Saving The Banks

As momentum builds for the Atlanta Braves to relocate from Turner Field to a new ballpark and mixed use development in nearby Cobb County, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published a somewhat scary story on a somewhat similar project in Cincinnati: the development of Great American Ballpark, Paul Brown Stadium, and a mixed-use development called The Banks that has continued to suck public money, ten years after the ballpark opened. Read their story here:,400

One can hardly fault the AJC for their concern. The Banks is a tale of middling success propped up by substantial public investment. But it’s not the only story out there. Here are two stories the AJC didn’t bother to report:

In the area around Minute Maid Park, which opened in Houston in 2000, development has been healthy and steady, despite the economic downturn of the past five years. The ballpark has seen the development of not just bars and restaurants, but housing, hotels and office buildings in the underdeveloped areas around Minute Maid Park, with minimal public investment. Houston’s secret: a lassiez-faire, hands-off approach to managing the development of the ballpark district. Growth has occurred organically in accordance with market demand. The result: no big drain on the city budget.

Spin off development near PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Another city that took a slightly more hands-on approach is Pittsburgh, which, much like Cincinnati, replaced an undistinguished concrete donut (Three Rivers Stadium) with a pair of new, purpose-built football and baseball stadiums that are both more popular than the donut ever was. Also like Cincy, Pittsburgh envisioned a mixed-use development between the stadiums, which has largely come to pass. Economic development incentives have been used to help some of the projects on the North Shore, but overall public investment (except for the stadiums) has been modest, and the buildings built have responded to market demand more than planner prescription.

From a distance, it appears that Cincinatti would have been better off leaving The Banks to the market to develop on its own timeline. It also appears that journalists in Atlanta looked to the worst example of adjacent development to hang their cautionary tale on.

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Like your work, love your clients

Here’s a great blog post by an architect in Texas that beautifully articulates one of Convergence Design’s core values:

“I like my clients more than my projects and they (the clients) know it.”

Having worked, at one point, in a firm that took the opposite view, it is hard to overstate the importance of this attitude. Please read the linked post at Bob Borson’s excellent blog for a look into the mind of an architect we wouldn’t mind getting to know.

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Event Center yarnbombed

While in Enid for a recent site visit, we noticed that our Enid Event Center has been yarnbombed. We consider this act of civil decoration to be affectionate and rather charming, and we are flattered that the Enid Yarnbombers Coalition or whoever is responsible thought enough of the Event Center to add some exterior decoration.

Enid Event Center yarnbombed

Check out the lampposts

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Aesthetics are Ethics

Victoria Beach has published an interesting essay in Architect magazine, where she asserts that architects’ primary moral authority (and responsibility) is aesthetic, not public safety.

While Ms. Beach is quite right to connect aesthetics with morality (two subjects that have been unfortunately uncoupled in the modern era), some critics have read her essay as a call for the architectural profession to abdicate, or at least delegate, its responsibility for building safety to engineers and code officials.

We didn’t read it that way. In the same way (using her metaphor) that a chef is responsible for a meal being safe and pleasing to the eye/nose/palette, architects are responsible for buildings being both safe and beautiful. If safety was the end of our responsibility, we could job the whole thing out to engineers. (Sorry, engineers).

We think the point Ms. Beach is making is an important one: that aesthetics is inextricably linked to ethics, morality, goodness, and the way things ought to be. And that these are where the architect’s highest responsibility lies.

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Any Given Sunday

Sports insider publication Sports Business Journal just published a review of NFL stadiums (not all of them) that seems to focus more on the availability of cellular service and wi-fi than anything having to do with the game itself, being a spectator, or experiencing the facility. We think most of the survey misses the point.

While we like a strong cellular signal as much as the next person, and while it is true that putting 80,000 people in the same building tends to burden celluar networks, sometimes to the breaking point, we think that the availability of phone service is, or should be, one of the least compelling things about a stadium.

Maybe SBJ should have looked at something like the quality of tailgating, or the availability of restrooms, or the variety of food service options, or the size of the scoreboards (actually, they did look at the scoreboards). We get that texting and tweeting from the game is a very popular pastime. Whether it should be is another question, but it is, without a doubt. But to rate game day stadium experience based on signal strength seems to us to miss the entire point of what going to an NFL game is about.

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Hangin’ with Coach

Convergence founder David Greusel got to spend a little quality time Friday, Sept. 20 with Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle at PNC Park prior to the Pirates’ game against Cincinnati. Arranged through the Pittsburgh organization ServingLeaders, David and Clint talked a little baseball in the manager’s office next to the Pirates clubhouse. Though game time was only thirty minutes away, Hurdle was affable and surprisingly relaxed.

David did not reveal the location of the secret button to raise a barrier in front of the left field seats to prevent home runs, a button that would have come in handy in the bottom of the tenth inning when the Reds’ Joey Votto yanked a homer to the shortest corner in the park, just inside the left field foul pole, to give the Reds a 6-5 win.

Greusel with Hurdle

David Greusel, left, with Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle

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Lima was right

the short left field dimension has a lot to do with this being a hitter's park

Pitcher Jose Lima famously once said of Minute Maid Park (in Houston), “Whoever design this ballpark is not my friend.” Minute Maid Park designer David Greusel never took the remark personally, perhaps because he wasn’t Lima’s friend to begin with.

Turns out, Lima was right. According to Park Factor, which is a semi-official baseball statistic showing whether a ballpark favors hitters or pitchers, Minute Maid is a hitter’s park, seventh overall in the major leagues. David’s other designs, PNC Park and Busch Stadium, tend to favor the pitchers, ranking 23rd and 25th in MLB, respectively.

You can see the rankings here:

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Event Center Architects

Just sayin’.

see list at left

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Check your work

ARCHITECT magazine posted a fascinating article about relative sizes of new housing units in the U.S. and Britain (spoiler: they are much smaller, on average, in the U.K.) with an equally fascinating infographic that, unfortunately, is completely wrong.

We have included with this post a corrected version to show you how far off the original was. To give you an idea, the smallest apartment in the original graphic would be 192 square feet, not the 653 indicated by the legend. That would be a small apartment even by New York standards.

The moral of the story is: check your work.

Infographic with correction at left

Corrected infographic (left), original on right

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Code minimum

East rotunda

Walkways at PNC Park have higher guardrails

Another fatal fall at a ballpark–this one in Atlanta–has architects and building owners wondering if their facilities are safe. We have no doubt that the guardrails at Turner Field meet code. The question is, is meeting code enough?

Ballparks are not office buildings. They often involve extreme floor-to-floor dimensions (20 to 30 feet not being at all uncommon). Fan intoxication is a constant threat, if not in every case. And sports fans can be boisterous at times, let’s face it.

It would seem the standard 42 inch guardrail height prescribed by model building codes is perhaps insufficient for the conditions that exist at big stadiums. We’re not suggesting changing the code. We’re suggesting that designers need to ask themselves whether code minimum is in fact the right height for guardrails in sports facilities. Our guess is that it is not.

PNC Park, which has some truly vertiginous public concourses, has four foot guardrails as a standard dimension. The six extra inches makes even acrophobic people feel safer on those concourses.

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