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.