On the northwest corner of West Santa Clara Street and North San Pedro Street in downtown San Jose, Baseball San Jose put up a series of Cisco Field renderings, many of which you’ve already seen. The renderings are blown up to poster size, which allows people to study them for details that may not be readily apparent when viewing small versions in a browser.
The aerial view above may be my favorite simply because it fully displays the one distinctive architectural element of the ballpark, the “colonnade” along Autumn Parkway. Maybe the colonnade was designed to integrate the ballpark with the rest of the neighborhood. Thing is, there is no semblance of a neighborhood along this block of Autumn, which is populated by nondescript office buildings and an auto parts store-turned-marijuana dispensary. It’s possible that the colonnade was not borne of some desire to create a snaking, thin colonnade structure. It may have been the product of designing to reduce the visual impact of the stadium. Light will be able to go right through the structure from inside the stadium to the street (and vice-versa), which should in theory make the structure less imposing from the outside. That, coupled with the lower profile of a smaller, double-deck seating bowl, makes Cisco Field the least imposing ballpark since Fenway Park.
As I studied the renderings for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t help but wonder if the CEQA process, which governs all environmental review in the state, artificially constrained the design. When 360 architecture was commissioned to design the ballpark by A’s ownership, they were already dealing with a number of major constraints:
- An irregularly shaped lot, which could limit the ballpark’s size and field dimensions
- FAA restrictions on building height
- Uniform code and standards on setbacks (for sidewalks and such)
- Budget limitations
- A desire by civic leaders for a large entry plaza, preferably in the outfield
That’s a lot to design around and come up with something cohesive, which to 360’s credit they’ve done an amazing job conceiving. I still wonder if something more distinctive is possible. In my interview with Lew Wolff, he intimated that the design, which is largely coming from John Fisher, could be moreso. My untrained eye and lack of imagination can’t see where the change can happen other than some façade treatments and cladding, which has given many of the HOK/Populous brick ballparks their faux monolithic look. I think 360 and the A’s can do better.
A place like San Jose, with its many short buildings dating from the 50’s forward, is architecturally drab. Sink Combs Dethlefs was only partly successful in evoking trains via HP Pavilion’s steel siding. The way light shimmers off the panels is beautiful at night and in twilight, during the day it looks a uniformly dull gray. In downtown there are very few truly interesting buildings, except for some built largely with public money such as the Rep, Tech Museum, and Children’s Discovery Museum. Even the latter two were tamed after recently deceased Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta ran into a brick wall regarding the lively color palette he wanted to use for those buildings. As hearing after hearing, committee after committee waters down vision into a muddled mess, what citizens are left with is something more utilitarian in feel than imaginative. That’s a shame because it only furthers the perception that San Jose is a sleepy, uninspiring place.
If you’re looking for something more imposing at Cisco Field, a brick façade covers the walls behind the seating bowl. It matches well with the long Plant 51 building on the other side of the railroad tracks. Plant 51 was formerly a Del Monte cannery which has been repurposed into lofts and condos.
You might think that in the above picture, the upper two levels were photoshopped onto the lower levels. It’s every bit real, and done to reduce the impact of the modern additions compared to the historic original building. The whole lacks unity and despite the intent, does little to preserve the integrity of the building. For me, it actually makes the building weaker.
With redevelopment dead and its powers significantly curtailed, there are now fewer chances to create bold architecture other than in the private sector. I’m not asking for a Bird’s Nest here, the proportions and size of the stadium won’t allow for that. There is room for something bold and beautiful at Diridon. Aspirational should be achievable. If bold is good enough for the Fishers’ SFMOMA expansion, it’s good enough for Cisco Field.