Ballparks General Baseball Miscellany

What to Build

The news broke a couple of weeks ago that the Red Sox have shortlisted five firms for the design of their new training facility in Sarasota, Florida.  The list is made up of a familiar heavy hitter (HOK Sport) and a few smaller firms, all vying for the rights to create the new spring home for our Olde Towne Team.  Looking through the sites of the contenders, we see proficiency and consistency in the articulation of a kind of accepted and familiar typology, a colloquial presentation of institutional and civic quaintness.  Much of the work, while undeniably professional, belies a strong aversion to risk.  And while we might ascribe this risk aversion to the programmatic restrictions of an athletic facility or the narrow and safe prescriptions of the client, there are clearly opportunities for innovative space-making and design, as my co-blogger documents in this fine article about the Jets' new practice facility.  The Red Sox' facility is budgeted between $50-$70M, slightly under that of the Jets' cutting-edge grounds, the implication here is that there is room for invention in both form and an embrace of bleeding-edge technology.

In Europe, both big teams and humble franchises have pursued a noble vision of a progressive civic architecture, now and in the past (some recent examples follow after the jump).  From Renzo Piano to Enric Miralles, cutting-edge stadium design has been viewed not as a chance to re-build the fossilized forms of history, but rather an opportunity to imagine, freshly, semi-public space in critical terms.  In the US, this view of sports-related architecture has been less visionary, increasingly to its detriment.  Those buildings seen as the bellwethers of stadium design in the US have been historicist in nature (think Camden Yards and Coors Field).  And while there is not much to argue with the successes of these parks, their progeny articulate a significant hesitancy towards the more severe (but I would argue inventive) formalism and highly focused functionalism of modernist architecture.  As an architect myself, it would be encouraging if more franchises (like the Jets, the Bears, and the Arizona Cardinals, all working at a larger scale) embraced the possibilities of progressive architecture at the small-scale and took a breather from the familiar pastiche of reiterative design.  Unfortunately in Sarasota we should probably expect more of the same, a "mini-Fenway" (their terms) that comforts us but refrains from challenging the spirit.


Eduardo Arroyo's design for Barakaldo FC near the city of Bilbao in the Basque reqion is one example.  The grounds at Barakaldo seat 8000, with light standards made into monumental sentries.  The perforation of the cantilevered overhang is a deft touch, lightening an imposing mass.


The architects of the Beijing "Bird's Nest", the Swiss firm of Herzog and de Meuron's Allianz Stadium in Munich employs ETFE, a material made famous this past summer thanks to the the Watercube.  ETFE is a lightweight translucent polymer whose virtue is in design flexibility, energy transmission characteristics, and (supposedly) lower cost.  At Allianz, the skin of the building is mutable, a large billboard that can change colors based on the team playing on any given day.


The gorgeous football stadium (the "Balastera") in Palencia, Spain (more photos here) – Francisco Mangado, Architect.

20 replies on “What to Build”

Im a huge fan of pushing the envelope architecturally but I dont really see the point in the sox doing so for a training facility that will be in use for a few months a year. I think that a more utilitarian approach should rule the day in this case. The sox could invest some of that $50-70 mil in free agency instead….
Also, the swimming cube also in Beijing should be mentioned here. That is a beautiful building…

what a clueless lack of regard for the struggling fan in these trying economic times…what was wrong with their current facilities?….any word on how much the city of sarasota or sarasota county are kicking in as far as public funding?…

Great thoughts here. It’s seems others would disagree, but I think the facade of the New Stadium is nicely on par with other recent stadia. It suggests the timeless elements that a true cathedral to the sport should evoke. I bet walking through the Great Hall will be a gothic-type experience (high vaulted ceilings, large stone foundation, etc.). Unfortunately the Yankees were never going to be truly cutting edge for historical reasons.
The problem with any stadium is that you’re really restricted by the seating bowl. It has to function a certain way (pack in as many seats as possible) and so they all end up looking similar.
Where it seems the designers can get creative is in the facade. But even something so revolutionary as the Bird’s Nest would seem to rapidly lose its luster. Wasn’t the Astrodome supposed to be a monument to the future – in design and function? What was it’s shelf life? Thirty years? I’m not sure how long the Yankees expect the new place to last, but I’d be shocked if it’s less than fifty years. In a time frame that large, any thing revolutionary today would age very quickly.
Let me put it this way: Your firm is selected to design the new Fenway. If you keep the classic field dimensions, it seems you’re also locked into a classic design. If you start changing those even a bit (keep the Monster, lose the triangle), maybe you can get a bit more creative, but how much?

I would guess one of the practical benefits to building a replica training stadium would be the ability to become familiar with the contours of the real thing — particularly for the minor-league invites or the new acquisitions. A little more time getting used to the Wall or the deep right field or whatnot…

Where it seems the designers can get creative is in the facade
This is correct, but there are many other opportunities, as we see in the light standards at “La Balastera”, or the overhangs at Barakalo. A stadium or athletic complex is not just the field and a bunch of seats, it is a complex intertwining of public spaces and shelter, amongst other elements.
It makes perfect sense that the field dimensions in Sarasota would match Fenway’s, this is not the issue. While that does restrict certain parts of the design, it doesnot limit the possibilities for invention in the places surrounding the field. In our office, we often view these kinds of site restrictions as energizing, opportunities to create something sound but unexpected. In NYC, for example, the zoning code we deal with is remarkably restraining. But it hasn’t stunted our creativity, oftentimes it is quite the opposite.

“And while there is not much to argue with the successes of these parks, their progeny articulate a significant hesitancy towards the more severe (but I would argue inventive) formalism and highly focused functionalism of modernist architecture. As an architect myself, it would be encouraging if more franchises (like the Jets, the Bears, and the Arizona Cardinals, all working at a larger scale) embraced the possibilities of progressive architecture at the small-scale and took a breather from the familiar pastiche of reiterative design.”
I’m no architect and I’m no architectural critic, but I do agree with this sentiment. To me, the new Yankee Stadium is a bit of a disappointment (at least its facade) in this regard. I know this is a franchise that’s very brand and way of selling itself is steeped in historicism but it would have been very exciting if they had taken a more bold (also an idea associated with the Yanks) step and looked more forward. But I’ve become a very big fan of Boston’s Government Center in recent years after thinking it was so ugly on my first impression, so maybe I’m partial to this modernist severity (Sorry to sf if I’m mixing up categories and terms here). In any case, the new Yankee Stadium was a chance to do something very exciting and memorable. I’m afraid that I don’t see that in the new facade. But my first impressions aren’t always lasting.

Rob makes/raises great points.
The Astrodome, I think, WAS a momument to the future. Sure, it didn’t last, but it was a launching point. What did the Astrodome inspire? It’s gone, but its legacy is played out, to some extent, in all domed stadiums, isn’t it?
Is it too much to ask that any stadium last as long as Fenway and Wrigley? How long did those architects/designers expect the stadiums to last? Did they consider it? Look how long Three Rivers, Riverfront, Shea, Busch lasted. To some extent, it’s hard to believe that Dodger Stadium is now the third-oldest stadium in MLB. And that begs the question, are we too sentimental about oour ballparks? If Fenway and Wrigley had been replaced 20 years ago, how would this discussion be framed now?
If I’m asked to design the new Fenway, I go completely non-traditional. I try to set the new standard, possibly using the above examples from SF.

My point about the Fenway wasn’t regarding the training complex. There you can go creative without too much worry, even if you have the exact same field dimensions and the Monster. Indeed, you probably want the facility to be a bit more dramatic given the need to attract tourists to meaningless games.
I was asking how could a reasonable re-imaging of Fenway itself, as could easily happen within a decade, be both historic (keeping the dimensions and the wall) and be avant garde. I just don’t see how both can co-exist in the same facility. Either you give up the old to create something novel or you try your best to update the old. Has any modern design successfully pulled that balancing act? The first that pops to mind is the Louvre expansion, but that wasn’t a wholescale new structure and from the outside it’s quite minimal. I bring up Fenway only as a nice reference point. Sure, you could produce a crisp modern facility, but I don’t see how it could also contain the historic elements.
Nick, I hope we’re impressed and awed by the Great Hall. Considering the old park and the remodel, the fact that they can produce a familiarity and freshness (as I experienced in the window game) has me excited. Keep in mind too that all the examples in the post needed great design for marketing inferior products. Besides the pull of history, the Yankees don’t need to attract anyone to their product through the building.

I’m late to this game but I’ll add my dime’s worth. I don’t think it’s quite fair to nail all baseball design as regressive. Petco is a nice piece of modern design. The new DC park is also modernist, if not quite as good–i haven’t been to either. We’ve seen daring engineering (Sea, Mil), and fantastic urbanism (SF, Pitt), leaving aside the financing questions, which is a dubious thing to do. I think the correlation of “progressive” with material experimentation or a kind of modernist formalism (color me uninspired by some of those Euro stadia, which seem to me sterile) is a false one. Which is not to suggest that there is not room for experimentation and big A Architecture in baseball. I’d like to see more of it. But I don’t think that necessarily entails a rejection of history. Indeed, it might require a greater embrace of history. For one of the ironies of these “retro” parks is that they are retro to a time that never existed—a kind of fantasy era, a Big Leagues of the imagination. Go back and look through some of those 1950s baseball cards. They are modern and incredibly beautiful. Or take a look at Fenway and Wrigley. These are rough and ready places, really industrial buildings, with barely any kitch decoration. Look at the golden-age uniforms: they are spare, clean, beautiful. Now, today’s ballpark is an entertainment center, so a different kettle of fish, but i think a creative design could recapture some of baseball’s actual tradition, not the kitsch variety we’re so accustomed to. and if there’s some brave team that wants to hire a herzog and de meuron (or my esteemed coblogger), that would be great too.

another point worth addressing: i often hear the lament that “baseball fans demand retro,” that a ballpark must look olde school to appeal to fans. that’s just flat out bullshit. baseball fans demand one thing and one thing only: a winner. put a decent team on the field, and fans will show up. period. remember that until the last couple of years, baseball’s attendance records belonged to the very modern SkyDome/Rogers Center, the first park to draw 4 million. Smart ownership that puts out a solid product and markets it well is going to be rewarded, nevermind the style of the building in which they play.

These are rough and ready places, really industrial buildings, with barely any kitch decoration
A giant green wall with ads and Monster Seats isn’t kitch?
Don’t get me wrong. I really like Fenway’s intimacy in spite of all the usual complaints. Perhaps beautiful for its uniqueness and history, but that’s far different from a intentional design.
And all those “urban parks” seem just to be replicas and variations on Camden Yards (which still seems very classic). In thirty years I won’t be surprised if this period is reflected on much the same way that the Astrodome Era was.

I’d add that the Citgo sign is also kitch. Can’t criticize Wrigley cause I’ve never been. But I would if I could!
Again, Fenway is a great example of functional design. But they’ll replace it soon enough with an overplanned piece. I just don’t see how they can balance the historical elements with a modern look. I can certainly see something in Allston, that combines elements of PNC and Camden Yards, but that’s neither novel nor big A Architecture. But it doesn’t have to be, for exactly the winning reason you cite (see also, Boston Celtics and the new Garden and they did just fine without a winning team).

I don’t think “kitsch” is being used correctly in this context. Its definition is: “Excessively garish or sentimntal art; usually considered in bad taste.”
The big green wall may be garish, but it was painted 62 years ago (though I confess I have no idea why), and the Citgo sign — while like much effective advertising may be in bad taste — isn’t a part of the park at all, though TV has helped ingrain it as a part of the Fenway experience.
Both items evolved naturally through the history of the park. Kitsch I think is more of an intentional attempt to create the things the Monster and the Citgo sign represent.

I seem to remember Milan Kundera going on and on about kitsch in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and now I can’t remember what his point was. What’s the point of reading if you forget everything?!

No offense intended with the “kitsch” commentary. I would argue that the Citgo sign is a part of the park even if it’s not actually in the park. If the Sox decided they didn’t like it (say because of the Hugo Chavez nonsense) and tried to block it, I bet folks would backlash. I’m a big fan of the Monster, but that definition fits really well. And it’s art exactly because it’s so garish and ugly.
I should have said I did like the “industrial building” motif. That seems to summarize Fenway really well. Wrigley less so from what I’ve seen and since it’s best known feature is natural and organic where usually there isn’t.

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