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Friday, August 12, 2011

Grantland: The Architecture of Disaster

I’m still holding out hope the next wave of baseball stadiums - Five Hour Energy Drink Park in Oakland, Stadium in Miami, and Mountain Dew Field in Tampa - will emphasize beauty over revenue.

My guess is that in the rest of the world, when someone decides to commit billions of municipal bucks to building a stadium for their city their first thoughts generally go immediately to the architecture….

So what did the New York/New Jersey big-sports collective give the world in a once-in-a-millennium public works project whose cost exceeded the annual GDP of Barbados, wherein not one but three new stadia arose within two years?

The Yankee Clone, Ebbets 2.0, and The Jersey Lump.

How can the former architectural capital of the globe (the Chrysler Building; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim; that black cube balancing on one of its corners down on Astor Place in the East Village, about which two generations of stoners are still wondering whether it really moved when they leaned on it or it was just the weed) erect three buildings so irrelevant in design that they were greeted by a collective, global yawn — when they were greeted at all?

Because, I suspected, the architecture of most of our national stadiums is now, officially, an afterthought. The revenue jones has reduced design to irrelevance — even though a killer, eye-opening edifice, in the long run, is worth its weight in publicity gold.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 12, 2011 at 08:13 PM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, mets, yankees

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   1. BDC Posted: August 12, 2011 at 09:10 PM (#3898839)
I agree that the new NY stadiums are dull compared to these amazing venues in China and Singapore and such, but I don't know if gigantic nationalist displays by authoritarian regimes are exactly the right analogy to single-sport venues in US pro leagues.

To Cowboys Stadium, they do :) Like it or not, that place is one staggering sight. I also like the Colts' stadium in Indianapolis (same architect, very different concept). Americans can do the impressive thing when they have a lot of money and talent arrayed.

But basically, though many ballparks and bowls in this country have been charming places to see games, it isn't like there's a long tradition of Nth-wonder-of-the-world stadiums in the US. They've always been revenue-driven. The LA Coliseum is venerable and still pretty impressive, but its basic architectural keynote is "move a whole bunch of people in and out of this place on game day."
   2. salvomania Posted: August 12, 2011 at 09:25 PM (#3898845)
gigantic nationalist displays by authoritarian regimes

Other than it being gigantic (because it's a stadium), what about the Birds' Nest says "nationalist display" more than any other piece of contemporary architecture?

I agree with this article 100%; new stadia in the US are pretty gross, whether it's that Lump in the Meadowlands or the utterly unimaginative and culturally empty retro ballparks.

St. Louis tore down some nice Modernist architecture, a product of its day and age that celebrated technology and the tradition of our national pastime simultaneously, and erected in its place a backwards-looking Olde Tyme Ballpark that further cements the city's status as a town of the past.

By the time of its upgrades in the '90s---the natural turf, the landscaping, the retired numbers, etc.---Busch II was a great place to watch a ballgame. And if you had any kind of an eye for architecture or design, that stadium was a treat to walk through just to admire some really nice concrete---beautiful sculptural forms as well as all manner of geometric details.

The people I know who moan about how ugly Busch II was either hadn't been there in 10 years or else are the kind of folks who don't understand the fuss about the Arch ("It's just a big arch.").
   3. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: August 12, 2011 at 09:32 PM (#3898850)
What's so great about the arch? They have twice as many of 'em at any McDonald's.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: August 12, 2011 at 09:39 PM (#3898858)
the utterly unimaginative and culturally empty retro ballparks.

I don't think they're culturally empty. They're just playing it safe, and boring.
   5. salvomania Posted: August 13, 2011 at 12:16 AM (#3898951)
I don't think they're culturally empty. They're just playing it safe, and boring.

The Twins did a nice job with Target Field. A lot of local natural materials---limestone and wood---used in a contemporary way to house a grass and dirt field. The grass and dirt field is all you need to express the sense of tradition and the connection to the past. Let the architecture be of its time and place.

If you're so inclined, compare the ugly, retro "ironworked" lighting standards of Busch III with the "cowl" lighting incorporated into the upper-deck canopy at Target Field.

The only culture in Busch III is brought there by the people that fill it; by itself it contributes nothing of substance because it aspires to nothing more than artifice.
   6. Something Other Posted: August 13, 2011 at 12:20 AM (#3898952)
Culturally empty? This is the US. It fits, after all.

Great architecture obviously involves some risks, but it also requires the ability to make great architecture. We really don't do that any more. The largest firms are the largest because they see their jobs as giving the client what she wants, rather than educating her. Clients want what they want because we're convinced that having a lot of money carries no responsibility with it.

The typical client is no more capable of recognizing, let alone assisting in the production of great architecture, that she is in, say, walking into a gallery and recognizing which are the strong and interesting paintings. Great architecture requires a client willing to learn, willing to be educated and usefully involved. Those clients don't seem to exist in the stadium-making process, which is made even more difficult by being a public-private partnership.

Committees rarely make great or even interesting architecture. Rockefeller Center is a rare exception. William Jordy writes very well on how it came into being.

Fred Wilpon is a good (bad) example of why stadium architecture fails. I remember an article describing Wilpon as rolling around in his own ignorance, listening to his architects going, as he put it, blahblahblah about the new Citi Field, until he dumped the blueprints for Ebbets Field on the table and said, 'this is what I want'. The result is nothing that's the least bit interesting, nothing that addresses stadia as the place of spectacle, or as the last fora, or whatever you think in your wisdom stadia ought to embody. We end up with something that's at best pleasant, and the expression of nothing more than a vague nostalgia for only the most superficial parts of a past.

The idea that New York should dump hundreds of millions of dollars into a new stadium and leave the design to Fred Wilpon is pitiful. Funny as hell, in one sense, but utterly pitiful.

We're also no longer interested in educating terrific architects. There's a powerful emphasis in schools on training young architects to fit into the corporate-committee model, and to work and play well and simple-mindedly with others. The idea of the "master architect" is openly reviled. If you're not interesting in training great architects the chances you're going to end up with great architecture is very small.

edit: @5, do you have a link? Googling doesn't get anything useful.
   7. There are a lot of good people in alt-Shooty Posted: August 13, 2011 at 12:24 AM (#3898955)
That mock up for the Rays proposed stadium was pretty outstanding. The A's proposed stadium in Fremont--never going to happen obviously--was also very modern. Ah well.
   8. salvomania Posted: August 13, 2011 at 02:18 AM (#3899023)
edit: @5, do you have a link? Googling doesn't get anything useful.

I've got a nice picture I took myself... If you can tell me of an easy way to upload it for viewing, I'll do so...
   9. GGC Posted: August 13, 2011 at 01:31 PM (#3899205)
The layout of that article makes it difficult to read. Maybe it is my screen, but there's barely any margins on the side.
   10. GGC Posted: August 13, 2011 at 04:22 PM (#3899270)
Switched from Safari to another browser, Works much better,
   11. Tom Nawrocki Posted: August 13, 2011 at 05:07 PM (#3899280)
The problem with the New Yankee Stadium is that the Yankee brass wants to pretend it has this enormous respect for tradition, but that is far outweighed by its enormous respect for the almighty dollar. So they built a stadium that was designed to maximize revenues, but they also had to act like they were continuing the legacy of the fabled Yankee Stadium. The result was pretty much guaranteed to be an unsatisfying mishmosh, except in the money-making sense.

The problem with Citifield, as noted above, is that the Mets' top brass has no idea what it's doing.
   12. Santanaland Diaries Posted: August 13, 2011 at 05:24 PM (#3899288)
I don't know what exactly salvomania was trying to highlight, but these might help:

Busch III

Target Field
   13. Something Other Posted: August 14, 2011 at 03:41 AM (#3899508)
Thanks, guys. Sorry, salvo, I don't know how it's done.
   14. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: August 14, 2011 at 04:05 AM (#3899528)
I thought Target Field was a beautiful stadium, when I visited last year.

Also, above is the first defense of Busch II I've ever read. (I <3 BBTF.)

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