Pillars and posts and stadium geometry

April, 27, 2010
4/27/10
11:23
AM ET
This isn't really a baseball post, but it's one of those things I can never quite let go of. From the Post:

    What a bunch of blockheads!

    These are the worst seats in the new $1.7 billion Meadowlands football stadium -- so bad the Giants and Jets scrapped selling tickets for them because the only action fans would see is paint peeling on the massive columns in front of them.

    Each of the two end-zone mezzanine sections has four pillars supporting the upper deck -- unsightly and archaic steel structures that experts say are routinely avoided in modern stadium design.

    Behind each column are rows of seats where views of the gridiron are fully obscured -- 59 seats in total. Some others have limited sightlines.

    "The fact that there are columns in there and possibly obstructed-view seating is a joke," said a Jet season-ticket holder and New Jersey resident who spotted the upright eyesores during a walk-through of the stadium last weekend.

    The steel curtain affects sections 201, 202B, 203B, 249B and 250B in one end zone and 224B, 225B, 226, 227B and 228B in the other.

    The kicker is that fans in those affected sections must pay for a personal seat license -- a $4,000 one-time fee -- and then shell out another $1,200 each season for tickets to eight regular-season and two preseason games.

    Some of America's pre-eminent stadium designers were shocked by the architectural oddities.

If true, that's an indictment not of the stadium's design, but of America's pre-eminent stadium designers.

Look, there are two incredibly obvious problems with modern stadium design, and America's pre-eminent stadium designers bear some of the responsibility for at least one of them.

The first problem is the class division. Many of the new ballparks -- including supposed fan-friendly stadiums in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis -- essentially feature concrete moats between the best seats and the rest of the ballpark. These sicken me, as they exist purely to reinforce one of the more regrettable aspects of American society, the rapidly growing gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us.

The second problem is that the distance between the field of play and the upper deck. In the older ballparks -- and I'm not talking about the old ballparks, but rather those built in the 1960s and '70s -- the upper deck wasn't really close to the field. But you might, over the course of a game, see a dozen or more baseballs fouled into the upper deck. No more. Those pre-eminent stadium designers have practically outlawed foul balls from the upper deck and their (relatively) poor denizens, in the interest of luxury suites and, more to the point, no pillars to obstruct the view of even one ticket holder in the lower deck.

Nobody wants to sit behind a post. But there is a cost to eliminating them, and in this rare case the team(s) chose not to pay that cost.

    The Jets and Giants took a pass on commenting. But the stadium's designer, George Heinlein, of Kansas City, Mo.-based 360 Architecture, defended the columns, saying they were necessary to create seating that surrounds the field on all levels and is stacked as closely as possible to the game action.

    "The objective of ownership ... was to create the most intimidating home-field advantage in football," he said. "Columns are not needed in other stadiums, which do not have the capacity or the proximity of end-zone seating."

By far, the best upper deck I've experienced was in the late Tiger Stadium. An upper deck which was, of course, supported by columns. If I was building a new ballpark -- and after the Marlins open theirs, we won't see a new baseball stadium for some time -- I would insist on columns. Because it's hard to have a truly great ballpark without them.

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