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12 August 2005

First Impressions

Disclaimer: I am not a professional architecture critic or architect, so these comments should be taken with several grains of salt.

Now that the curtain has been lifted on the A's plans, we can start to dissect them in earnest. I have to admit that I didn't get the site right at all, but I promise to make up for it by putting together a proper profile on what can now be called the "Coliseum North" site. Expect to see that early next week. I didn't get the site right at all because I had no idea the plan would be this expansive. By thinking small, I limited myself to only certain sites. Again, that's an indication of why Mr. Wolff is a developer and I'm just a blogger.

Looking at the first batch of renderings (available in large format alongside Glenn Dickey's story in the Chronicle), there are a couple of words that immediately come to mind: humble and quirky. Humble refers to the unassuming, streamlined profile the ballpark cuts with its exterior. Quirky comes from the various unique elements in the outfield.

Humble

To understand the visual effect, look at the grandstand façade. Instead of large, ubiquitous, monolithic brick walls, the grandstand is open air, with brick-covered columns to define it. Access ramps, which are not present in the rendering, tend to be open air as well and should follow the same design philosophy. Since the playing surface is sunken, the columns themselves probably rise only 40 feet. Compare that to SBC Park, whose façade rises at least 60 feet from street level. Some other observations:
  • The two-deck design allows the design to be low-slung, eliminating the need for numerous concourse levels.
  • Luxury suites are not present in the grandstand. They will be there at some point.
  • Even the roof over the upper deck appears to be made out of either mesh or a translucent material, giving it less definition and giving the appearance that the roof is not contributing to the height of the grandstand. Whether a roof is even needed is questionable, since wind and rain aren't big problems in Oakland. At SBC Park the roof has purpose. Not so in Oakland.
  • The light standards are almost wispy.
  • The outfield buildings are of varying heights, all taller than the grandstand, which further lends to the idea that the ballpark is small. Even the entry plaza behind home plate doesn't announce itself except for six columns that jut out from the rest of the structure.

Quirky

Just a brief glance at the outfield in this rendering tells you that this ballpark is busy. There are so many different elements that it can be distracting. I imagine that once inside the ballpark, the effect will be more subdued since the elements will be filled with patrons and the focus will be on the on-field action. Let's take a look at these elements one-by-one:
  • LF Corner Bullpen (yellow) - This is probably the home bullpen based on its size. It starts well down the left field line, continues past the foul pole, and ends at what is probably a combination retail/restaurant building, with standing room areas for fans to watch pitchers warm up. The idea originated in the design for Safeco Field in Seattle.
  • LF Corner Building - While it certainly borrows heavily from Petco Park's integration of the Western Metal Supply building, it doesn't serve quite the same purpose. Besides the restaurant, there may be extended club facilities and the A's administration offices, both of which would have enviable views of the field. Atop the building would be a large party deck and extra seating, which could be used or not used depending on expected attendance or high demand.
  • Bleacher Triangle (Left-Center) - This is definitely my favorite element of the design, and not just because I am a bleacher bum (Section 137). It definitely establishes a distinct neighborhood for the bleacher creatures in left. The triangle or "A" shape is playful. It's also divided into upper and lower sections. This may allow for the creation of a lower reserved section and an upper general admission section. The height of the first row may be only one-half the height of the same row in the Coliseum's bleachers.
  • The Tower (Left-Center) - The most unique element is the introduction of either condos or a hotel (less novel, see Toronto) overlooking the field. Six levels of units, three abreast, comprise the tower, which rises over the triangle like a sentry. The piece de resistance is the roof deck, complete with seats overlooking the field and a pool with deck chairs. Condos would provide more upfront money to finance the ballpark, but they might yield less in tax revenue than a hotel.
  • CF Building - Probably the most controversial part of the design, this building is adorned with several balconies and decks that hang over the field. Will they be in play? The idea isn't original, as it was built into Houston's Minute Maid Park in the form of "Crawford Boxes." In this incarnation, these look like party suites with decent sized seating decks attached. Above the two levels of party suites are more hotel rooms/condos. And yes, on the roof is another yet party deck, this time with a huge LED video board smack dab in the middle of it. It may sound like overkill on the party facilities, but it's actually smart. The facility will be flexible enough to hold gatherings of many different sizes. The decks could be split as needed, and there's potential for overflow seating as well. Lessons Wolff learned cutting his teeth in the hospitality industry can easily apply in this field as well. The southern end of the building (right-center) appears to hold a fountain, and a contemporary one at that.
  • RF Grandstand - The outfield wall will be low, probably 3-4 feet at most. If this sounds familiar, it's because a similar approach has been used in sections of Dodger Stadium, Angels Stadium, and Fenway Park. Another element similar to Fenway will be the design of the right field corner, which angles out sharply past the pole before curving towards center. Another bullpen (yellow) will be in the corner, with opposing pitchers constantly surrounded by fans. In light of the Craig and Jennifer Bueno/Frank Francisco incident, this might not be the smartest thing to do, but if the intent is to intimidate the visiting team, this will go a long way towards that. The foul pole is a dead-on copy of Fenway's Pesky's Pole. Gary Sheffield will be retired by the time it's built, so he won't have anything to worry about. There's a third seating deck just below the lights, too.
  • The Outfield - There's some question about the height of the batter's eye, but it's probably right, and if it isn't it could be modified pretty easily. Other than the right field corner, there are no odd angles, and none of it appears to be visual affectation, which is refreshing. The biggest concern is the dimensions of the field, which were not disclosed. Hopefully the VDC learned something from their visits to some of the newer National League parks: Don't build a bandbox. Cincinnati and Philadelphia are going to have problems acquiring top-level pitching because of the pitifully shallow dimensions designed into their new ballparks. If anything, the outfield should be deeper than neutral to offset the diminished foul territory (compared to the Coliseum). Atlanta has kept itself competitive in large part due to Turner Field's enormous outfield.
Overall, I'm mostly pleased with the design. It's borderline overbuilt due to amount of adornment in the outfield, but none of it is gimmicky and most of it serves an actual purpose. It should make for a nice backdrop, though it's unfortunate that the outfield elements will block the view of the Oakland hills over which many Coliseum fans still reminisce. The façade is open and minimalist, though it could do without the now cliché brick. The design is certain to change as different stakeholders provide input. As more details come out, I'll continue to provide reviews.

One more bit to chew on for the conspiracy theorists: There is nothing about this ballpark that is site-specific.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much to your commitment to this topic. Your site is visted by me daily because you take the time to research and provide us with info that we would otherwise have to do ourselves. Again, Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I think these pictures are probably just a guideline to what they want. There is probably nothing final about the design (hopefully). I think they should set the condos back a la Wrigley Field, etc. and get rid of the center field condos and instead provide a view of the hills, which I think would be cool and different, especially at night.

Anonymous said...

Something I was wondering is the very top level? Looks as if there are mock concession stands there. Do you think you can walk around the top like that or am I way off?

livinging on said...

my gripe about the ballpark is the "Jumbotron" might not be visible from the bleachers,
a-la SBC park.
at the colisieum, with its 2 screens, u can always catch the replays, stats etc from anypart of the park.

Marine Layer said...

Top level in the outfield, on top of the buildings? Those a rooftop decks, so they are designed to hold people. The upper concourse that wraps around the grandstand is similar to other such concourses, except this one perhaps bigger than average.

About the video screen, say goodbye to the stereo screens at the Coliseum, and get ready to crane your neck. The old screens are convenient, but they aren't state-of-the-art, and are rather small for such a stadium. The screens, which are Mitsubishi Diamond Vision Mark III displays that use older CRT technology. Most new stadiums use bright, easier-to-maintain LED displays that can be made extremely large. The Coliseum's displays are only 23' x 31.5'. Turner Field's is 71' x 79'. That's nearly 8 times the screen area. Dual screens are more of a football phenomenon anyway.

TikiPundit said...

Awesome commentary. Very well thought out.

One hates to uproot real working people from the area, but GAWD has that part of Oakland been an eyesore. If they make out, and can resurrect their businesses elsewhere, more power to them (and to the As).

Alameda TikiPundit.

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