Hint of Change Sparks Panic and a Rethinking of Architecture as We Know It

“Eventually, we want a big Jumbotron in there. We think that’s something that’s going to add to the atmosphere, too.” Those words, spoken two seasons ago by Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly, sent a frisson of panic up the stenotic spine of a Notre Dame Nation already overwhelmed by Crazy Train and night games. A year and a half later, on the surfaces unseen in an architect’s rendering, revealed May 2, 2013, by Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame Executive Vice-President John Affleck-Graves, perhaps hang the Jumbotrons of our future fan experiences.

Image Credit: University of Notre Dame

Image Credit: University of Notre Dame

The imagined tweaks to Notre Dame Stadium would literally and figuratively anchor it to the rest of campus. A new press box would connect to the Joyce Center to the east while a new student center would spring along the stadium’s west side. The idea, according to Vice President Affleck-Graves, is to augment the resources available to students, i.e. there is no thought of replacing LaFortune, while maintaining the campus’s “pedestrian” quality. With additional classrooms and event space part of the concept, classes of the future will spend a lot more than Saturdays in the Fall in and around the stadium.

First opened in 1930, “The House That Rockne Built” drew architectural inspiration from Michigan’s stadium and included a press box and “seats” for 59,075 fans. The same architects who designed Yankee Stadium, “old” Comiskey, and Fenway Park created a scaled-down Big House in which Coach Rockne roamed the sideline for but one season before his death in 1931. Renovations in 1997 gave the stadium its current look and added 21,000 seats by fitting a new exterior over the old, thereby preserving the old while decidedly dragging the place into the modern age of college stadiums. As we consider another change to Notre Dame stadium, consider what has been done to Michigan’s stadium.

In 2010, our neighbors to the north brought The Big House to its current gaudy capacity of 109,901 in a renovation that added, suites, seats and more suites. In 2011, Michigan added two video screens the size of which would likely cause a statistically significant percentage of NDNation to march on the Administration Building. Measuring forty-seven feet by eighty-five feet, each board has more than four thousand square feet of Light Emitting Diodes to tickle your rods and cones. Could that happen at Notre Dame Stadium?

There are clear and loud voices at Notre Dame who fall squarely in the “no” camp. A little less than one month ago, Professor Philip Bess, who is also the director of graduate studies at ND’s School of Architecture, penned Why a Jumbotron At Wrigley Field Is a Super-Sized Mistake on Chicagosidesport.com. Professor Bess writes “[w]hen a stadium has a Jumbotron, the game becomes secondary and fans in the park start watching the screen rather than the game—which is why large video boards are a dependable source of advertising revenue.” An interesting question is how closely Professor Bess is to the ear of The University’s Architect , Doug Marsh, the man who will be a key figure in what ultimately transpires.

Notre Dame’s Campus Master Plan, released in 2002 and updated in 2008, set forth a number of tenets, the fourth of which calls upon planners to “steward” the camps’s “Notre Dame-ness” by choosing from “the pre-established palette of building materials, colors, and textures. Exterior materials will be chosen for their climactic endurance and for their consistency with representational and traditional architectural styles existing on the campus.” This stewardship of the essence of campus would seem to preclude the solution for Wrigley Field postulated by Professor Bess: video screens on the outside of the stadium.

While Notre Dame has a clear plan for the architectural development of campus, a plan that would clearly govern any changes to the non-football elements of the football stadium, whether Jumbotrons and Field Turf would be included or excluded by the Master Plan are unknown. Nothing in the document speaks to either, so it remains to be seen whether Professor Bess’s vision of a Jumbotron-free future will ultimately be undone by Coach Kelly’s desires.

Personally, I fail to see the harm in state-of-the art video screens that provide replay and public service announcements. Embracing the avant garde is decidedly in keeping with the spirit of Coach Rockne and the University Fathers who funded, in part, the construction of his vision through the then cutting-edge sale of personal seat licenses. What’s more, I believe that we must acknowledge an indulgence and allow the athlete’s places of performance to reflect their unique needs on match day. If it takes Crazy Train and Jumbotrons and Field Turf to fire up a five-star recruit, so be it. He should have his coliseum as he wants it, free for the moments of contest from what “we” think he should have, or what he should be happy with. If he who would see his future cut short or shattered by a broken bone or severed nerve want us on our feet and whipping towels over our heads, we owe that to him in the same way that he owes “us” excellence in the class room and residence halls. If Notre Dame can so integrate athletics and academics to make them the opposite sides of the same fabric, I fail to see how Jumbotrons cannot be incorporated into the literal brick and mortar of “our” Saturday seances.

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  • KyNDfan

    Going to games at Louisville, the only thing I have against jumbotrons is commercials being played on them during timeouts. This is something I don’t see ND resorting to since they are not on a tight budget like other schools. Being able to see replays definitely adds to the game experience. (Especially if you’re in the upper level endzone. A place where subalums like my self often sit.) More suites could move the old money down in the chair back seats behind the bench up and out of the way and let some rowdy, on your feet, excited fans get a chance at those sections. (Cough, cough. Clears throat.) The only part of the drawing I don’t like is if the east side of the stadium connects with the Joyce, screwing up foot traffic. But it’s a fair trade off as far as I’m concerned.

    • Bayou Irish

      Thanks for reading and for commenting, KyNDfan. While I wasn’t there, I am sure that connecting the JACC to the stadium is an idea that came up during the USF rain event. I also think it’s a good idea from a security standpoint, as it could provide covered ingress and egress for lots of people to go from the one to the other in an emergency. And I’m sure if it disrupts “the pedestrian nature” of campus, they could put doors through the tunnel. I can’t ever see ND shoiwng Kroger commercials, but a short feature involving Sgt Tim McCarthy? A bunch of those Fighting Irish commercials? Completely. Swarbrick has spoken of a trend away from suites and I hope that carries through. Get them up and out — you’ll never get rid of them, but get them away from the people who want to cheer, cheer.

  • trey

    How would the ND community feel about a departure from the “bowl design” concept? Im thinking if we lowered the North endzone seats a bit and build 2 raised standards of seating to the left and right of the player tunnel so TDJ could be seen…would really make our place unique again.

    • NDtex

      I’m a fan of the bowl design. It ensures that you don’t have a bad seat in the house. I also think it helps capture sound a bit better as well. That would be one thing I wouldn’t mess with at all.

    • DJ

      Seen by whom? You couldn’t see the mural from the field even before the first expansion.

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