Monday, August 08, 2005

More on DC Ballpark Design

David Nakamura has a feature article on Joseph Spear and the design of the new DC Ballpark in today's Post. While it's a touchy-feely kind of article - talking about the themes of the new park - there is some interesting information in the article about the stadium itself.

First, the article says that:
Opening to the northwest, which would give most fans a view of the Capitol, was forbidden by Major League Baseball because the setting sun would be in a batter's eye.

Well, that is demonstrably not true. Seeing as we are in the northern hemisphere, the sun sets in the southwest. A batter looking northwest would, at its worst in June, have the sun at a 45 degree angle to his left. Most of the time, it would be further left than that.

Moreover, you wouldn't have to orient the stadium northwest to give most fans view of the Capitol. Since the stadium would be on South Capitol Street (i.e., the street that runs directly south from the Capitol), you could have the opening to the North. Jacobs field already has a north-south orientation, so that would not be a problem for MLB. A North-South facing stadium would also match up nicely with an aerial view, as it would face the Capitol and form a large triangle shape with the Washington Monument, and a "T" with RFK.

Second, the article describes the facade of the stadium:
The facade along South Capitol Street would be built of stone and glass, echoing the grandeur of the District's federal landmarks -- including the Capitol Dome less than a mile north.

Hmm. Stone and glass? Quite a revelation. If it's poured concrete, that's not much of a stone look (see US Cellular Field). But if it is a Capitol-esque stone facade, that should be interesting.

But we aren't done talking about facades yet:

The other facade, along Potomac Avenue, would have a connected but distinct feel; largely made of steel and glass, this side would be lacey, almost skeletal, and afford views from inside the park of the Anacostia River to the south.

This sounds like a recipe for disaster - a stone and glass facade on the third base side, and a steel and glass facade on the first base side? Is this the Harvey Dent school of design? I hope someone talks Spear out of the Two-Face concept. A baseball stadium is a cathedral for baseball, not a cathedral for architecture.

More bad news from the luxury box department:
In some cases, Spear has had to make changes from his original thoughts to satisfy the Nationals. Team President Tony Tavares recently requested that all 66 luxury boxes be on the mezzanine level between first base and third base so big-spending patrons would have prime views of the field. Spear agreed to design stacked boxes.

This is a bigger problem than you would otherwise think. Stacking the luxury boxes means that you have to jack up the upper deck another 20-30 feet. This makes a very big difference in the quality of the experience for the fan. Again, ask the people that go to U.S. Cellular Field and sit in the upper deck; the closest seat in the upper deck "New Comiskey" is further from the field than the furthest seat was in the "Old Comiskey."

But there is some good news! The field will be below-grade:
Planners cite another advantage of the northeast orientation: perspective it would give fans as they arrive for the game. They believe about 80 percent of the fans will come to the stadium from Metro stations and parking lots to the north. Walking down Half Street past a row of restaurants, fans would be able to see into the ballpark because that side would not have walls and the playing field would be depressed from ground level, Spear said.

This really is a promising concept. Although I have doubts about below-grade fields in a city that was once a swamp (just kidding, it wasn't!), I think allowing a fair view into the ballpark from the outside is a terrific benefit. It will make the area around the ballpark worth going to even if the game is sold out, or even if the team is performing poorly. You can always go and have a beer, or eat dinner and casually see how the team is doing. They would be smart to pair this with fifth-inning and after tickets for a reduced price just in case someone in the neighborhood sees that a good game is going on and wants to pay less than full fare to come in.

But even better is the plan for the area surrounding the stadium:
Spear called Half Street the "decompression zone" -- a place where fans would pause to eat and shop because they would feel they have arrived at the ballpark even though they are not yet inside.

This is fantastic. They actually did this with Fenway Park during the World Series last year (I'm not sure it's permanent), and it was really nice to go to the game 1 hour before it started, pick up some merchandise, have a beer before it started. It was like being at the ballpark while still being outside. If this can be paired with a couple of good restaurants (i.e., not Chilis) and a good sports bar, this will really, really work.

So that's my book report on the ballpark design article. For more of my own thoughts on what the park should look like, look at my stadium design post here. DM had a couple of thoughts here, too.


At 12:43 PM, Blogger dexys_midnight said...

I happen to know you like Chili's.

Yeah...that's my comment.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Link to SN's ballpark thoughts is broken . . .

Does anyplace have cheap 5th inning tickets? What a great idea.

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Chris Needham said...

I read something fairly recently about how late-game tickets have caught on in Japan.

It's definitely an interesting concept.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger DM said...

I recently read a story that Red Barber once told the radio audience that they'd hold up the start of the game for 15 minutes to give folks a chance to come to the ballpark. Apparently 26,000 people showed up between the original start time and 15 minutes later.

The estimate is probably apocryphal, but you could see the radio team emphasizing the fifth inning tickets during the broadcast.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Michael Briggs said...

Great article/post that provided information sorely lacking in the newspaper version.


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