Sunday, May 27, 2012
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Update
AT THE END OF CNU 17, a group of New Urbanists went to a Sunday afternoon game at Coors Field. I'd been there once before, but my first thought on seeing it again was that it is simpler, and better, than the new Yankee Stadium.
The first impression comes as you walk through LoDo to Coors. Its brick and concrete exterior is better than the more expensive Yankee Stadium facade, for three reasons: it has better proportions; better details; and a more human scale in its details and construction.
As a whole, the stadium is less sprawling and from the seats feels more enclosed. The first makes it more urban, the second makes it a more comfortable place to watch a game.
Inside, the brick and painted metal construction is more pleasant to be around than the concrete and unpainted aluminum details at Yankee Stadium. It's too bad that when the Yankees built baseball's most expensive stadium they didn't get HOK's best work.
One thing that is similar is the large, open concourse level, an HOK trademark that works well. Less good is that it contributes to the the less expensive seats in the new HOK stadiums being farther from the field than the seats in old ballparks. Optimizing the view from the concourse is one of the reasons that the rake of the seating terraces above and below is flatter than in old parks, and that the levels above the concourse are farther from the field than in old parks.
THE NEW YANKEE STADIUM is a good place. That's the short answer after my first visit yesterday.* It's where the New York Yankees play. Thanks to its location in the Bronx, I can get there in 15 minutes by subway, and now there's a train station too. The new stadium has a good urban presence, and more architectural unity than the renovated stadium across the street. The facade is now limestone. The field has the dimensions of the previous stadium, and the views of the field from the broad concourses are beautiful. The players love the new clubhouses. These are all good things, and I look forward to watching games there.Once you're in your seat, the view is a lot like the view in the previous, renovated Stadium. As on the outside, there's more architectural unity in the new version. The biggest changes are out in the outfield, where the bleachers now have a restaurant and food court in the middle. In the previous stadium, the center section had no seats and was painted black, so batters could see the ball well. The restaurant that's now there has black glass (too bad it can't be open to the field), and the batters report no problems. Above the restaurant is a deck where you can stand and drink beer, which isn't allowed in the bleachers themselves — so that's a popular space and a good vantage point. This all raises the scoreboards behind the bleachers higher and makes the Stadium feel more enclosed. That's all for the good too. A slot was left to one side of the signs and scoreboards, so that from the seats you can see the trains arrive on that New York oxymoron, the elevated subway, just like in the old Stadium.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architectural critic for the New York Times, calls the new stadium retro, but it really isn't. By traditional architectural standards, the facade is often poorly proportioned and poorly detailed. The clunky moldings, for example, don't have the beauty of well-used cyma rectas and ovolos. The facade isn't downright ugly, but it's not beautiful either.
Other stadiums by HOK, now called "Populous," have more traditional details and materials. This is one of their most urban stadiums, but once you step inside, a lot of the tradition is gone. The Great Hall at the entrance owes more to suburban shopping malls than any New York building I know of: I found it a disappointing, dead space, that puts too much distance between the entrance and the concourses.
Once you get to the concourses, the view is great, the spaces are fine, and there are many more food stands than before: that's all good. But the way the concourses, and most of the Stadium, are built and detailed again owes more to contemporary shopping malls and inexpensive commercial construction than traditional New York buildings.
Many other HOK ballparks use a lot of painted metal, which is what old ballparks like the original Yankee Stadium had. The new Stadium has a lot of galvanized metal and cheaply detailed aluminum, which give an unpleasant affect.
There are also acres of cheap concrete. Different mixes can make concrete more and less pleasing: Yankee Stadium's concrete is unpleasant. At least HOK used glazed concrete block for most of the horizontal surfaces, but if you compare the materials in the Stadium to the renovations going on in many subways stations in the city, the Stadium comes in a distant second to the typical new subway stop. Those have stone tiles on the floors, iron treads on the stairs, and small, elegant "subway" tiles on the walls, highlighted here and there with details like the one below. The new Yankee Stadium has nothing that traditional, or with that much human craftsmanship or scale.
I didn't take any photos of the details like the galvanized railings, because they're ugly, and we don't go to ballgames to fret about railing details. But there are two more things I didn't like about the experience at the Stadium — the prices and the excess.
Even in our (rapidly ending?) age of excess, no other team charges more than $500 for a ticket. Most don't even charge $150. But the Yankees now sell seats behind the dugouts for $2,625 per game. Season tickets for a box with four of those cost $810,000. These come with access to two restaurants behind the seats, and all you can eat delivered to your seats, as though what Americans need is more Supersizing of their butts (the superpadded seats in these sections are 33% wider than the seats in the original stadium).
My ticket cost $45. During the game a man sat down to talk to a friend sitting in front of me, so they could compare season ticket plans. The visitor had been buying season tickets for 19 years. Last year he paid $85 a game. This year he has good seats on the first level, but they cost $350 per ticket per game. For his pair of tickets, that's $56,700 for the season. He was mad that the Yankees hadn't allowed him to downgrade to season tickets where we were sitting, for $7,290.
There's also a Little Old Lady from Dubuque aspect that seems out of place in the Bronx. For example, the "premier restaurant" in the Stadium is a Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock Cafes are for Disney World, Las Vegas and New York tourists — New Yorkers don't go there. The Mets also went upscale at their new Citifield, but they did it in a more New York way, hiring Danny Meyer to run all the food operations. Meyer doesn't own the best restaurant in New York, but he owns the restaurants that New York Zagat readers annually rate the favorites, and he owns the Shake Shacks, where New Yorkers stand in 40-minute lines for hamburgers and milk shakes. If you're going to cater to New York yuppies, at least get it right.
When I was a teenager, my brother and I would go to Yankee doubleheaders and sit in the bleachers: 18 innings of baseball cost $1 apiece. The Stadium was a little funky and decrepit, but that's okay. It still had more human charm than the mall-like parts of the new Stadium. I think the Yankees will find they're going to suffer from bad timing, and that in the future we're going to want less excess and more of the simple pleasures of watching the Great American Pastime.
* Originally posted Sunday April 5, 2009