Last night, I went out with friends to my first hockey game, at Ingalls Rink no less, an Eero Saarinen creation more popularly known as the Yale Whale. (We won, 3-0, against Brown.) Hockey is an incredible sport—it reminds me a little of arena football (Go VooDoo! And yet—we hardly knew ye) except with fewer players and less control over—well, over anything, basically. “Between the skates and the padding, it’s really entertaining when they fight,” said the girl I was sitting next to. “Because it looks like a bunch of penguins fighting.”
I have had a long-standing fascination with stadia; they’re compelling for the same reason that R. Buckminster Fuller was obsessed with human use of space. Quoth Bucky: “Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.” Stadia stand at this weird juncture between information architecture and Lefebvrian representations of space, waiting, waiting, always waiting. The empty benches after the game, shown above, illustrate this—a stadium is a set of rules given physical form and awaiting use. Stadia are almost just shells, built to support very specific and short-lived spatial products.
And what would hockey be without a Zamboni ice-resurfacer? There’s a lot bound up in the idea of hockey ice-resurfacing: a physical refresh to a 15-minute world gone stale. We talk so often about the paths and traces we leave behind that it’s jarring, almost, to be confronted with a machine whose explicit purpose is to erase them. Fresh ice rests on the idea that there can be no history here, that every period is a new period. Jarring, but also liberating.
One of the strangest parts of the game was the aural environment. The laptop on the left is running a program called “Organ”; its job, unsurprisingly, was to synthesize organ music. Skeuomorph as sound effect? At one point, the audio team played the usual stadium stomp-stomp-clap, but the stands of the Whale are poured concrete, and the stomps and claps of the crowd resembled the audio clip in the same way real laughter resembles a laugh track. Authenticity, imitation, disconnect.
(The laptop directly in front of this guy controlled the signboard hanging over the rink. Seeing the man behind the curtain is a way of noticing seams, right?)
We talk in one of my classes, Globalization Space, about the rise of shared protocols—exchange of information and physical goods is so much easier when everyone agrees on common conventions. I saw shared protocols in the noises the crowd made when reacting, the disappointed “oh!”s and the elated applause. This deals less with how the crowd reacted, and more with what it did; less that the crowd knew collectively when to react, and more that it reacted uniformly and consistently. To what extent are crowd reactions a cultural product? How are they reinforced?
The Whale was also sporting a fine example of some DOT pictograms (Telephone, Bathroom, and No Smoking, in case you couldn’t guess; interestingly, the arrows are not drawn from the DOT pictograms). One of my professors is cousins with Jane Davis Doggett, a prolific airport wayfinding designer. We met with her last week and she did not have kind words for pictograms. Pictograms are labels, essentially, and while they may be legible, consistent labels, they are labels nonetheless. Her point was that wayfinding systems should go beyond labels, that wayfinding should be part of the very bones of the architecture, that the building should tell you where to go. To use pictograms is to admit the failings of your architecture. (For what it’s worth, she was talking about airports and not stadia.)
A parting shot: Why do the “exit” signs hug the curve of the Whale’s roof? Is this a literal interpretation of bureaucratic code, or a playful post-renovation choice?