Saturday, March 1, 2008

Green Cathedrals by Philip L. Lowry ...lots of pictures and facts

From the book by Philip L. Lowry, Green Cathedrals

During the first era, that of the classic ballpark, the construction of Forbes Field (1909), Shibe Park (1909), League Park (1910), Griffith Stadium (1911), Polo Grounds (1911), Crosley Field (1912), Fenway Park (1912), Tiger Stadium (1912), Ebbetts Field (1913) and Wrigley Field (1914), were initiated by enterprising ballclub owners who saw the financial advantage of achieving larger attendance.

The classic ballpark was integrated into the neighborhood. Ballparks took on an asymmetrical form as dictated by the property lines of the site. Fenway's Green Monster, bordering Landsdowne Street, literally added a new dimension to baseball, as did League Park's 40-foot high right field wall, located only 290 feet from home plate.

Prior to this era ballparks were typified by small wooden bleachers surrounded by a fence. Even though the ballparks were intimate, this type of construction suffered from its combustibility and was limited in size by its structural properties.

According to the author, 'the single greatest achievement of this era was that of the upper deck. This contrivance allowed more people to sit closer to the action of the diamond than was ever dreamed possible in the wooden-seat era.' (The use of structural steel made the seats relatively fireproof.)

The plans on how to build the parks...

If each spectator looks directly over the heads of those in front of him/her, the seat deck would become unnecessarily steep. The compromise seat deck takes on a concave parabolic shape that becomes increasingly steep as the seat deck is moved closer and or higher with respect to the game or event.

Trade-offs for the upper deck...

Supports for the upper deck must extend to the lower level if one level is over the other level, so some seats are lost altogether in the lower level and some are unfortunately situated behind columns.

If the upper deck is cantilevered columns are eliminated but other problems arise. Pedestrian movement also becomes a costly item. Ramps, escalators and raised concourses with toilet and concession stands become very expensive.

Super stadium / Modern stadium...
Candlestick Park (1960), Dodger Stadium (1962), RFK Stadium-Washington,DC (1962), Astrodome (1965), Busch Stadium (1966), Three Rivers Stadium (1970), and its nearly identical cousin, Riverfront Stadium (1970).

Concrete came into its own. Such innovations as: admixtures, high-strength lightweight concrete, sophisticated reinforcing design, air entrainment and the use of computer design have allowed concrete to compete favorably with structural steel.

It is no longer necessary to construct massive footings to support a typical heavy concrete structure. New developments in reniforcing steel design-in conjuction with the use of computers- enabled concrete to span greater distances and work as a more-effective cantilever.

Massive relocation of typical American city's population to the suburbs, a greater dependence on the automobile and its attendant parking requirements also fostered the "stand alone" stadium concept.

Since form followed function and function was symmetry, it simply followed that the playing field configuration also became symmetrical. Modern contrivances accomplished two significant things: (1) it helped foster a caste system with respect to spectators. The caste system was created in essence when loges became a necessary evil for funding purposes.
(2) wreaked havoc with upper deck seating geometries.

RFK Stadium first incorporated "column free" viewing in 1962.

In order for columns to be eliminated, two conditions occur. (1) Upper deck must be cantilevered from the back of the lower seat deck and (2) the roof over the upper deck must be limited to the amount of roof element that can be cantilevered from the back of the seat deck.

When loges are installed under the upper deck, those people sitting in the back of the lower deck suffer from "tunnel vision."

A third era of stadiums has emerged. Regenerated classic ballparks, replete with natural grass fields, asymmetrical playing fields and old-fashioned facades. The "loge" is still with us, and it seems to be multiplying at an ever-increasing rate. Private financing at least of the magnitude of 50%, will ensure that the loge will be with us for years to come.

In review:
Ballparks: to fulfill their purpose in our National pastime they must be allowed to have their own personalities and characteristics or be unique and asymmetrical.

Stereotyped symmetrical ballparks are wretchedly poor ballparks. Architects around 1910 were constrained by urban streets that were already in place. They made asymmetrical yet unique ballparks that are better for baseball than the symmetrical concrete slabs of sterile, ugly ashtrays that were built in the 1970s, 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.

Lowry goes on to say...The subtleties of the game of baseball are incredibly beautiful and balanced. However, if Royals Stadium is cloned every time a new ballpark is built in the coming decades- if every fence is 12' tall, if every outfield is shaped like a round half circle, if every foul line is 330 feet, if every power alley is 385 feet, if every centerfield fence is 410 feet from home plate and if every playing surface is an astroturf carpet- the precious subleties that make baseball the wonderful game it is will gradually be eroded and eventually destroyed and the beauty of the game horribly scarred.

Green Cathedrals by Philip L. Lowry is good reading and the pictures are full of stories all by themselves. ( Yes, I borrowed that from the title of a Rod Stewart album...Every Picture Tells a Story.)

Kevin Marquez