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.
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 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.
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...?)
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 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.
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This page was last modified on January 21, 2010.
"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."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3004 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
"Hey look! There we are!"
The view from my seats in Section 237 (The Trap), Row 1 (can't see much of center field without standing up...)
This is the left field pavilion in the original concept model. The restaurant pictured to its right has been moved, and the seating area has been extended at least one full section toward center.
Looking from near the entry doors toward the center, the atrium is just visible at the far right.
Here's the view of the entrance ramp to 394. Looks like they are painting...
JohnW provides this shot of a construction barricade on First Avenue
New Year's Eve, 2008
Note the speakers hanging beneath that deck
Roped off for the LRT crowd
Lower deck view of the out-of-town scoreboard.
Detail enclosing the main ticket window area
Rally Hanky (2002 ALCS)
Concept drawing for the fan/player appreciation wall. (Click to enlarge.)
They help create a psychological safe area along the plaza edge, and help you forget that cars are zipping by directly beneath you.
Lots of folks working behind those ticket windows
This is the actual entrance for Gate 6. Notice how close the seating will be. The back row of the lower deck will be mere inches beyond that inner support post.
I know you've seen this, but I can't get enough of it.
Lots of sun, but not much scoreboard from 127
Dancing for the cameras
That's part of the wind veil, waiting in the B ramp for installation
Press box, hallway to the print room
Met Stadium on May 17, 1975 (Twins vs. Brewers featuring Hank Aaron)
Photo by Tyler Wycoff
A mysterious smile from within a very deep planter!