A theory behind the retro stadium craze

The RAB Radio Show - March 19, 2009 - Episode 19
BtB's optimized Yanks lineup

We’ve got new Yankee Stadium on the mind this week. After looking at the parks issue earlier today, I came across another bit on the current retro trend in stadium design. This piece — on Fast Company via Shysterball — takes a more “old is old, new is new” approach to the new digs in New York.

While The New Yorker’s architectural critic likes the new stadium, Fast Company’s Zachary Wilson is underwhelmed. He writes:

Baseball fans are loyal not just to their teams, but also to the history of the game. Ever since Camden Yards opened in Baltimore in 1992, new stadiums have chased nostalgia. “Teams want to rebirth themselves into who they were in the first era of baseball,” says HOK Sport senior principal Earl Santee. “People want to see a traditional sport like baseball played in a traditional building.” So the Yankees’ new $1.3 billion park echoes their original 1923 one, with the same vaulted arches and stone facade. The main entry is still at Gate 4, guarded by golden eagles, and the seats are the same blue.

For the price, the Yankees didn’t make much architectural progress, but that’s not what they intended. “U.S. clients are more conservative, especially in the baseball industry. Architects get roped into doing retro ballparks over and over,” says Manica Architecture principal David Manica, who is designing stadiums in China and Belarus. “We’re trying to push clients in the U.S. to think in a different way, but international clients are just more open to experimenting.” For example, Manica has a project in Guangzhou, China, that will look like a spaceship, while HOK Sport’s Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre, also in China, has huge, glowing red arches that show the firm’s daring side…

The focus on nonbaseball elements foreshadows a more multidimensional future for stadiums. Until now, they’ve been mostly single-use venues plopped on a plot of land with little regard for the surroundings. Fans came, they saw, they left. But the stadium of the future must be — and do — much more. “These very expensive facilities just cannot sit empty for days and days,” says Steve Burrows, director of the London-based venue-design firm Arup Sport. “You need to build some retail and commercial to give the stadium life every day. When it works, it’s like a magnet.”

Wilson ends in calling both CitiField and new Yankee Stadium “bold, costly and disappointingly retro.” What though is the alternative?

The Yankees were replacing a historic building and opted for a new take on the old façade. The Mets were replacing a dump and are opening a modernized stadium evoking Ebbets Field. Perhaps these buildings aren’t as crazy as the Water Cube in Beijing, but are they really supposed to be?

CitiField and Yankee Stadium are baseball stadiums designed to bring modern amenities in a setting that relates back to the rich and stories history of baseball in New York. Maybe, as Craig at Shysterball writes, architects should think about instilling a modern sensibility into new stadium design, but there’s nothing wrong with tipping the past at the same time.

The RAB Radio Show - March 19, 2009 - Episode 19
BtB's optimized Yanks lineup
  • steve (different one)

    i want to know what Januz thinks about this.

    j/k, Januz.

    i do know this: no matter what they built, someone would have complained.

    ultimately, the way a stadium is remembered/loved will probably be more of a function of the memories that are tied to the field than the way it looks on the outside. it is more than just a building. there is nothing architecturally special about the old (post 1975) Yankee stadium. we revere it b/c we remember the moments that happened on that field. we remember the way it shook when Girardi tripled or when Boone went deep.

    people complain about the restaurant in CF, yet the “black seats” in the old stadium are basically an eyesore. still, we remember almost every HR that was hit into those seats.

    ultimately, its the success of the team that will determine the relevance and success of the stadium. Camden Yards is still the crown jewel of the baseball world, but after 10 years of losing seaons, no one shows up anymore.

    • jsbrendog

      could someone theoretically hit a hr through the window of the restaurant? that’d be kickass

    • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      i want to know what Januz thinks about this.”

      Best comment ever. I fully support this as the start of an annoying comment-meme.

      • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21


        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          I’ll add it to the compendium.

    • Januz

      I agree to a point that team success plays a role in the success of a Stadium, but in certain cases, that does not apply (See Wrigley Field). The goal should be to have the best possible Stadium and best possible team, and having state of the art facilities helps when dealing with with prospective draft picks, and free agents. Mark Teixeira was shocked and impressed with the video package showing him at the new Stadium, with Twisted Sister in the background. Does that mean he would not have signed? No it does not, but it certainly did not hurt.
      Finally, the new Stadium will be a major piece (Along with scouting, trading, drafting, and free agency), to building a future dynasty.

  • Simon B.

    I resist the idea of being categorized as a retrophile as a whole. I don’t like a thing just because it’s old or just because it’s new. I like it because I think the style is superior—particularly to those of the cookie-cutter parks in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

  • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    You know, I actually agree that it would be nice to move past the retro-stadium phase (and I think the sporting venues being built in other countries are really cool), and I’ve commented to that effect before, but I think critique of the new Yankee Stadium on these grounds is misplaced. This is just a very unique situation. You have an organization that has so much history, tied into both the team itself as well as the stadium(s) it’s played in, that I think they made the right move to pay homage to the past. I also think this new stadium in the Bronx is a bad target for that type of criticism because it is more modern, aesthetically, than the other “retro” parks it’s being lumped together with. This isn’t like teams in Cleveland or Queens building retro-looking stadiums with little to no connection to team history or the surrounding neighborhood, this is a stadium built with an eye towards contextualism, an outer shell paying homage to the original classic, and an interior that both (1) pays homage to the original and the second incarnation and (2) has a modern aesthetic at the same time. So, to sum up… Yeah, I’m over the retro thing. But this is a bad example to attack and it cheapens the argument to include the new Yankee Stadium as such an example.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      We should have built a state of the art stadium with a retractable roof that looks like a huge stack of money from the outside.

      A seven-story tall cube that looks like gigantic $100 bills.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
        • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          That’s a poor use of money.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            What is he, shaving? He SHAVES with money?

            What a money-obsessed jerkface.

            • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              That was a shot at Jeter.

              Heh, see what I did there?

              (Making wanking motion)

  • WhizzoTheWize

    An alternate?

    How about a stadium floating in the middle of the Hudson?

    Every time ARod hits a homerun before the 9th inning he has to swim 10 laps for hitting a stat-padding shot.

    Now THAT’S innovation Whizzo can believe in.

  • http://dylankidd@earthlink.net dkidd

    the fast company article is ridiculous. a baseball stadium needs to be a futuristic shopping mall? football is the futuristic sport. baseball, like it or not, is the nostalgic sport. remember george carlin? baseball is played in a park. cement ashtrays like veterans stadium and three rivers were billed as “stadiums of the future” when they were built. 10 years later, they looked shoddy and dated. any attempt to build a “stadium of the future” now will suffer the same fate

    • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      All due respect to George Carlin… It isn’t about modern vs. retro so much as it is about good vs. shitty. Don’t blindly promote the retro thing and bash modern venues. Kauffman Stadium is an absolute gem that has stood the test of time, and it’s far from retro. The problem with most of the bad stadiums you mentioned was that they were multi-sport facilities not particularly well-suited for baseball, and they weren’t build with any design aesthetic in mind. They were designed (poorly) for utility, not for style. And as far as the retro parks go… There are definitely a few that are fun because they’re relatively new, not because they’re such sterling examples of stadium design. Don’t think that retro=good and modern=bad just because the Vet sucked.

      • http://dylankidd@earthlink.net dkidd

        i agree with you. it’s easy to slide into a ken burns rose colored glasses way of thinking about stadium design. but the tone of the fast company article rubbed me the wrong way. as if designing a building to do only one thing (host a baseball game) is backwards and outdated. as if people everywhere are desperate for radical stadium design (no, just the architectural firms). a stadium’s function is to support the enjoyment of a game, not overshadow or distract from it.

        • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          I totally agree, and that opinion (that designing a building to do only one thing (host a baseball game) is backwards and outdated) is short-sighted. You can have it both ways. The new park in DC is quite modern, and the designs for parks in Miami, Tampa and Minneapolis all have a very modern aesthetic and all look very cool and unique.

          In any event, I agree with you about the tone of that article as you described it in your comment.

  • YankeesFaninDC

    The alternative is something “modern” and “sleek” and “interesting.” Like we have here in Washington. The Nationals’ new stadium is filled with glass and angles and all kinds of stuff, and you know what, it is ugly. And it feels cold, with no character. There’s nothing that makes you feel like you are watching a historic game, nothing that moves you to think about baseball’s role in our country, nothing that connects you with the surroundings. It looks like a big office building from the outside. Lame.

    Find me someone here in DC who thinks the $600mil stadium we’ve ended up with is good looking compared to Camden/AT&T/Petco/new Yankee Stadium/Citi-taxpayer/etc. It’ll be a struggle.

  • Gary

    Nothing, but nothing will ever outdo the magnificence, simplicity, and grandeur of the old Yankee Stadium as it stood circa 1961 with its expansive center field, reddish clay warning tracks, cheap right field corner fence, big high black walls in center and the power alleys, two auxiliary scoreboards, unbelievably classic green facade, great old large scoreboard, monuments and flag pole on the field almost daring you to hit it there knowing if you weren’t Mickey, Harmon, Big Klu or some other lumberjack you couldn’t do so. Maybe it’s because it was the way baseball was in New York City when I was a small boy, but I don’t need fifteen restaurants and a 1,000 amenities now. All I need is a $.15 scorecard, a $1.00 Yankee Yearbook, a hot dog and to get back into the past. Even the Yankees’ uniform back then was more boldly cream colored, numbers more sublime, Yankee blue colors more royal and less blackish than now.