Jeff Beckham has written “The Future of Stadiums Might Be No Stadium At All,” a really smart Wired piece that looks at radically reducing the infrastructure of spaces that host sports and concerts and such.
Gigantic permanent structures only emerged in America when team sports became big business and population density reached critical mass. A century ago, only major prize frights could attract small cities of ticket buyers, so wooden insta-stadia capable of seating 50,000 to 100,000 were routinely built in a couple of months. The venues were razed soon after the bout. Tex Rickard built just such a momentary edifice for Jack Dempsey’s defense of the heavyweight title against Georges Carpentier on July 2, 1921. From the April 26, 1921 New York Times:
Although the plot embraces thirty-four acres, the particular land Rickard has contracted for includes only about six-and-one-half acres. Upon this stretch of ground the promoter will erect his giant arena with its proposed seating capacity of over 50,000. The start will be made on the arena just as soon as the ground is levelled. Rickard expects that the arena will be completed within fifty days, without rushing the workmen or necessitating overtime. It is estimated that 100 carloads of lumber will be used in its construction.•
Beckham’s piece focuses on the ideas of architect Dan Meis, who believes economics are demanding stadium downsizing, though he dreams of edifices that go far beyond one-off events. An excerpt:
“We keep falling over ourselves about what’s the next big board? What’s the next thing you’re going to put in stadiums?” said Meis, whose best known work is the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “In reality, I think it’s coming back to the best stadium would be not to build it at all or if there’s a way to do it in a temporary way and save all that money on infrastructure.”
Meis isn’t kidding about the ideal stadium being no stadium at all. He’s fascinated by the Palio de Siena, a centuries-old horse race that takes place in Tuscany’s Piazza del Campo. Nearly every day, the piazza stands as a grand public space in the center of town, but two times each year, it’s converted into an impromptu stadium where thousands of spectators flock to watch the race.
That pop-up stadium concept works better for events like the Olympics or World Cup, which come around every four years and may be hosted by countries without the means to fill those stadiums once the event is over. But another Meis concept — a building that changes, Optimus Prime-style, from a 20,000-seat basketball arena to a 35,000-seat soccer stadium — could provide a solution.
It sounds futuristic, but the transformable stadium has been a reality for more than a decade in Japan.•