re coming in for those once a week and we’ll have our 3D models and put them up on the screen and go through the projects and designs together. I’d say my work day is about 12 hours. I’ll get home and answer more emails, write proposals, it is nonstop, but the people here are amazing and the clients are great. I get to have an impact on the community so I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Dallas Cowboys schedule


Saturday, Aug. 13 at Los Angeles Rams, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Friday, Aug. 19 vs. Miami, 7 p.m., (KTVT/11)

Thursday, Aug. 25 at Seattle, 9 p.m. (KTVT/11)

Thursday, Sept. 1 vs. Houston, 7 p.m. (KTVT/11)

Regular season

Sunday, Sept. 11 vs. New York Giants, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)

Sunday, Sept. 18 at Washington, Noon, (KDFW/4)

Sunday, Sept. 25 vs. Chicago, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)

Sunday, Oct. 2 at San Francisco, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)

Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Cincinnati, 3:25 p.m. (KTVT/11)

Sunday, Oct. 16 at Green Bay, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)

Sunday, Oct. 23 Bye

Sunday, Oct. 30 vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)

Sunday, Nov. 6 at Cleveland, Noon, (KDFW/4)

Sunday, Nov. 13 at Pittsburgh, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)

Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Baltimore, Noon (KTVT/11)

Thursday, Nov. 24 vs. Washington, 3:30 p.m. (KDFW/4)

Thursday, Dec. 1 at Minnesota, 7:25 p.m. (KXAS/5, NFL Network and Twitter)

Sunday, Dec. 11 at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)

Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Tampa Bay, Noon, (KDFW/4)

Monday, Dec. 26 vs. Detroit, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday, Jan. 1 at Philadelphia, Noon (KDFW/4)

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