|Owner||Sports and Exhibition Authority|
For two decades, the best thing about PNC Park was not a baseball team but a city. The view of downtown Pittsburgh from nearly any seat in the ballpark is indeed spectacular, if not quite enough to distract from the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons, a record in professional sports. Only the beautiful vistas were intentional.
PNC Park’s predecessor, Three Rivers Stadium, had been home to the championship Pirates teams of 1971 and 1979, to say nothing of four Superbowls’ worth of Steelers, but it was a hermetic ring of monolithic concrete completed in 1970 to replace the rickety charm of its predecessor, Forbes Field in Oakland. But sports stadiums apparently need to be as competitive as the teams in them, so by the 1990s, both Pirates and Steelers teams were clamoring for updated facilities to replace the still-mortgaged Three Rivers facility that they had shared.
By then Baltimore’s Camden Yards had become the standard in baseball, its old-timey red brick and downtown location providing enough nostalgia to clothe a late-twentieth century accommodation of lavish, revenue-generating corporate boxes and plentiful, mall-like food stands. HOK Sport Architects, (now known as Populous), an innovator here, would establish itself as go-to designers for a subsequent generation of sports stadiums.
PNC Park is widely regarded as one of their best, completed in association with locals L.D. Astorino & Associates, though Pittsburgh itself should get a credit, not simply for contributing tax revenue to privately owned facilities. The combination of regional yellow brick and blue steel structure is pleasant enough a palette of materials, with framework, walls, circulation and seats held in appropriately sporting architectural balance. But many of the important pleasures are urban and depend on the city itself. The Seventh Street Bridge, now suitably renamed for Roberto Clemente, becomes a grand entry sequence to the game. The ballpark sits with a delicate nudge along the North Shore Trail, to which it connects by stairs. Along Federal Street in the North Side, the park provides a covered walkway and access to restaurants that sympathetically extend the remaining bits of traditional urban fabric along the street.
Downtown and PNC Park, each side of the city now looks and feels great from the other. The ballpark is a real winner, and, as of 2013, the team is as well. Play ball!
By Charles R. Rosenblum, Ph. D.
Populous, formerly HOK Sport, was founded in 1983. Building stadiums around the world, this firm has completed several sports complexes in Pittsburgh: PNC Park and Consol Energy Center, which is the first LEED gold NHL arena.