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Baseball’s Rightful Place in Architecture History: A Review of Goldberger’s New Book “Ballpark” | Features


Dodger Stadium, 1962. Photo by Ed Ruscha.

The ballpark building type has been overlooked from accounts of modern architecture history by its most prolific writers. With Ballpark, Paul Goldberger’s treatise on the architectural history of ballpark design, he succeeds in assuring his reader that the building type is as worthy of design scholarship as any other. 

Join us in celebrating Ballpark, the latest book by Paul Goldberger at Archinect Outpost on Saturday, June 1st, 5-8pm. 

The doors will open at 5 and will close promptly after 6 as the conversation begins between Paul Goldberger and Paul Petrunia, the founder and director of Archinect, on the content on his newest book. 

Ballpark can be preordered here for pickup at the event, or shipping immediately after the event. Please go here to RSVP for the event. 

As a child discovering my interests in architecture and design, long resolute in my apathy towards sports and sports culture, I had treated my attendance at Dodger Stadium as more of a chore than a pleasure. During the years my family had season tickets, I saw little connection between architecture and the baseball park in Chavez Ravine. To pass the time, I would bring my sketchbook and draw everything except for what was right in front of me; when I grew tired of that, I would wander the food halls lined up beneath the enormous slabs of concrete supporting the upper tiers; and when I grew tired of that, I would guess the exact time at which our row of seats would be in the shade while watching the palm trees sway in the breeze beyond the outfield.

Ballpark, by Paul Goldberger

How much I would have benefitted, I now wonder, had I been able to bring along Ballpark, the newly released book from architecture critic Paul Goldberger. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Ballpark draws an irrefutable link between the evolution of baseball park design and America’s shifting attitudes towards architecture and urbanism. But rather than treat every baseball park as worthy of study, Goldberger provides a handful of examples to arrive at a simple yet compelling thesis: “In the ballpark,” he writes, “the two sides of the American character – the Jeffersonian impulse toward open space and rural expanse, and the Hamiltonian belief in the city and in industrial infrastructure – are joined, and cannot be torn apart.” He later recalls the phrase ‘rus in urbe,’ translated from the Latin as “rural in urban” to signify the illusion of the countryside within the city.

There is an unmistakable parallel between Goldberger’s argument and that of Leo Marx in The Machine in the Garden (1964), the literary critic’s classic book on the American tendency to combat the impending industrialization of the country with the image of the pastoral: “The pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery,” Marx begins, “and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination.”

Goldberger expertly traces the architectural history of the American ballpark and its relationship to the pastoral imagination through three main stages: the first wave of ballparks provided breathing room for urbanites by elbowing their way into the cracks of the industrialized neighborhoods of the East Coast of the 19th century; the second wave fled the city for the suburbs as assuredly as the typical post-war family, where they could construct illusory escapes from the modern world within enclosed arenas floating in seas of asphalt; the third wave of ballparks revisit the virtues of the first wave by returning to American city centers, “to use baseball to heal the city rather than to run away from it.” 

Given that examples from these three stages are all currently in use today, the fans who set out on ‘baseball trips’ are (unwittingly or with full intention) also receiving a lesson in American architectural history.


Wrigley Rooftops. Chicago, Illinois.

Given that examples from these three stages are all currently in use today, the fans who set out on ‘baseball trips’ are (unwittingly or with full intention) also receiving a lesson in American architectural history; they may even be sitting in seats envisioned by a cadre of modern masters including Edward Durell Stone, Buckminster Fuller or the office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Even the additional seating retroactively installed above the apartment buildings across Chicago’s Wrigley Field (known collectively as the Wrigley rooftops) are ripe for architecture criticism.

Dodger Stadium on opening day, 1962.

But I took a natural interest in Goldberger’s account of Dodger Stadium, initially built among the first wave of ballparks in the crevices of Brooklyn in 1913 and later transferred to the rolling hills of developing Los Angeles to become a key exemplar of the second wave in 1962. Goldberger brilliantly demonstrates that what the architect Charles Moore had observed of Disneyland, a theme park completed seven years prior, could easily apply to Dodger Stadium: “[Disneyland] is engaged in replacing many of those elements of the public realm that have vanished in the featureless private floating world of southern California,” Moore wrote.

According to Goldberger, Dodger’s owner Walter O’Malley “wanted to create a public experience in the city of private experiences, to expand the notion of an attractive public realm in a city notoriously short on public space.” Given this and the classic mid-century geometric flourishes atop its upper decks, I was compelled to put the book down and ask myself this question: might Dodger Stadium be required study for anyone hoping to gain an understanding of modern architecture?

With Ballpark, Goldberger succeeds in assuring its reader that the building type is as worthy of design scholarship as any other. 

Dodger Stadium – and the ballpark building type in general – has been overlooked from accounts of modern architecture history by its most prolific writers. With Ballpark, Goldberger succeeds in assuring its reader that the building type is as worthy of design scholarship as any other. 

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, completed in 1992.

As he ends his treatise with a study of the third wave of ballpark design, influenced most significantly by the successful construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the dense city center of Baltimore, Goldberger speaks optimistically about the role ballpark design can play in a city when done with consideration. Though the building type has always been dedicated to the production of an illusion – namely, rus in urbe – it can still authentically become the incubator of an energy akin to “the whole of urban life.”

Ballpark can be preordered here for pickup at the event, or shipping immediately after the event. Please go here to RSVP for the event. 

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