March 16, 2007
Ranking the Venues
Recently, the American Institute of Architects and the Harris Institute conducted a poll of 1,800 people to find out which American buildings rate as our favorites. Because it's the AIA's 150th anniversary, they selected the people's top 150 buildings after giving them a list of 248 from which to choose.
Critics have said the list is heavy on popularity and light on quality, although I for one would not argue with the Empire State Building as the top choice. Besides, that makes sense, doesn't it? Most people aren't that cognizant of architecture. If we see a building on our money or in a movie, we know it. Some are obviously more striking than others, but the sorts of things that true aesthetes demand from their buildings are probably not the same sorts of things that are appreciated by the majority of us.
The various issues the critics have with the selection of the list are procedure, lack of appreciation for aesthetics, and regional bias--the list is very much dominated by the East Coast (Washington, DC and New York especially) and Chicago, although we must remember that Chicago has long been the playground of talented architects. None of that concerns me today.
What I find puzzling is that only eight of the 150 buildings chosen are sports venues. Surely, we, the people, love our stadia more than that!
Interestingly, the two top finishers among sporting venues have been greatly altered since their debuts. A fan of the Federal League's Chicago Whales yanked out of his own time and plunked down next to the Wrigley Field of 2007 (at #31 the highest-ranking sports facility) would probably have difficulty identifying it as his favorite team's former home, Weeghman Field. The seating capacity was doubled inside of 15 years and the famous ivy didn't come along until 1937, well into the third decade of the ballpark's existence. Tinkering continues to this day.
Yankee Stadium (#84) is also altered considerably--many would say for the worse--from its 1923 debut. Its transformation unfortunately came about at the very height of the getting-it-wrong era of architectural renovation: the late 1960s and 1970s. If Yankee Stadium were being renovated today, there would be much more of a nod made to the past than there was in the 1974-75 redoing of "The House That Ruth Built." Still, it remains a formidable structure (mystique aside), and it is understandable why it is beloved, its disconnection from the neighborhood notwithstanding.
Even the much-venerated Fenway Park (#113) was altered considerably in 1934 when the famous left field wall was installed. Changes continue to this day, as management tries to shoehorn more and more fans into a confined space; the Monster Seats are just the latest in a long line of changes designed to increase capacity.
Do these changes make the buildings any less iconic? Not really. In order to survive the transition from out-of-date to charmingly old, sports facilities have to change with the times. Such would not seem to be the case for the buildings on the AIA list--or would it? While the exterior of the Empire State Building remains basically unchanged from 1932, the interior is refitted constantly. That is true of any number of the buildings on the AIA list, especially those built for commercial purposes.
The remaining five sports structures on the list are:
101: Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Does this look like a representative list to you? Not one college football stadium? Not a single (active) professional indoor sporting venue? I thought we liked sports in this country!
I'm going to assume that most of you were not among the 1,800 participants in the survey. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that none of you were (although I'd have to get some odds on that), so what I thought we could do today is give you a chance to vote for your favorite buildings, only limiting it to sporting facilities.
Unlike the AIA, I'm not going to draw up a list of candidates; you're going to freestyle on this. Also, we're going for existing buildings only, although I've decided to add a separate category for buildings no longer extant. (The AIA list included the World Trade Center.) Also, because the AIA list includes monuments, I can throw this poll open to Halls of Fame, statuary, and sports-related facilities. (So, if you want to vote for the Abner Doubleday statue at the Gettysburg battlefield, feel free--no matter how misguided that might be.)
What sorts of directions should I give you? I would say that, if possible, you should try to distance what you have experienced in the venue from the venue itself. Just because your favorite player hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in the playoffs there in 1981 does not make it a great building. Other than that, it's none of my business why you're choosing the buildings you do.
Name your five favorite sporting venues from an architectural standpoint:
Name your three favorite no-longer-extant sporting venues from an architectural standpoint:
Name your three least-favorite sporting venues, extant or otherwise, from an architectural standpoint:
Email me your rankings here or using the link below. The deadline on this is Wednesday, March 21, midnight Central Time. I'll have the results in next Friday's column. Please put your picks in order. I'll be weighting them on a 7-5-3-2-1 point basis for the extant faves and a 5-3-1 on the other two, so the order in which you place them does matter. Remember: you need not ever have been to the venue in person to vote for it. As far as the non-extant venues go, it can pre-date your lifetime. For instance, based on pictures I've seen, my favorite long-gone ballpark is the Palace of the Fans in Cincinnati, although I might have taken a more dim view of it were I sitting behind one of those marvelous columns that give the place its unique look. Also, remember, these don't all have to be baseball facilities. This is for all sporting venues--although it would please me personally if baseball dominated.
Have some fun with it. Your vote counts!