Michael Bierut | Essays

The (Faux) Old Ball Game

Rendering of Citi Field, Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York, projected completion 2009

The 2008 baseball season begins this week. By coincidence, this will be the last season that New York's two teams, the Yankees and Mets, play in their current stadiums. Next year, both teams will move into brand-new venues that will include state-of-the-art amenities, high-tech electronic displays, expensive VIP suite areas, and every modern convenience — on the inside, at least.

On the outside, both stadiums, like almost every baseball park built since 1992, will make every attempt to convince us that they were built sometime in the first part of the last century.

In the last 25 years, Americans have designed, built and enjoyed modern office buildings, modern libraries, modern museums, and modern houses. Why is it so hard to build a baseball stadium that looks like it belongs in the 21st century?

More than any other American sport, baseball is fueled by nostalgia. I have fond memories of rooting for the hapless Cleveland Indians in a remarkably hideous setting, the chilly and cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Built in 1931 with a seating capacity of nearly 80,000, the "Mistake by the Lake" routinely attracted fewer than 20,000 fans to see the likes of Sam McDowell, Steve Hargan and Rocky Colavito. But it had a lot more character than Cincinnati's cookie-cutter Riverfront Stadium, an airport-like facility built in 1970 where I would sit in alienated gloom during my college years watching the Big Red Machine roll over all comers amidst a smug crowd who expected no less.

For a long time, most new ballparks looked like Riverfront: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, St. Louis's Busch Stadium, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers, all charmless industrial facilities lacking any sense of place, specificity, or human scale. Then came Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and everything changed.

When it opened in 1992, Camden Yards was a revelation. Janet Marie Smith, the Orioles' Vice President for Planning and Development during the park's construction, had encouraged project architect HOK Sport to design an "old fashioned ballpark with modern amenities." As a result, in contrast to Memorial Park, the 1950 "concrete doughnut" stadium it replaced — but like beloved urban ballparks such as Wrigley Field or Fenway Park — Camden Yards was asymmetrically-shaped to conform to the idiosyncrasies of the neighborhood street pattern, and scaled to bring the fans close to the action. And the ballpark was old fashioned not only in spirit, but in the literal details; using a steel structural system that hadn't been used in stadiums since the 30s, and clad in brick to match the restored B&O Railroad warehouse across the street, it was designed to look as if it had been built in 1912, not seventy years later. Sponsors and advertisers were encouraged to use vintage logos, all the better to scrupulously maintain the illusion.

The illusion proved irresistible. Camden Yards was a hit with critics and fans alike, and it launched a trend in ballpark design that has continued unabated to this day. In the wake of Camden, retro facilities rose in Arlington, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Oakland. Cleveland Municipal Stadium was replaced by Jacobs Field in 1994. Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium was replaced by Great American Ballpark in 2003. Both Jacobs (now Progressive Field, named for Progressive Insurance), and Great American (named for the Great American Insurance Group) were designed by the architects who started it all in Baltimore, HOK Sport. The firm has made the most of their success at Camden Yards; by 2012 they will have designed 19 of the 30 major league baseball fields.

Which brings us to my home town. HOK's portfolio includes our two newest ballparks, the new Yankee Stadium and the new home for the Mets, Citi Field. I can't say much about the design of Yankee Stadium. The House that Ruth Built is regarded by sports fans as a secular cathedral, and it goes without saying that the new facility, which is currently being built on a park adjacent to the current stadium, will replicate as many details as possible of the 1923 original. The weight of tradition is just too much.

The Mets, however, are different. I moved to New York in 1980, the perfect moment to become a Mets fan: the following years would see the arrival of Keith Hernadez, Ron Darling, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, culminating in the thrilling championship year of 1986. The setting of these heroics, however, was the dismal and unbeloved Shea Stadium, opened in 1964 as a home for the then two-year-old Mets. “There’s no redeeming architectural value in Shea,” the AIA's Fred Bell told the New York Times this weekend. “If Yankee Stadium is like visiting the Metropolitan Museum, then Shea is like a visit to the dentist’s chair.” Mets fans have been waiting a long time for a new ballpark.

And what are we getting? Well, this passage from the Mets website should sound familiar: "Inspired by tradition, Citi Field will be clad in brick, limestone, granite and cast stone, with the brick closely resembling the masonry used at Ebbets Field, both in color and texture. Exposed steel will be painted dark blue and the seats will be dark green." I find this all rather odd. Ebbets Field served as the home of an entirely different team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, until 1957. Camden Yards sits in the middle of Baltimore and picked up its design cues from its surrounding neighborhood. Citi Field sits in the middle of nowhere — Flushing Meadows, Queens — and it picks up its design cues from a ballpark that, before it was demolished nearly 50 years ago, was located nearly nine miles away.

But in reality Flushing Meadows is hardly the middle of nowhere, and has a potent design tradition of its own. Originally a city dumping ground memorialized as The Great Gatsby's "valley of ashes," it was cleared by parks commissioner Robert Moses for the 1939 New York World's Fair, and fifteen years later, the 1964 World's Fair. Its grounds were the site of some of the most iconic and entertaining visionary architecture ever built in North America: Wallace Harrison's Trylon and Perisphere, Norman Bel Geddes' Futurama at the General Motors Pavilion, not to mention the Unisphere, which still stands today within sight of the new Citi Field. Wouldn't any of these have made great precedents for a new pleasure dome to be built in Flushing Meadows? Or, to go a little further afield — but at least within the same borough — how about Queen's greatest piece of architecture, from the same year as Shea, no less: Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal?

But instead, we have the fourteenth old-timey iteration of something that was an innovation a decade and a half ago, and now seems like nothing more than a default. HOK Sport is capable of bold, exciting architecture: just consider their Landsdowne Road Stadium in Dublin, Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre in China, or their work with Norman Foster at Wembley Stadium. The Mets are an atomic-age team, unburdened by the century of tradition that haunts their crosstown rivals. Their site is as close to a blank slate as anyone could imagine.

We all know that baseball fans love their nostalgic ballparks, and I certainly like the human scale and sense of place that the best of these venues provide. But do those values always have to arrive smothered in old fashioned wrappings? Sooner or later someone has to take a risk on something new. In Flushing Meadows, all the conditions were right to take a chance on a home run. What a pity we have to settle instead for a sacrifice bunt.

Posted in: Architecture, Arts + Culture, Social Good

Comments [57]

The new Nationals Park here in DC, which opened last night, is modern. I can't say it's a home run from an architecture standpoint, at least on the outside, but it doesn't look like it was built 100 years ago.

I know that it’s a bit much to expect New York designers to acknowledge that anything new happens in other cities, but there’s nothing nostalgic about Nationals Park in DC.
james puckett

I, too, am a little surprised to see the willful ignorance of the new park in DC. Look, sure, the team sucks, but the $700 million park pretty much proves this entire post wrong.

I'm sympathetic to this line of criticism, but it seems to me the real design problem with these two parks (and especially the one in the Bronx) isn't nostalgia, but the way design is used to create environments, at immense public cost, that privilege corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the average citizen. The new Yankee Stadium, for instance, will have fewer "cheap" seats than the present park, and those will be more distant from the field. If anything, the new luxury spaces lack a sense of "nostalgia"; instead they appear to be heavily branded entertainment spaces where baseball is an afterthought. Baseball is America's national game, but these spaces are fundamentally undemocratic.

It was profoundly disturbing to me that when the movement to save Yankee Stadium was still viable, the design community, and especially the Paper of Record, effectively stood aside. Complaints about the new park have been, for the most part, based on formalist criteria. That's sad.

For what it's worth, Petco Park, in San Diego, was designed by Antoine Predock (with the ubiquitous HOK), and largely eschews the nostalgic elements that characterize recent ballpark design. Several other relatively new ballparks (those in Denver, Pittsburgh, San Francisco spring to mind) warrant recognition for sensitive urban design.
Mark Lamster

Sorry about ignoring Nationals Park, which I've only seen in pictures. It does look modern. My main beef is with Citi Field. I've qualified my sweeping generalizations in the opening paragraphs out of respect to the fans in DC.
Michael Bierut

I think the retro stadium in Denver is great. It feels almost like the Michael Graves library across town in its overstated charicature-like attempt to mimic historic forms. Plus, it's brilliantly dug into the edge of a neighborhood filled with historic warehouses so that it looks like it's only about four stories high. Our other new stadums — Invesco Field and the Pepsi Center — are much more modern, yet not nearly as locally well-loved as Coors Field. Maybe because the others are surrounded by parking lots?
Ryan Nee

It seems that to most Americans, 'traditional' architecture suggests warmth, comfort and home like modern architecture never will. Look at all the single family home's built across the country in the last 25 years. 99% are faux traditional.
Zia Khan

Boring. Faux nostalgia is the biggest problem for the baseball. It is rooted in the past and the only time it worms itself into the 21st century is through steroids, multi-million dollar conracts, luxury boxes, and complicated financial schemes to build an olde timey ballpark. It's embarrasing really. Just once I wish they would build something along the lines of the birds nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, that way they might just alter the rest of the sport so that is is forward thinking. The hell with tradition. How about umpire cage-fighting, or locker room fight club, or building stadiums on top of skyscrapers, or players in spandex unitards, or stealing 2nd base on a Segway... Then maybe I might take myself out to the ballpark.
Mark Kaufman

I've often wondered the same thing about "modern" ballparks. Then again, the near-oval, all-purpose stadium was once thought to be ground-breaking too. Of course, you could argue that those stadiums failed the most basic test of all--form follows function.

In any case, nostalgia is boring unless you're the one strolling down memory. And even then, it gets dull after a while.

All the more reason to say, Good on DC!
John P

Nothing to add to the argument here. Only wanted to point out that 'The Diamond' - the concrete monstrosity in my hometown of Richmond, VA - is the most politically incorrect ballpark I know of. Check out the giant, um, Native American, that peeks out as you enter.
Teddy Blanks

I've always been a fan of Camden Yards, and how it sits in its surroundings. In contrast, the new Nats stadium merely echoes all the new condos in many now-gentrified DC neighborhoods. While I welcome the convenience of a hometown ball park, I think I'll opt to go to Baltimore more often. Plus, the Red Sox play in Baltimore more often!

Loosely this same problem lies with the current American car designer. They are dipping into the past to create some "retro-futurist" nostalgia instead of creating something new and bold that could become iconic to future generations. This type of design has its place, of course, but it feel like its being done because that is what they thought would repair their image after the strikes... and its be going ever since.

While sports teams ranging from The Cowboys, to the Nets, to a few soccer teams in Europe are creating architecturally modern stadiums... baseball is at a standstill. I believe these modern teams and organizations see the future as the bright, green light with unlimited possibilities. Baseball views its rooted past as the green light, maybe this is why they so want to emulate it? Maybe they believe their best times have past and longingly want to hold on to that?

Or maybe everyone just wants a Fenway... and they think they can build it by pulling on some heart strings about the romantic past?

At the very, very least, Citifield should have been an ode to the Mets's 60s/faux modernist/World's Fair neighboring/Queens living/blue and orange tiled past (I am just assuming that these things HAVE to be nostalgic). Why they have to base this on Ebbets Field is beyond me, especially considering the Mets have resided at Shea for more years than the Dodgers spent in Ebbets: 54-45. Or heck, the Polo grounds would have been a neater reference point. 483 foot centerfield fence anyone?

I suppose the pendulum of nostalgia will swing its way back at some point as we slowly tire of the sameness of the HOK model (built in quirks and all) and pine for the days of cold, cavernous stadiums with poor sightlines, bad food and nasty bathrooms, where there's nothing to do but watch the game. Or maybe that's just me.
John Gall

Just once I wish they would build something along the lines of the birds nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, that way they might just alter the rest of the sport so that is is forward thinking.

...because I'm a designer and I deserve to see cool things, damn it!

Baseball is all about nostalgia and hokey feelings of what it felt like to go to games with your dad (or what you wish it felt like). Nostalgia sells, otherwise they wouldn't keep on doing it. The average baseball fan has no desire to go to a game in a modern spaceship setting, no matter how much you wish it were so.

Need to amend my above post do to extremely poor math and mouth foaming. Mets at Shea 44 years. Dodgers at Ebbets 45 years. Whatev.
John Gall

I once went to see the Montreal Expos play in Olympic Stadium ($5 sit anywhere/$1 hot dog night), as close as you can get to a "modern spaceship setting". An airless echo chamber. Actually felt like I was on the moon. If only they could have solved that gravity thing.

Also, the seat section partitions were made of plexiglass instead of metal railings. I guess it was to trick patrons into thinking that a hockey game might break out at any moment.
John Gall

A truly nostalgic ballpark would probably satisfy design purists; the first professional ballparks were rough-and-ready affairs hastily thrown up by their owners, putatively "honest" works of functional, industrial architecture. The nostalgic trimmings we have today is the lipstick that disguises the true nature of the modern park as a luxury entertainment venue.

I will get off my soap box here, but first would point out that in today's Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff bemoans the current state of development, in which we, "replace genuine urban history with a watered-down substitute. It’s historical censorship." That's true. But this is what he wrote in the Times in June of 1995, regarding the plans to replace Yankee Stadium. "There are those, no doubt, who will complain about the loss of the site of some of the most memorable moments in the history of sports. I am not one of them. The current stadium, which was severely altered in the mid-1970's, has little architectural merit."
Mark Lamster

I spent the better part of the day yesterday driving 3 hours to the Bronx, standing in the drizzle with my friends in a parking lot drinking beers + eating brats, and then driving home after the delayed game became a postponed game We were on a small hill southeast of the current Yankee stadium, near the #4 track, which gave us a great view of both the existing park, and the new one under construction. The famous "Yankee facade" which is featured in the current stadium in the outfield (and was previously located on the front of the second deck of seats before the 1973 renovation) is being referenced on the exterior top of the new stadium in a steel design which surrounds the exterior of the structure. As we got off the exit from the Deegan on 161st, we drove right past the 'front' of the new stadium (which is the exterior of the new building directly behind home plate.) It features large serifed gold inlaid lettering in the concrete which spells "Yankee Stadium." I applaud the Yanks for not selling the naming rights to the stadium, but it appeared to me (in the 2 second look I had as we drove by) that the inlaid lettering was anamorphically scaled.
Doug Bartow

"The average baseball fan has no desire to go to a game in a modern spaceship setting, no matter how much you wish it were so."

The average fan. Aren't you quaint. The problem with baseball is that the average fan needs to feel some kind of kinship with his father. The average fan needs to be ordered by a Diamondvision screen to stand up and cheer for Cracker Jacks. The Average fan needs to have sushi delivered to his club seats. The average fan needs to eat a veggie dog in the family friendly confines of Ye Olde Pepitone Picinic Area. The average fan needs to hold on to their youth by stalking the ghosts of Wally Pip and Ted Kluszewski.

Maybe the average fan needs to watch the game for the game itself. In a spaceship. I saw many a lousy team play in Shea Stadium, a round, boring multi-purpose stadium. I saw many a lousy team play in the sterile, concrete confines of The Kingdome. Designer or not, I would rather watch the game in a in multi-purpose monstrosity than in a flannel coated tribute to the past. That way I can pay attention to the game and to the schlub sitting next to me squeezed into a polyester Roberto Clemente replica shroud.
Mark Kaufman

The football and baseball stadiums in Kansas City are both architecturally contemporary, and were built around 40 years ago. While I haven't been to them, I've read that they are nearly flawless in most respects. One key is that they are purpose-specific, which is a flaw the concrete doughnuts in Pittsburgh and St. Louis suffered from.

One of the flaws of KC and in my experience with a newer stadium - the White Sox park in Chicago - is the context. These are situated in a sea of parking lots. The Chicago Stadium is flawed for many other reasons, but local groups pleaded with the developers to make it contextually appropriate by including housing and other developments across the street, and make it a walkable experience. This makes the Cubs' stadium such a joy: you can walk right up to it, and when inside see the neighborhood.
Neil Wehrle

What makes Baltimore's Camden Yards wonderful is not its nostalgic styling but its frank and open embrace of the city. Rather than being a donut plopped in the suburbs and surrounded by parking lots, Camden Yards is set smack in the middle of downtown. You can see the city from inside the park, and you can see inside the park from the city. Plus, you can get there via public transportation. Camden Yards is an urban amenity.
Ellen Lupton

There is a bias for the vintage in all design. It is comforting. People are afraid to be the first. Truly great design, architecture, (insert art medium here) is fundamentally rooted in guided risk. It has become easier to have the same equation (or a concept cookie cutter) for every design problem.

There is a polar approach to stadiums. Either have a retractable dome or lots of brick and asymmetry. The difference is Camden Yards had a concept that exceeded "make it look old with modern amenities." And in Baltimore there was an existing, natural, historically relevant element that is undeniably the second most recognizable element in any baseball stadium.

Bronson Stamp

Nothing is so American as baseball and apple pie, and it doesn't surprise me at all that stadiums around the country are being built in the vernacular of a bygone era: baseball uniforms are extremely similar to those worn when the game was created, fans still eat peanuts and popcorn, even non-fans sing that catchy song during inning changes (or commercial breaks). Americans hold nothing as sancrosanct as baseball and its visual cues, and the sport takes on meaning far beyond recreation for many fans. Not only does "ye olde" stadium architecture play into and reinforce this cultural tradition, it also provides a level of comfort and nostalgia. Think about it - Camden Yards opened in 1992, during an economic downshift that arrived on the heels of the ra-ra patriotic Reagan era. This national gloom, coupled with a push to revitalize post-industrial second-tier American cities, practically demanded safe, cozy, and traditional architectural symbols to house America's pastime. Despite economic surges since then, the majority of the stadiums mentioned in this article are in cities that are not growing. Industry isn't moving to Cleveland, or St Louis. Even in growing, economically healthy metropoli like NYC, San Francisco, Atlanta, baseball fans demand a certain level of tradition in their baseball watching experience - season ticket holders don't want architectural experimentation, or even glory. They want a ritual, nostalgia, and the fulfillment of an expectation that was instilled from birth. How many baseball fans are coaching their toddlers in these traditions at this very moment? The game has changed minutely in its history (and those changes are debated, often fiercely, to this day) and its architecture is no exception.

This posting is not to defend the trend, but rather to situate a rebuttal in the current and historical American zeitgeist. We, of all nationalities, crave stability; in a constantly rocking world, we cling to those design elements that are most comfortable and constant. I can think of no more comforting to Americans than baseball.

I understand from an architectural point of view the desire to see a new and unique take on what a baseball stadium could be rather than gravitating to what has worked in the past. But, there is just that indescribable feeling of being at a baseball game that I think a "contemporary" stadium would not be able to offer. I feel like it would make the game seem more distant, more sterile.

In the 70s, the cookie-cutter stadiums were an attempt at modern architecture that could accommodate all events (baseball, football, concerts, etc.). These new stadiums are truly "Baseball Stadiums." I am an avid baseball fan (and Mets fan) now living in Chicago. There is an inexplicable sensation you get when walking into Wrigley Field then if you walk into Comisky (aka: the last field build before Camden Yards). It is that feeling these stadiums are trying to replicate.

I would like to see some innovation and a look forward, but I don't want to loose that feeling I get when I am at the old Yankee Stadium eating a hot dog.
David Altholz

Strange to see the author slighting the fact that elements of the design of the stadium were taken from another (beloved) professional field. Rather, he suggests that the architects lift from the World's Fair of '39 -'64; buildings meant to be temporary, and hence somewhat fashionable, that themselves have been almost completely removed or nulified. Where is a fitness to purpose, cultural or use-wise, in styling a stadium after a glorified automotive showroom from almost 70 (40 if you want a moonbase) years ago?
Does the architects use of style, proportion and material not qualify as an adaptation of an established vernacular? Is it wrong to seek a connection with a very real and well documented past rather than a conjectured future? I agree that we should always seek to do things better, but, architecturally at least, maybe we should appreciate when a group works to finesse an architype rather than reinvent it.
Dan Wallis

Here in the Bronx, we would like to see the Yankees and the Mets push for a NEW tradition - LEED® Certification. HOK Sport did it with Nationals Park; they can do it here in New York City.

The Nationals Park is now the nation's greenest ballpark.It received LEED® Silver Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first major stadium in the United States to achieve LEED Certification.
Carl W. Smith

Authentic Replicas™

As some of the other posters have mentioned and as I will now sum up, the problem with baseball stadiums...is baseball.
bernard pez

The thing that sets baseball apart from most other sports is the fact that there is more to being at the stadium than the game. These 'nostalgic' stadiums offer more than just the product. You have to admit the new 'cookie cutter' is better than the one which preceded it, for example Three Rivers Stadium. I live in Pittsburgh and the only things I recall from that design tragedy are the teams and the moments on the field. In the most immediate antipode, PNC Park is a wonderful place to be on a Friday night, who cares if the team sucks and you're paying 7 bucks for a beer. What makes the night is the environment, not to mention you can stick around after the buccos lose and watch fireworks come off the barges on the Allegheny River and reflect off the skyscrapers in the background, gorgeous. I can see how you think these get repetitive, but each city has something unique to contribute to a retro-style stadium. But I'd have to agree that they could've done better than to reach for a parallel to Ebbets field.
Ryan Mustio

A few facts to consider: Danielle's suggestion that there has been "minimal" change within baseball since its inception, while theoretically a matter of perspective, is pretty hard to sustain. Integration, for instance, was a pretty major change. Rules, economics, facilities--all these things have evolved a great deal in the course of baseball history.

As for the suggestion, which seems widely accepted here, that baseball fans "demand" traditional design, this is demonstrably false. Baseball fans demand only one thing: a good ballgame, and they will watch one in any building in which they can find one, regardless of its style. When the very modern Rogers Center (nee SkyDome) opened in Toronto just 3 years prior to Camden Yards, it set attendance records. With a championship club on the field, it was the first stadium to draw more than 4 million a year. Conversely, while Oriole Park is, as Ellen notes, a "public amenity," in recent years, with the Birds' performance a public nuissance, attendance has been lousy.
Mark Lamster

For me, they are both missing grand opportunities. To simply 're-build and repeat' and make no significant contribution is borderline criminal to our generation. Babe Ruth, whom many considered modern, would of loved the idea of creating an architectural masterpiece for his team. He was known for saying, 'Never let the fear of striking out get in your way', unfortunately these planners are scared to death. It they want some nostalgia, simply call it Babe Ruth Stadium.
Rocco Piscatello

You all think of architecture as brick and mortar. None of you think of it as light and sound.

I see imaginary cornfields and ghosts walking out of the field.

That's not entirely true. I see home as a cardboard box. First at the curb, Second as the sewer, and third as the tree. They will always be so in my mind. And a whole team comprised of three little boys. Sometimes a mom who threw like a girl and a dad who had a swing like a scythe cutting grass.

okay, so maybe not you all, some people do build glass houses that i can reflect like that. But, you know, playing ball in a stadium made of glass might shatter windows.

Mr. Kaufman

Since fans vote with their wallets, I'd argue that while retro stadiums may not fit into your or my design sensibilities or idea of contribution, they've been wildly successful. MLB profits are probably double what they were in the 80's.

Fred Wilpon is sinking over $600 million in a stadium, and I'd forgive him if he's not necessarily interested in making significant contributions to the world of architecture, and wants to protect his investment with what has worked time and time again the past 20 years.

Fans LIKE retro ballparks. Isn't that the ultimate truth?

Hey folks - I just posted a little deal about HOK sport and the Nationals Park (http://tinyurl.com/2sff4v) - really don't know how I feel about it until I go. But I've been a long time Mets fan (make a trip up at least once a year now) and Shea stinks. I have to agree on this issue, they could have done some whiz-bang deal - with just the right touches - and it would be a fun place to watch a game without the weight of tradition, and the exact opposite to the Yanks, as they should be, b/c they can't compete on history or nostalgia. I don't know - just do something big and different, or at least relevant to where it will sit.

Interesting thought, building a stadium that reflects the modern game of baseball vs. trying to evoke the games overly storied history. Bit I can't help but wonder what a stadium on HGH and steroids would look like.

Perhaps the wave of nostalgia is help people forget or ignore the mess that is modern baseball.
Stephen Macklin

Michael makes many relevant points regarding the architectural design of the modern ballpark. The other issue I would like to raise is the corporate branding of the sport: when Citi Field goes “on-line”, the name of Shea, specifically William Shea will be lost to future generations. Many years ago, in a time far, far away, it was tradition to name civic institutions after individuals who had either accomplished much or contributed much to the community. William Shea, threatened to create a third league in baseball which led to expansion of both the American League and the National League. The Mets played their first game on April 11, 1962. In 1964 the Mets played their first game in their stadium named for the man who was their “father”. It is a pity that ballparks are now named for those who are willing to offer up the most cash.

Don't know if they're going to do this in NYC or if they did it in DC, but they took photos of the construction of Busch stadium in St. Louis and made it into a neat time-lapse movie.

Nothing better than watching a ball game than watching construction, right? But then again, I like to watch golf. And paint drying. Ha!

Joe Moran

The Problem With Good Design
There was something about the "thoughtless" architecture of turn-of-the-century stadiums that were so terrible they were successful. I say this because I too grew up in the Cleveland metro area and went to the games as a kid. I also lived in Boston and New York for a few years and have gone to Yankees and Sox games there.
All ball parks were successfull for the same reason. The reason is this, they were so quickly and "poorly" designed that you had an inhunman experience in them. Almost cattle like. I remember entering the Cleveland Municipal Stadium - named after the city, not a donor or some corporation - and seeing the monster that the stdium is: a huge mass of concrete and windows. I was impressed by it's carelessness.. like walking into an old warehouse... that was baseball. Once in you were packed in a croud marching up chain covered ramps that led to hallways.. always alert always alert. Then a narrow set of stairs, poorly signed, led you to the field. Affrad of falling you marched up, pressed inthe croud, more alert than ever. At the top of the stair is the most amazing thing you've ever seen - the buggest fuucking green field inside the biggest fucking cement shell and people are screaming... you are in a man factory. It smells like meat, sweat, dirt, skin, beer and is filled with cursing, spitting, yelling, and praying. That's baseball.
Now parks have been designed... bny designers. They smell nice, look nice, taste nice, and the people are nice. Clevelenad;'s relatively new Jacab's Field is glass, brick and steel. No concrete. That's not baseball. You can't replace it like TGI Friday's but it would be great to maintain the parks that still exist.
Basebal; isn't supposed to be comfortable. If it was you would fall asleep.

Apologies. Was thinking of this
video. That other one stinks.

Joe Moran

From a purely aesthetic perspective (and speaking very generally), I much prefer architecture from the early and middle part of the twentieth century to most anything designed and built in the 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. Give me stone and brick and right angles; save the metallic skin and the swooshes, please.

I was impressed with Camden Yards at its opening--admittedly, as a 12-year-old with a baseball aficionado father, I didn't understand its deeper implications--and I continue to think it's quite a handsome structure that plays well with its surroundings. Many of the newest retro-styled ballparks go a few steps further and step into the realm of the pseudo-nostalgic cliches that have become popular in both new urbanist developments and, strangely enough, in suburban sprawlitecture. I see it so often in "lifestyle" shopping centers--phony downtowns filled with national retail chains, "Towne Centers" and "Commons," cute-as-a-button fountains, benches, and lampposts, and so forth. It's a revisionist, heartwarming, wholesome, and totally inaccurate version of what the past was like.

As I said, I would rather see organic materials and human-scaled architecture. I think it's a shame that our conception of "modern" must always look like something out of Tomorrowland. But I'd rather be honest and not try to pretend that "retro" architecture is an accurate depiction of things as they once were.

I definitely agree that the retro parks are nicest when it works within the setting and context of the location and the franchise. It seems that the old-time look has become the default polar opposite to the sterile spaceships of the 1970's because those involved with teams and governments don't know enough about to design other than to say we want this, not that. But it certainly doens't have to be that way... I've seen all sorts of interesting modern stadium designs for the Olympics, international soccer fields, even things like the Frank Gehry concepts for the new Nets stadium in Brooklyn. Ironically, I think DC is a place where the the idea of a retro park would work, given the city's history and stature.

Just a few contrarian facts about the "old" Busch Stadium in St. Louis

1. Built in 1966, the building most certainly possessed a sense of place and specificity, more so than the new stadium.

The roof's 96-arches (called "The Crown of Arches") echoed Eero Saarinen's iconic Gateway Arch, completed the year prior.

This stadium represented exactly the kind of period inspired architecture many of you are calling for in Flushing Park.

2 The stadium was not purpose specific. It has been home to professional football games, wrestling tournaments, circuses and rock concerts.

The ultimate demise of Busch Memorial Stadium was a classic "keeping up with the Jones" and how can we make more money on amenities, which is what is wrong with America.
Sheri L Koetting

There are a few comments on here which faintly elude to the answer the writer is seeking: why?

Unfortunately the question seems to be asked for the wrong reason. Instead of understanding the situation, the writer is saying 'Everyone has that. I want to be different.' If everyone has seat belts, should we look into something else?

Nonetheless, it's a really interesting question. Here are five of many probable reasons:

1. Baseball stadiums are now often built by taxpayers and a traditional stadium, being trendy, is an easy sell.
2. The era of architecture the stadiums are inspired is thought of as the Golden Age of Baseball (the height of the sport).
3. Homeruns and wacky plays entertain the average person, and the strange dimensions of these kinds of stadiums allow for more of both.
4. Baseball, like all forms of leisure, is an escape. So the more different a stadium is from your office building, the better.
5. Baseball is America's pastime and that era of architecture is remembered as patriotic.


Hey bobestes,

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken

I agree, MLB is raking in cash hand over fist, partly due to the retro ballparks popping up everywhere mostly on the taxpayer dime. Wilpon and Steinbrenner aside, it's easy to make gobs of cash when you hold local communities hostage and pay almost nothing for your vintage ballpark, and control most of the revenues, i.e. parking, concessions, seat licenses, advertising revenue. I would argue that most of the revenue boom is due to looking the other way while steroid enhanced shortstops belt out home runs in 13-9 "pitchers duels". I also agree that baseball owners and local governments can build whatever the hell they want, if people like the faux-friendly confines so be it.

Hell, if designers got what they wanted we would never see doofus Bud Light commercials, or Ford F-150s, or Wal-Marts, or American Idol, OR having a beer with George Bush, all of which the public adores.

More Mencken.
baseball stimulates "a childish and orgiastic local pride, a typical American weakness...

Mark Kaufman

I wish they'd go back to naming the stadiums after wealthy benefactors, rather than corporations. At least that way, with time, the corporate connection fades and we are left with just a human name, with new symbolism and associations. Who even knows who "Shea" is? But "Citi Field" (undoubtedly to be renamed a few more times due to mergers, buyouts, etc in the coming decades) is thoroughly, undeniably a corporations stamp of ownership. Then again, maybe its just more honest...

I agree with whomever said the problem with baseball stadiums is baseball. Word.

(Nothing more comforting to an American than baseball? That's almost offensive.)

To the point, however: we're really good at regurgitating stuff. Look at Hollywood for crying out loud. Having lived in Hollywood for much of my life, I know that there is certainly no dearth of good, original screenplays out there, and yet Hollywood continues to remake older films. Another Casablanca, starring Madonna? Fer rillz?

But that's economics. If it was a success the first time, we can still bank on it now, right? High return, little risk.

Can the same be said for baseball stadiums? I don't know; I'm a web designer, not an architect. But I don't discount the role the dollar has to play in all this.

The Skydome (now Rogers Centre) in Toronto seemed to abandon nostalgia when it was built. Along with the CN Tower next to it, the structures represent the last gasp's of Canadian Modernism. Now that the innovation has become irrelevant and its size seems excessive the stadium provides quite the eyesore. Same could probably be said for the Old Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Time was not kind to those two buildings.

As said before, the traditional stadium is safe, and baseball being seeped in tradition will probably take babysteps towards progress.

Have you seen the plans for the new Minnesota ballpark? I would call it modern. Almost like a cross between the Getty Center and the renovated Solider Field.

I have a (bad) feeling that the newest trend in major league ballparks is to treat them like shopping malls, amusement parks, or (new) Vegas-style attractions in the interests of creating a "family-friendly" environment that can compete with the lure of cheap seats and entertainment offered at minor league parks. This sentiment comes after having just visited Comerica Park in Detroit with its food court, merry-go-round, ferris wheel, and tiger sculptures galore.

Personally, I think this takes the excitement out of visiting a park. The last thing I want is to feel like I'm wandering around in one of those suburban outdoor shopping malls. I think a return to a seedier atmosphere is long overdue.

Once they bring back heart-attack inducing food, cheap beer, and, most importantly, trough urinals, you can count me in.
Eric Hodek

BREAKING NEWS: A construction worker's bid to curse the New York Yankees by planting a Boston Red Sox jersey in their new stadium was foiled Sunday when the home team removed the offending shirt from its burial spot.

Joe Moran

Your post raises some significant concerns about our design culture's tendencies to hide in comfort zones, yet can you identify any foreseeable solution to this problem? We live in a society where economic profit, rather than design originality, seems to be the utmost priority. I too see the designs for the New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are repetitive and conventional, but the dilemma is that their predictability appears to be what corporate clients want in their investments. Because these organizations are spending so much money on the design and construction of these projects, they want to be sure that their endowments will yield a consistent long-term profit. While the stadiums designed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, popularly known as the Bird's Nest by Herzog and De Meuron and The Watercube by PTW Architects, are much more compelling and are almost certain to be highly popular venues this summer, it is not clear how much attention nor how much profit these two works will generate in the future. In addition, these two buildings carry a national and political importance along with their architectural significance. This upcoming Olympics is an opportunity for China to present itself to the world as a prosperous and thriving nation, and high quality design and construction will most likely show well for the country. However, the same cannot be said for Major League Baseball organizations, which generally benefit if they have winning teams with popular players, rather than dynamic stadiums designed by fashionable architects. You question why stadiums, unlike office buildings, libraries, museums, and houses, "have to arrive in old fashioned wrappings," and state that "sooner or later, someone has to take a risk on something new." While I would personally love to see more architects and clients take chances and agree on more creative designs, I do not see much reason for them to do so. Can you propose why "someone has to take a risk on something new," or suggest any projects in the United States where progressive, modern design has proved beneficial for architects and clients alike that is not an office building, library, museum, or house?


I suspect you're trolling here, but I'll bite a little bit.

Why are you assuming that the architecture of the 21st Century should be the same as the architecture called for by 19th century architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe?

They wanted a Zeitgeist architecture, an architecture of time, which they tied to the expression of technology. The architecture needed today, I believe is the architecture of community and place. And sustainability.

There was a time when Modernism accurately expressed our culture, but that time is past. It is now nothing more than an expression of style, and that expression is increasingly ego-centric, anti-urban and unsustainable.

We need buidings that add up to the creation of good places. Extensive studies by Chris Alexander, Space Syntax and many others increasingly show that the qualities that do that are timeless and universal.

My standard for judging CitiField is not whether or not it's nostalgic, but whether or not it's a good place. That's determined by many qualities including the spatial experience, the proportions of the facades, the quality of the materials, etc.

Fenway is the best park because it's the best spatial experience, not because it's the oldest park. It has a sense of enclosure that the modem columnless stadiums will never have. Google "Phil Bess" and "Save Fenway Park" to read more about that.

Wilpon told the architects of CitiField to make it like Ebbets Feild, where the Dodgers played. But then he put the field in the middle of a parking lot. As a Brooklyn boy, he should have known better.

Ebbets Field was firmly embedded in the urban fabric of Brooklyn. The team got its name because their fans had to "dodge" streetcars to get to the field. But CitiField has no city, and the Metropolitans have no metropolis. They should play on the Atlantic Yards site, where there are 5 or 6 subway lines and the LIRR. Their urban locations are part of what make Fenway and Wrigley the two best fields.

Someone mentioned that the old Busch stadium sat well in downtown St. Louis. That's right. And of all the concrete "donut" stadiums built in the 1960s, it's the one that had the spatial intimacy and sensitive renovations to make it a great place to watch a game.

As I said, I'm talking about an architecture of place, not an architecture of time.
john massengale

John, I largely agree with your comments. My objection to Citi Field is about place: it's located not in the middle of a rich urban fabric, but in the middle of a great plain of parking lots that was previously a world's fair site and previous to that an ash heap. Basing its design on Ebbets Field seems nothing more to me than cheap sentimentality crossed with me-too urbanism.

In the same way, as much as I hesitate to even meekly question the relevance of a much-deserved tribute to Jackie Robinson, I wonder where Marvelous Marv Throneberry, who actually played for the Mets, and unlike Robinson is a legitimate (if dubious) part of its heritage, might seek his monument.
Michael Bierut

Faux tradition = shabby chic. They're both detestable cop-outs when it comes to design.

It's not baseball, but the new Dallas Cowboys stadium will be a modern gem.

While there are a few jet age gems still standing in Flushing Meadows, these structures still most appeal to those with an eye for that style of design. Many in New York still associate that mid-sixties design sense with the rampant destruction of many of the city's early century neighborhoods and structures and the weaving of potholed, less-than-super highways through the outer boroughs. I agree that Citi Field is borrowing it style from and irrelevant stadium, but I don't think NY'ers would want to see a tribute to a time they are trying to put behind them. The Tennis Center, which sits even closer to the Unisphere makes this point clear.
Peter C

This is ridiculous: your assumption that traditional design = fake is wrong. Traditional design can also be used because it is simply good design. Why must we be slaves to the modern architects when they turn out so much junk that ruins the experience of the people who use their buildings. I'll take old fashioned and good over modern and crappy any day of the week.

s woodside

I grew up in a non-major league city (single A club) and I didn't get to go to a major league game till I was in my adult years. I love sports, but my only experience was from watching games on television. I haven't became a big fan of baseball because it was never, to me, as enticing to watch as college basketball or football on tv. So many people think that going to a baseball game is about the nostalgia and atmosphere and not about the game itself (Cubs fans?) even if their team is good. All that is lost on someone who can't go to these stadiums.

Perhaps baseball is turning into one of something like a cultural relic (theater in Japan or clogging in Holland) that you see at a fair where the costumes and structure are stuck to rigidly.
Greg S.

Jobs | July 15