Post by: Neil Waddle(Architect)
When the news of the $110 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington broke, I remember looking out of my architecture studio in Miller Hall on campus and being so excited that the current stadium would get a facelift. This kind of event really hits home for me, as I spent six years at the University of Kentucky getting my BA in Architecture and my Master of Architecture degrees. If you combine my studies with my extreme passion for UK athletics you have a perfect combination for me. Over the last couple of years I have followed the process intensely, and on Monday, the design details were released to the public. What is frustrating to me, as an aspiring architect, people tend to just complain about anything new that costs money. All I have seen on the internet and social media is people complaining about “tax dollars” etc, but guess what? I was a paying student for six years at UK and I absolutely love the idea of spending money on an updated football stadium. This article intends to give a unique onion of why I feel the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium was not only a necessity, but also succeeds in its goal of making the game-day experience better.
There is an old phrase in architecture history that is: Form follows Function. This phrase was originated in architecture by the famous Louis Sullivan around the 1890’s. It essentially means that any building design should be influenced by the specific program of the building being designed. This theory works perfect for a school or office building, but not really for a school’s football stadium. As practical and appropriate as the theory may be, a football stadium needs “form following function” and then some. The problem here? The current Commonwealth Stadium is designed as the “bones” of an unfinished project. It is literally a football stadium at its core, and that’s it. This is clearly depicted by the exposed steel, concrete, and lack of character. I remember the first time I saw Commonwealth Stadium I was taken aback at how little character it possessed, and to me, that took away from the experience and enthusiasm. A football stadium is more than a school, or office, it is not a place of work or production. A football stadium is a large structure to witness an entertainment event. A college football stadium also must include a crucial trait: passion. Each and every fan has a different love the school, and the stadium desperately needs to add to that passion. Instead of walking to a boring monolithic structure, UK needs a vibrant, well-planned structure that fans can all come together to cheer on the Cats. The clear direction of Commonwealth Stadium was to construct the “bones” and add the “skin” later, luckily that later is finally now.
What most people have expressed displeasure has been the announced reduction in seats from 67,000 to 61,000. What people do not realize is that the number of seats may shrink, but the quality of seat is exponentially increasing. Bigger is not always better. As I stated before, one of the things that Commonwealth Stadium lacks is a personality. When I go to games, there is nothing about the stadium I talk about after the game, nothing…I want to remember a certain space, or amenity, that I talk about and want to return to. These new amenities will attract fans for more than just the game, and at times, Kentucky football fans can need that. Now, with the new club seating, amenities, and loge areas, each fan can experience a different game. The current CWS has about 67,000 of the same seat, but that is soon to change.
Another great feature of the new Commonwealth Stadium is the branding and the new “skin” or façade. The limestone façade will hide the ugly exposed steel and create a more inviting experience. Once inside, the rebranding will have UK EVERYWHERE. The less concrete and steel, the better. Expect the UK logo, pictures, players, and fans at the largest scale depicted all over the place. This can only add the enthusiasm and passion of the fans. Kentucky fans will now be able to leave a game and consider Commonwealth Stadium their “home”; a home that includes everything UK. Once inside, the wider circulation paths and elevators will add an ease of getting around previously not had by CWS. Arriving and leaving the stadium can sometimes be stressful going shoulder to shoulder with everyone next to you. With the new circulation, people can move around CWS with much greater ease.
The other complaint I have heard is that all of these new seats will be much pricier than the current situation. This may be the case, but this will not stop the new Commonwealth from selling out. Any good sports arena or stadium includes the pricier seats, and CWS should also. Instead of going to all 8 home games, maybe a family saves up and gets tickets to one or two, but goes to the nicer seats and can really enjoy an event with inside seats and better food. At each level of sport, facilities are struggling to compete with the 70” flat screen TVs at home. People are realizing that it is easier to sit at home and watch the game in high-definition rather than go to the games and face the brutal weather. In order to compete, UK needed to add these suites and club levels to attract fans that normally would not attend the game. Lastly, these new pricier seats can offer other events to be held at the stadium, adding to revenue when the Cats are not on the field.
At the end of the day, I admit, I am partial to high design. I love anything new and shiny, but also with a purpose and function. I have obviously not seen the finished product, but I can assure Kentucky fans that the new Commonwealth Stadium will be something to be seriously proud of; something that other schools and fans will envy. Recruiting will improve with kids seeing the new direction of the program and new facilities (as well as enjoying the game overlooking the new student section screaming their names). This recruiting will enhance the competiveness of our program, which will turn into success on the field. The complaining of this project tends to come from people that just like to complain. Kentucky has needed a better football stadium for decades, and finally it is going to happen. I for one am ecstatic about this development and will make the drive to Lexington more and more to visit our new home. Kentucky football has its new coach, it is getting its new players, and now it can finally have a new home. This new home will impress all over the country and should be a precedent for any new stadium in the future.