Places: Readers sound off on Penguins' arena design
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Reacting to my April 22 column on the design of the new Penguins arena, the readers write:
"How on earth could the owners of the Penguins replace an iconic piece of architecture [Mellon Arena], one that was groundbreaking for its time, with one that looks like it belongs in an office park along the Dulles Toll Road in suburban Washington?" writes Mt. Lebanon native Jim Hiscott of Washington, D.C.
"I agree that anything approaching 'high-concept' would have been preferable for I certainly feel, as a graphic designer, 'high-concept' doesn't necessarily have to equate into high dollars. It's all about imagination. Bland doesn't even begin to describe the building. It's disheartening that the Pens couldn't have thought more boldly."
Bethel Park native Ed Garda of Warren, Mich., thinks the architects, HOK Sport of Kansas City, are missing the obvious.
"Shouldn't it have some igloo-like features?" The concrete tigers at Detroit's Comerica Park are surprisingly not that gaudy when seen in person. Except for the baseballs in their mouths. It would be way cool if the 'Burgh did something similar with stone penguins. Something utilizing their natural habitat would be a timeless design. And since this will be the arena that Mario built, there needs to be a huge 66 on one of the walls."
Another ex-pat Pittsburgher, Darcy Trunzo, who worked to develop the Sprout Fund's mural program and also was one of Councilman Bill Peduto's Guyasuta fellows, is now an art history student in Minneapolis. She writes: "I concur wholeheartedly with your statements regarding the lack of fun in the new Civic Arena design. If we must have another sports structure, then at the very least give us something as stunning as PNC Park.
"I work in the Walker Art Center -- a building with a nearly $95 million addition by Herzog & de Meuron, and this wild structure has to stand up and compete with the Minneapolis Public Library, the new Guthrie Theater and the addition to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I have my share of criticisms about each of these structures, but at the very least there is an importance placed on design that this new arena seems to be lacking.
"In my experience there is a great deal of talk about employing good design and public art in new projects in Pittsburgh but nothing punchy or interesting ever comes out of these projects ..."
Bethany Matthews Kwan, a former Pens season ticket holder who's now a grad student in psychology at the University of Colorado, writes, "Thanks for keeping the importance of the aesthetic beauty of the new arena in the public eye and ear. How many people talk about how absolutely beautiful it is at PNC Park, how wonderful it is to be there, to spend time with their family and friends in such a gorgeous place? We need the same thing for the Penguins' arena -- a building, not just a team, to be proud of."
Downtown architect Rob Pfaffmann writes: "Many progressive architects see public art as complimentary and collaborative and relish the opportunity to enhance a project. Many of us also see it as a way to get a client to open up the creative side of the architectural design process ... like two jazz players riffing on the same subject ... different approaches yet collaborative. For the new arena, public art at this point is like putting lipstick on a pig or growing ivy on it.
"The unfortunate thing is that the budgets for architecture are being cut as the budgets for art are increasing on some public projects, encouraging the perception that art can come to the rescue of a weak design. I would admit that with some projects, there is no choice because of the architect's attitude or the client's process. But we should strive for collaborative teams that WANT to work with each other."
"During the 'great arena talks' between the city, county, state and team, the new arena was treated as a commodity item," writes robotics research engineer Eric Weber of Lawrenceville. "There was no effort to present a design which would drum up public support, which would have been the responsibility of the team.
"The real issue right now is money -- it's fine for me or the Planning Commission to pick at the design, but there is little chance that HOK will be able to make radical changes without increasing the price tag (already more expensive than Heinz Field) or delaying the schedule."
Weber is right, of course, which is why I advocated applying some of the art budget to the outside of the building, while also calling for earlier collaborations between artists and architects in future projects.
HOK did not, as planned, present further refinements of the arena design to the Planning Commission last week but will be back on Tuesday with a final design and looking for the commission's approval.
First Published April 30, 2008 12:00 am