marlins park

After architecture (OK, and food), baseball is probably my one true passion, so when those two come together I’m interested.  (And when they come with a good brat and a beer, I’m even more down).

Since the early 1990s, ballparks have followed Baltimore’s Camden Yards in trying to replicate the feel of a very specific time period–the 1930s.  Masonry exteriors, articulated steel interiors, intentionally quirky dimensions, and a general Ye Olde Ballpark feel to the interiors have all marked these efforts.  Nearly all of them have been designed by Populous (formerly HOK Sport), and even though they’ve been popular, they’ve been a mixed bag architecturally.  Camden Yards is still, to my mind, the best and the least self-conscious.  Some of them are truly bad–the Rangers’ stadium in Arlington feels like a shopping mall inside and out to me, which might be unintentionally appropriate.

I grew up going to Cubs and Red Sox games, so I understand that my standards are unrealistically high. Part of those teams’ appeal, I think, is that their parks are so knitted into the city.  You’d be out of your mind to try driving to either one, and both of them are wedged in tightly enough that they don’t meet any realistic 21st century standards for personal space.  The men’s rooms at Wrigley Field are, deservedly, notorious.

So any attempt to re-create the “atmosphere” of an old ballpark is doomed–at least if the owners want to meet the expectations of the average nuclear family who are out for an evening of baseball and not too much contact with their fellow fans.  And while one or two projects have attempted some genuinely interesting takes on the old parks’ integration with their surroundings (San Diego and San Francisco), many of these ‘neo-classic’ stadia come off as a slice of suburban kitsch.  Sort of like Pottery Barn coming downtown.

So the new Miami stadium is a couple of weeks into its season, and it’s getting notice for doing something different.  It’s also by Populous, but it’s abandoned any pretense of fitting in or referring to some fictional “golden era” of the game.  (Reminder:  baseball’s “golden era” included precisely no African-American players in its “major leagues.”)  Instead, it’s sort of gloriously Miami–brash, bright, with a sort of horrifying Red Grooms sculpture in the outfield that explodes whenever the Marlins hit a home run and aquariums full of live fish behind home plate.  An article in today’s Times describes it’s “panache” and it’s attempts to fit in economically–if not formally–to it’s Little Havana neighborhood.

It’s not really my cup of tea, but it’s at least trying.  I don’t agree, though, that it’s the game’s first 21st century stadium–that honor, clearly, belongs to Yankee Stadium, which replaced a genuine (if badly mauled by a 1976 renovation) piece of history.  The new Yankee Stadium encapsulates everything that’s gone wrong with the game, catering to the skybox crowd while relegating the huddled masses to distant, overly steep seats.  Like all major league sports, baseball has found itself playing more and more to the 1%, and the new Miami stadium follows that trend, too.

Still, it’s a new take, at least.  By coincidence, an associate with Populous was on a handful of independent reviews here a couple of weeks ago.  We were talking between projects, and I asked him whether there was any sense that the next wave of nostalgia-themed stadiums would pick up on the total loss of the concrete “donuts” from the 1960s and 1970s.  Three Rivers Stadium, Shea Stadium, Fulton County Stadium…all of these bring back distinct memories for me, anyway, of a kind of golden age when you could actually buy tickets the day of the game and afford a hot dog and peanuts with the change.  He was not enthusiastic about this, but I think if you squint at the Miami park’s “elliptical concrete, steel and glass boulder…” hard enough you might just see an unintentional homage…

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