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But Can It Soar?

April 17, 2007 11:51 PM

Ballpark diagrams from Baseball Facts

You may not be surprised to learn that I have a very large collection of resource materials on stadium architecture. It's been a fascination of mine since I was a kid and spent hours poring over tiny ballpark diagrams in low-rent publications such as the 1968 Baseball Facts (seen at right).

Yesterday I added another resource that was surprising in how it snapped me out of my reverie of the last few days -- at least a little bit. The book is called Stadium Design, and it's published by an organization called Daab. I know nothing about this organization, except that they seem to publish picture books on just about everything from airports to lighting design.

So, like their other offerings, this is only a picture book. There is no text whatsoever, and the brilliant color photos fill each of 400 pages. It contains some remarkable images of various stadiums around the world -- 32 in all. There is only one baseball park featured (GAB in Cincinnati), and many of the rest are soccer stadiums scattered throughout Europe, South America, and the far east.

Stadiums around the world

What shocked me is the amazingly imaginative designs seen here -- one after another -- all by different architects. In fact, GAB (one of the many HOK Sport ballparks) looks kind of mousy in this company. Those who are only familiar with the current batch of new baseball stadiums in America may be shocked by the extensive palette used to design facilities elsewhere in the world. It's positively eye-opening.

Our own fresh design would really have trouble standing up next to, say, Licorne Amiens Stadium in Paris (middle at left) for sheer simplicity, imagination and distinctive design. By comparison, ours lacks the grandeur of something like Toyota Stadium in Tokyo (top at left). It doesn't soar toward the sky like Athen Olympic Stadium in Athens (bottom at left). Stadium after stadium featured in this book makes the Twins' new design look rather -- how shall I say it? -- modest.

Very quickly let me say that I know the Twins design is still preliminary, and there is much to be worked out. There is plenty that hasn't even been seen in the drawings released so far. So don't misinterpret this as a slam on what we've seen. I still like it very much. But I've started to feel a sense of yearning for the addition of a few more dramatic elements to make this ballpark really come to life.

One of the problems with designing any stadium is the delicate balance between the gigantic, which these buildings always are, and the human. How these vast differences in scale are reconciled goes a long way to determining not only whether it becomes great architecture, but whether the human experience within it is comfortable and pleasant.

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field viewed while approaching on foot from the northwest

I mentioned Wrigley Field in this regard the other day. Its profile from the street, while substantial, never overwhelms the pedestrian who approaches. Part of this is due to the visibility of the circulation ramps, which really humanize the face of the ballpark. But a big factor is the low profile of the bleacher section, and the brick walls on the side streets (Inset at right. By the way, this changed last year, and I hope to get back there soon to see how the renovations stack up.)

Almost more important is the setback of the upper deck from the street facade and the inclusion of the little Wrigley-shaped dormers. The effect is something like a house, and the building feels much shorter than it actually is. The light standards, which could have made it seem much taller, are delicate enough that they do not have this effect. If anything, they help the roof gracefully meet the sky, deemphasizing their height.

Beyond the facade, such big buildings have to work just as much for the fan approaching from miles away as for the fan walking through the gate. The building's whole identity is wrapped up in how it is experienced on the horizon just as much as how it's experienced close up.

Tiger Stadium profile

A classic profile on the horizon

I've written about this before, but it's one of the things I loved about Met Stadium. When I was a kid, my family traveled up from New Prague, getting onto 494 over in Eden Prairie (yes, I'm one of those people who still gets excited at the sight of that old, red, flying horse sign). The first sign we saw of "the cities" was always the Radisson South. This was an exciting moment in itself because it meant that the ballpark was near.

Then, as we got closer, the top of the park was the first thing visible -- those massive light towers began to peek over the terrain. I suspect that we could first see it from about three or four miles away (much has changed in that area since then!). As we got closer, tantalizing glimpses continued to appear and we would begin to make out the colored panels and huge signs naming the parking sections.

Eventually the grandstand in left would appear, and with a final turn onto Cedar Avenue the whole monstrous thing would emerge magically from that big pancake of a parking lot. I'm not calling it great architecture, but its profile was pure ballpark magic. (What? You think my memory may be a bit faulty? You think I just want to remember that it appeared that way? Memory is such a wonderfully sloppy thing, isn't it...?)

Met Stadium postcard
Light standard and entry beacon

The lone light standard and one of those "entry beacons."

What we've seen of the new Twins design doesn't really soar yet. It has nothing which really connects it to the sky or establishes that magical profile on the horizon. The canopy, though a great idea, just isn't quite dramatic enough. Plus, it's an entirely horizontal element, and it's the vertical elements which really are needed to make that connection of ground to sky.

Incorporating the lighting into the canopy, while cool on one level, removes an opportunity for making an architectural statement. The way I look at the drawings, from a distance a lone lighting standard will be visible (the one out in left field). The rest of the park's profile will be somewhat nondescript to fans approaching from the west on 394 or from the north on 94. This would be a shame, considering how much thought has already gone into many of the other details.

I'm a little myopic about stadiums. In fact, if it isn't baseball, I usually don't care. But after seeing these truly inspired designs from other sports around the world, it feels like we should hold the Twins design up to that level of expectation. What may be needed is something more elaborate for the canopy. Perhaps a pair of towers (suggesting twins, perhaps) from which the canopy could hang -- or at least appear to. Maybe scrap the lighting in the canopy and try something more dramatic.

How about extending those "entry beacons" at the corners up into the sky? They could really draw attention from far away. They're described in the literature which accompanied the unveiling: "Prows are a direct reflection of the cosmopolitan city at the ballpark's entries." (I don't know about you, but the empty flattery of our community which has accompanied the unveiling of this design is just about enough to make me sick. What city wouldn't want to be called "cosmopolitan"? But how many are? Is ours? Does that really even mean anything? It seems like a generic word used to kiss the ass of a client...)

Jose Alvalade XXI Stadium

Jose Alvalade XXI Stadium in Lisbon, Portugal has towers much like I'm imagining to hold up our canopy while also making a bold statement on the horizon

Great architecture makes a big statement -- and not with words in a marketing kit. It's all about drama. Adding drama to a building is one way to turn the hum-drum into art -- or at least the plain into the memorable. Here's hoping the Twins organization has such aspirations in its soul.

Comments


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i would beg to differ on the impact the underlit canopy will make on the skyline. the park will look fantastic glowing from within at night as one travels the 94 viaduct into downtown. and imagine the overhead shots of our park. i think the lighting scheme is creative and not all light standards are architectural statements. this scheme as currently shown comes off as uncluttered and sleek.

Posted on April 18, 2007 at 08:25 AM by tim Highlight this comment 1

Just one observation about the lights in the canopy;I feel as though it will cause player to loose balls in the lights just like the dome, because the lights will always be in the player's line of sight. What do you think?

Posted on April 18, 2007 at 08:27 AM by Andrew Highlight this comment 2

Comments about the lack of a roof in the
Twins' new stadium are false. While the
much-desired retractable roof is to be
absent, this venue's upper deck will
include a cantilevered roof which gives
unobstructed cover to fans in that level. Many outdoor venues have non-
retractable roofs (Kauffman Stadium, RFK
Stadium, PNC Park, Turner Field, Jacobs
Field, Anaheim Stadium, and many more).

I also reject the notion that this facility is not retro. Old ballparks
featured outdoor baseball, real grass, and designs geared for this sport. The
Twins' new home might not show certain
elements of ballparks that opened since
1992 (or long ago), but it will display the qualities mentioned above.
Therefore, it is retro (for sure in those aspects). Thanks.

Posted on April 18, 2007 at 5:54 PM by Chris Highlight this comment 3

Hey Rick, cool website, was wondering if you would do the same with a vikings stadium, that is if they ever get one.

Posted on April 22, 2007 at 3:58 PM by Kevin Highlight this comment 4

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"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."

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Notice that the wooden-backed club seats are now covered by a green tarp for protection from the elements.



Delmon Young getting warmed up



This opportunity is half a block up Third Avenue and thousands of people walk right by before and after games.






Friendly faces greet you right inside the door of the Legends Club.









Here is the most recent outfield configuration, captured from the animation video. We probably shouldn't make too much of the logos seen on the scoreboard: Best Buy, Dairy Queen, Target, Pepsi, Dodge and Qwest...












Click to see the whole, beautiful image. (Photo by Tyler Wycoff)






Look closely at the overhang. You'll see the on the right it is flush with the fence, and then it sticks out farther and farther as you move toward center. More fun for Michael Cuddyer.









North Loop Deli



For executive entertaining



Flag poles, fencing, main entrance gates



View Level



Photo by Jeff Ewer



Here's where the plaza will empty out around that skyway emergency exit tower at the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street.



Fabulous Fantasy



I don't exactly know what this is. A first-aid station? Concession office?






Skinny dugouts at TF



Notice the temporary railing extensions



From about two blocks away you can finally get an idea of what it looks like. Just to my left (but out of view) was a valet parking stand where a limo was idling.


















Poles through the gap






Site of the proposed new Atlanta Braves ballpark. Look familiar?






This view, through a B ramp window, won't last forever.






Infield dirt used as accents



The dessert carts came out earlier, and looked even better than last year.






Here's a quick look into the layout of the Metropolitan Club.






Skywalk over Seventh



Here's a closer look at the bullpen area. It's hard to tell for sure, but I think there is still an opening to the concourse right above.






Roped off for the LRT crowd



"Original" or "Dinger" Dog





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MOA - Mall of America

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