Forming a Stadium’s Character through Design
Editorial Team in Dialogue 26

A rendering of La Rinconada stadium in Caracas, Venezuela. Image © Gensler

We recently sat down with Glenn MacCullough, the Southeast regional leader of Gensler’s Sports practice, and discussed baseball in Venezuela and how communities and fans influence the design of sports stadiums.

Editorial Team (ET): How much is sports design influenced by a sense of place?

Glenn MacCullough (GM): In general, I find a greater variation sport-to-sport than place-to-place. The soccer fan is different than the baseball fan and the baseball fan from the football fan, and the stadium experiences for each sport reflect those differences.

Without a doubt, there are also differences between places—between the baseball fan in Japan and in the U.S or Latin America. But those differences in place are more subtle than they are between sports. That may be because of the mix of cultures present within a stadium. For instance, the fact that so many soccer fans in the U.S. are of Hispanic origin and have a connection to some part of Latin America is a huge influence on the stadiums here.

Seattle is considered one of the great soccer cities of the U.S., but their idea of collective fanhood more closely resembles a football crowd than a soccer one. With x-thousand-person crowds in attendance, stadiums take on a character you can feel. But that character is subject to change. You can go to a Washington Nationals game one night, and the crowd is crazy; the next night, it's quiet. There are so many influences—the difference between Saturday and Tuesday nights, between a good game and a bad one.

ET: Talk about the baseball stadium Gensler is designing in Caracas, Venezuela, and what’s informing the design of that stadium.

GM: I think the biggest influence is the openness and friendliness of the people we’ve encountered. The stadium’s character—even the form itself, with its open center field opening toward the city of Caracas—is based on that embracing character. The two arms of the building extend out to the ramps like a pair of arms embracing the city in the distance.

Another influence is the Venezuelan landscape. The contrast of the beautiful green mountains meeting the blue Caribbean Sea is represented in the building itself. The façade is open to the landscape; the canopy shading the fans is blue like the sky or water.There is even a waterfall reminiscent of Angel Falls in the ballpark.

And then there’s the incredible tradition of baseball in Venezuela. The design acknowledges some of the great Venezuelan players and makes stadium elements—the seating bowl, part of the outfield wall, scoreboards—reminiscent of other baseball parks around the country, so fans will see hints of their own traditions. We may even represent some of the Venezuelan players who have played in the United States and been inducted into the Hall of Fame. They’ve had so many from Miguel Cabrera to Elvis Andrus; from King Felix to Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos. And of course hall-of-famer Luis Aparicio.

ET: What are the fan expectations for the park? Are things like private boxes, concessions, and incorporated technology as influential there as they are in the States?

GM: Some are unimportant, others not as much. Baseball in Venezuela almost harkens back to the 1950s—the golden age of baseball, as it’s called in the States. In the ‘50s, crowds of hundreds of thousands of Americans would stand in time square just to follow the ticker covering World Series games. That’s how passionate our country was about baseball. No one stands in Times Square for the World Series anymore. We have many other ways of getting that information now, and the level of passion for baseball in the U.S. is just not the same. But that passion is still very much alive in Venezuela, and excited fans pack the stadium virtually every game.

We always say that baseball's the most egalitarian of the sports, and it’s true. But in the U.S., exclusivity—club sections, restaurants, suites—is on the rise. In Venezuela, traditional means of thinking about seating prevail. People consider the seats behind home plate better than the higher levels that are so prevalent in the United States. It’s more like old-time stadiums.

On the other hand, technology is very important to the stadium patrons. They are part of the digital age and expect to participate in it. While many places in Venezuela have marginally reliable traditional infrastructures, the wireless infrastructure is very good and getting better. Venezuela has a very young population, one that is very interested in social media, digital access, and other technologies.

ET: How does the stadiums connect with the rest of Caracas?

There will be a transportation hub located at La Rinconada Park, the entertainment district where the stadium is located, with new light and heavy rail lines going to and from Caracas. We expect that 90 percent of fans will access the stadium via public transportation. There is almost no private parking on-site.

Instead of parking garages, La Rinconada will be surrounded by acres of parks. That alone makes it very different from any stadium in the U.S. The setting is truly spectacular, tucked into a natural ravine with the backdrop of the mountains seen from behind as fans approach from the transport hub below.

Mimi Zeiger, who conducted the original Dialogue interview, is a Los Angeles–based writer and a contributing editor at Architect.

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