15 March 2006

Navy Yard: Likes and Dislikes

I've had more time to look at the drawings and the flyover (available at the Washington Post's website). I'll give you my amateur opinion on this HOK-penned design. I tend to concur with the mixed sentiment about the ballpark: it's not a cookie-cutter in either the retro or retro-futuristic mode, but it's not overwhelming either. Part of that has to do with the fact that there's nothing immediately outside the stadium that evokes a postcard-like photographic moment. The Washington skyline will only be visible from the seats in the right field upper deck. The Anacostia River is be somewhat removed from the site as it's a block south of the first base façade - no splash hits there (not that we need more of those).

The whole package feels a little too safe. Only a few elements struck me as bold, namely the triangle office building behind home plate and the circular restaurant in center field. Everything else looked like an amalgam of things I'd seen before - if not in a ballpark per se, in other recent architecture. The ballpark will no doubt serve its purpose well, but it remains to be seen if, in its final physical form, it inspires fans and passersby or just blends in harmlessly with the rest of the neighborhood.

Things I liked:
  • Lights tucked into the roof structure. The light standards used in most new ballparks are all variations on the same riff. It's about time that someone pulled the lights back onto the roof rim. I've always liked how it creates a special glow at night. See photos of Yankee Stadium for proof.
  • Sunken playing field. With the playing surface situated 24 feet below street grade, fans entering the stadium will be treated to fantastic views of the field.
  • Triangle building behind home plate. The team's administrative offices help define the large home plate plaza. It could be great if the ground floor is well integrated into the plaza design. It looks like that will occur since it will have transparent glass walls. The key is what's in between the walls. There might be a team store there, but the best use would be a museum dedicated to the legacy of District baseball.
  • The roof. I've seen some reports that it's a perforated metal roof (360?) or a louvered roof. Either way, it should make for a good accent.
... and the things I didn't like:
  • Played out seating bowl shape. It has a combination of features from Comerica Park and Great American Ball Park, both HOK-designed stadia. Maybe it's too much to ask for something bold, but there is a template they're following. Even the gap in right field, which contributes to the "neighborhood" concept in the seating bowl, is predictable and unsurprising.
  • Third base line façades. Look at the view from the northwest and you'll notice four separate structures instead of one continuous façade. It might look better in person, but right now it makes me think I'm looking at four small airport terminals.
  • The garages. This appears to be a necessary evil. 1,200 spaces are planned, which is the same as what HOK planned for the San Jose ballpark concept. I suppose that 1,200 spaces is a design guideline or requirement for new MLB stadia. The garages, located in left field and center field, are prettied up so that they don't look offensive. Make no mistake, however, they're still garages and there's little to hide the fact that they're obscuring either the view of the Mall from the ballpark or the view of the ballpark from the Metro station.
  • Materials. Red flags were raised when the District was forced to consider skimping on materials as cost estimate started to rise considerably. The biggest cutback will be the use of not limestone, but concrete painted to look like limestone. Perhaps they'll skimp on the glass curtain walls too? It doesn't sound good.
  • Height. There's a difference of 115 feet from the field to the top row of the upper deck. That makes that last row higher than the roof of Ameriquest Field, no low-slung stadium in its own right. The roof rim has to be at least 20 feet taller. I know I'm not buying upper deck seats there. BTW, if you're fortunate enough to have a seat in the upper deck, you'll be huffing and puffing in disgust up an endless series of ramps while the suite and club-seat folk luxuriate on private escalators. Hasn't anyone in DC learned from the JKC/FedEx Field debacle?
  • Press box location. I haven't visited a press box in years but I'm guessing that what I observed hasn't changed - that most of the people inhabiting the press box are well past the age of 30 and don't usually have the best vision. I remember a few years back when the late Bill King openly groused about the booth at PNC Park, which is similarly placed atop the upper deck. I wouldn't be surprised if that contributed to his policy of not doing interleague games.
  • Dimensions/fences. There are the usual "quirky" wall angles that obscure the fact that the dimensions are all too ordinary. Two wall heights, 12 feet and 8 feet, are being used. Boring and once again predictable.
I understood from reading the agreement the District signed with MLB that the Navy Yard ballpark wouldn't be a revolutionary design. I just didn't expect it to be so little of a departure. The façade, which the media has focused on, is only one part of the design. It's disappointing that fans in the cheap seats will have such inordinately poor views compared to the wealthy and well-connected. If there's any doubt what the purpose of the ballpark is, read this Post article and understand where that $611 million is going.