The Pigskins released a model of their potential new stadium last week, just ahead of a 60 Minutes feature on the “starchitect” who designed it, Bjarke Ingels. (“Starchitect” is, obviously, a portmanteau of “star” and “architect,” which is a useful lifehack for the type of person who simply does not have the time to pronounce that “ar” syllable twice.)
Based on the model, the stadium will be something halfway between a translucent circus tent and a prototype building designed to make people write columns about how idiotic it is. And it is idiotic, for multiple reasons.
The most ridiculous feature, by a fairly wide margin, is the moat that surrounds the stadium. Depending on which account you read, it’s either for surfers or for kayakers; either way, it is pointless at best and dangerously irresponsible at worst.
Not only does the moat provide an exciting new way for people to seriously injure or kill themselves after drinking an entire bottle of Crown Royal through an inverted traffic cone, it also presents a seemingly hazardous security chokepoint, trapping people on an “island” around the stadium with only six narrow bridges to allow safe crossing. Even in a non-crisis situation, what you really want when thousands of fans leave an event simultaneously is as many bottlenecks as possible, right?
The starchitect’s idea behind the moat and the climbing wall is to provide some utility to the stadium in the non-football months—“To make the stadium a more lively destination throughout the year,” is how Ingels put it on 60 Minutes—and I guess “weird fake beach” is as good an approach as any.
But while it’s tough to tell from a few still images of a translucent scale model, I wonder if as much attention has been paid to making the stadium a good destination for a football game.
For example, the model recalls the wave silhouette of RFK, but it misses an element that more directly contributed to RFK’s legendarily raucous environment. Where RFK’s upper deck overhung the lower bowl and the partial roof reflected the crowd noise toward the field, the open seating bowl in the model appears to rake back sharply from the turf, distancing the top deck spectators from the action and recreating one of FedEx Field’s most annoying flaws.
The Landover stadium has a bad reputation, primarily because it’s a too-big, character-free lump stuck out in a suburb near multiple failing malls, not readily accessible by public transportation. And that reputation is well-deserved. But the place is not without its charming seats.
Not on the upper deck, nor on the club level, at least not that I’ve encountered. But there are pockets of seats that create the atmosphere you want in a stadium. I’m thinking particularly of seats I sat in once, a decade ago, in the corner of the endzone in the lower bowl, under a short overhang, surrounded by a metal mesh safety rail that rattled and clattered as fans pounded on it. It was easily my best in-person FedEx experience, but it’s probably a bad sign that I look at a glowing white futureplex and think that what it really needs is more bits of rattling old metal.
It’s not just Ingels and the Washington NFL team, though. Everyone seems unsure of what makes a good NFL stadium these days, probably because the game is vastly superior when watched from the comfort of your own home. From that perspective, tailoring a stadium for tailgaters makes a lot of sense—the camaraderie of tailgating is just about the only bonus to the live experience.
In exchange for that, you give up consistent instant replays, protection from the elements, the reasonable assurance that you won’t have someone else leaping up in front of you or spilling their beer down your back, access to reliable wireless Internet for checking your fantasy scores, the ability to flip to other games during breaks, and the opportunity to watch the other games of the day in their entirety. Also, you mark up the cost of your food and drinks by about 600 percent and lose a few hours of your life sitting in traffic.
These, along with location, are the issues that a new stadium really needs to address. Becoming an appealing destination for offseason kayakers or surfers is great, but not if getting to the game, watching the game, and leaving the game is still a goat rodeo.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @matt_terl.