On a football Saturday, no stadium structure is visible from within the Big House. When you are in the stands, whether in the chaos of the student section or next to a cranky 84-year-old alum, only two things matter: the game and the fans.
There is no stadium. The Big House is only a sea of spectators and a field.
For Michigan football fans, tradition lies in the purity of the game and the love for the Maize and Blue.
Luxury boxes, which the athletic department has proposed, could ruin that.
Now a new renovation scheme is challenging the athletic department’s proposal. Though most elements of both proposals are roughly equivalent – with the exception of the luxury suites and the number of seats – it is easy to tell which proposal was made by Michigan fans.
The athletic departments’s proposal is an architecture of structure and necessity. The fan’s proposal, dubbed the Big House Plan and developed by University alumni architects, is an architecture of people.
The Big House is only football and fans, and the University should already know this theme well.
In 1998, the great postmodern architect Robert Venturi’s firm erected the Halo, a gaudy, yellow band around the top of the stadium along with oversized, cartoonish footballs and huge letters that spelled out “Hail to the Victors.”
After fans put up enough of a fight and the Halo was removed, Venturi gave a lecture on campus where he expressed confusion.
Fans wore vivid colors and gaudy costumes to the games, he wondered, why were they so vehement when the stadium’s architecture did the same?
Venturi never learned the simple lesson that, besides the actual game itself, the fans make the Big House. Any stadium that detracts attention away from the game or the fans is just not the Big House.
The stadium is the great equalizer, bringing together all the lovers of Michigan football to watch the game under the same blue sky. Every ticket holder, no matter where in the stadium, is privileged with an unobstructed view and a sense of community.
Luxury suites that hover above the rest of the fans, however, display an architecture of hierarchy and elitism. This issue of upsetting the egalitarianism of the Big House is probably the largest contention fans have with the athletic department’s plan. Yet such behemoth boxes do more than undermine fan equity. They also stand out visually.
From a fan’s perspective, the essence of the Big House is its classic bowl shape. The Big House Plan reflects this notion by expanding bleacher seating that circles the entire stadium and retains that essential bowl character. Even the proposed press box is nestled unassumingly within the oval shape. On the exterior, the bowl retains continuity as the two levels of concourse wrap around the entire structure. Equally important, the exterior is simple and unpretentious.
In contrast, the athletic department’s plan focuses most of its attention on the sideline areas while neglecting the end-zone seating, thus disrupting the pure bowl that fans consider the trademark of the stadium. The stadium’s dynamic would shift to a more linear appearance.
Right now, the press box is the one horrible thing about the stadium. Imagine taller, more contemporary versions of that press box extending the length of both sidelines. These projecting structures are sure to be distractions, if not eyesores.
Of course, the athletic department’s plan is not without merits. Many college stadiums have large sideline bleachers overshadowed by press boxes and private suites. They accentuate the linear nature of the field and give the end zones a less impressive stature. Although many stadiums are that way, the Big House is not.
That’s why we love it.
The Big House’s integrity lies in the fact that it is merely a backdrop to hard hits and cheers of “Go Blue!”
If the athletic department’s plan is built, fans will see three things: a sea of spectators, a field and luxury suites.
A tradition embedded with football and fans, I’ve heard of. But I have yet to see a tradition based on the purity of skyboxes.