Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Diamond in the Rough?

On Tuesday I was afforded the opportunity to tour the new Washington Nationals' baseball stadium, designed by HOK Sport and Devrouax & Pernell. It is with great anticipation that fans await Opening Day 2008, and the opening of the new ballpark. The park certainly has the bits of flair that fans will be looking for, from a restaurant behind left field to an open concourse which promises views to the field (while your in route to get a dog and a beer), and even a posh Founder's Club, complete with windows overlooking indoor batting cages (though admittedly only a fraction of fans will get to see that).

The concepts behind the stadium are pretty solid, from the initial decision to site the new stadium in a blighted and often ignored area of the city, south of the Capitol along the Anacostia River, to the massing along South Capitol Street, intended to create a 'wall' to the street, appropriate for its urban setting (however, it should be stated that this sort of urban density does not yet exist here, so there is no counterpart to this 'wall' on the other side of the street, but rather a scattering of low lying townhouses and a storage facility -- but I expect that will change in time.) And it should be duly noted that the building is applying for LEED credits, a first for a major league facility.

Having said that, I couldn't help but leave with a few disappointments. While undoubtedly the value engineering process has taken its toll on this building, as often happens, the exterior pre-cast finish in a limestone-esque cream color and alternating metal siding panels seems lackluster and cheap. The orientation seems off, as on a sunny afternoon the outfield, including the home team's bullpen, were facing the sun. The stadium also turns its back on the Anacostia River, which is unfortunate. (As a rower on the Anacostia I hope that the stadium may still focus some attention on the river, which is a victim of industry, urban runoff, and sewage overflow discharge, and in need of clean up.) There is a focus on the monuments, such as the Capitol dome, Washington Monument, and National Cathedral from the upper deck seats, though as our guide indicated, with new buildings under construction around the stadium, you'll be lucky to still have these views on Opening Day.

As for the plan itself, it seems fractured. In some ways this is to allow for the 'views' cut through the stadium, but the result feels like an assemblage of parts. In contrast to the formal geometry and graceful curves of RFK, the new Nats' ballpark's design is hard to visualize. While the form of aging RFK is memorable, the new stadium relies more of creating spaces and sightlines. And unfortunately the greatest of these sightlines is only afforded to patron's entering through the Founder's Club. Finally, the wrapping shape of the stadiums concourses is rigid and faceted, denying us the graceful curves expected of a stadium, and granted us by RFK.

In all, the new Washington Nationals' ball park will undoubtedly be a crowd pleaser, and offer fans all that they might expect. And in the spring I will return to watch a game, and see if my impression is changed. But I really have to wonder if it will leave a lasting impression on it's visitors. For now, at least, that grand gesture or memorable element seems to be lacking. In the words of Gertrude Stein, "There is no there there".

1 comment:

  1. these are really great observations. I feel the same way as you on many of these issues. Thank you for that Gertrude Stein quotation at the end. sums it up perfectly.