Placemaking and Tropicana Field | The Process Report

Placemaking and Tropicana Field

One of the first things you’re taught as an architect in graduate school is the meaning of the term place. We study the phenomena that people experience within certain environments before we are even allowed to draw bricks or pour concrete. It’s a skill we’re taught in order to relate the creation of space to the region in which it’s built and the people who occupy it. Inherently, most people understand the difference between smooth and rough, hot and cold temperatures, light and dark, etc. as well as the natural qualities of the region in which they live. Placemaking is the adaptation of these understandings to suit a specific purpose.

The purpose of something like a baseball stadium is naturally a lot more complex than your average structure. Stadia, throughout history, have primarily been machines for great gathering and exodus. Until the modern era, the experience within a stadium has been more of an afterthought than a design-driver. Tropicana Field lays somewhere in-between; a stadium built primarily on function but not totally devoid of character. After all, even the worst structures have experiential qualities (albeit sometimes bad ones).

When you think back on the history of the Rays, you begin to understand the Trop as a place with an association to the memories of baseball. You can remember the hue of the blue seats, the way the light changes the roof color between day and night, the sounds of rain as it falls on the roof. All of these phenomena we experience are forever a part of our memories. For a team with very little history, the Trop has always been the constant; the backdrop for all the famous photographs you see in the Times and in your mind.

Replacing the Trop is inevitable. Your children will most likely dream of Rays games in a different setting. Banners raised or pictures taken in a foreign atmosphere. It doesn’t feel right when you think of it now. It’s tough to imagine. Understand this when you think about the creation of a new stadium: the power to create a place that will last the lifetimes of future fans. People will remember how the new stadium smells and feels as long as they live.

This is where the opportunity lies. In Tampa Bay, a place is one that takes advantage of Florida’s natural qualities. Frank Lloyd Wright used the Lakeland Brick and natural topography for his Florida Southern Campus. Some Sarasota-Modern houses designed by Paul Rudolph create comfort without the need for air-conditioning. Even Spanish Colonists mixed coquina shells as aggregate for their concrete.

The new Rays stadium, as important as it is, has an obligation to adopt these principles in earnest. Friend of the site Jonah Keri titled his book The Extra 2% because that’s how the Rays operate as a business and as a team. Placemaking and The Extra 2% are interchangeable. Imagine the future Rays stadium where the Trop roof lives on, recycled as a metal and fabric sculpture. Imagine reducing costs by building with Floridian limestone bricks made and shipped from Lakeland. Potential landscaping done with natural flora and fauna requiring very little maintenance or upkeep or shading the stadium in such a way that reduces sun exposure to a minimum. In that way, the new stadium and the Trop can live on as more than memories or photographs and videos. Instead, it can be the place where the Rays play and Rays fans remember: a trophy to the place that fans first dreamt of and a monument for new fans to create memories of their own.

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