It would appear that chutzpah-powered architect Bjarke Ingels has really gone and done it this time.
In previous commissions, the comic book-worshipping Danish wunderkind and his eponymous firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) have breathed new life into the Manhattan skyline, turned zoos inside out and pulled quite the number on municipal waste incinerators.
Now, with the blessing of Washington Redskins owner Dan Synder, Ingels has unleashed a radical new vision of the NFL stadium. And it has a moat. Yes, a professional football stadium surrounded by a ditch-like defense design popular in medieval fortifications. A moat.
But given that this is Bjarke Ingels we’re dealing with, this isn’t any old moat. The stadium's signature water feature wouldn’t just be for show. It would be the show.
You see, as Ingels relayed to Morley Safer in a recent “60 Minutes" segment titled "Starchitect Bjarke Ingels' Billion Dollar Designs," he isn’t just interested in reinventing the American football stadium. Rather, he’s set out to reinvent the American football experience.
In doing so, he’s dreamt up a 60,000-seat open-air arena sporting a swooping, semi-transparent paraboloid shape and appeal that expends far beyond the bleachers at the 50-yard line.
"The stadium is designed as much for the tailgating, like the pre-game, as for the game itself,” Ingels explained to Safer. “Tailgating literally becomes a picnic in a park. It can actually make the stadium a more lively destination throughout the year without ruining the turf for the football game.”
Essentially, the tailgating envisioned by Ingels would take place in the aforementioned moat, which would both feature manmade sand beaches along with manmade waves for surfing. Kayakers can leisurely paddle around calmer sections of the moat, passing under a series of pedestrian bridges that traverse the moat. What's more, a path right along the channel’s edge provides the perfect spot for a zesty pre-game constitutional. You know, to walk off some of that nervous energy before the game. And as the renderings depict, Ingels also anticipates that the lost sport of rollerblading will make a comeback. Fancy that.
Severing as a surfer-friendly wave pool and kayaking spot in the warmer months, the moat surrounding BIG's first-ever stadium design would be transformed into an ice rink in winter. (Rendering: Bjarke Ingels Group)
Adjacent to the moat, ticket-holders would also be able to abseil off of the stadium's rainscreen facade.
Pedestrian bridges? Abseiling? Kayaking and surfing as a new form of tailgating?
Sounds like a recipe for disaster considering the obscene amount of alcohol traditionally involved with pre-gaming rituals. If anything, Ingels has reimagined the football stadium as a booze-drenched multi-purpose recreation complex. Or Venice Beach Boardwalk circa 1993. All that's missing are the mystics and muscleheads.
And since I've evoked Venice Beach, it’s worth emphasizing that the Redskins aren't going anywhere — BIG's magical moated stadium isn't planned for Southern California or Florida. It's for a specific site in Washington, D.C., adjacent to the Anacostia River where the crumbling R.F.K Stadium, the team's home from 1961 through 1996, still stands. Since 1997, the Redskins’ hard-to-get-to home has been FedExField in Andover, Maryland. Needless to say, Snyder is itching to move the team back to D.C. proper.
Encased in a luminous gold chain-link mesh facade, the open-air stadium would be surrounded by park-like grounds which would host concerts and other large-scale events. (Rendering: Bjarke Ingels Group)
It’s also worth mentioning that the regular season for the NFL runs from early September through late December/early January. The average December high in D.C. is 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Not exactly primo weather for surfing in an urban wave pool, let alone guzzling a pre-game mojito on an artificial beach.
But as Ingels states, outdoor recreation opportunities at the stadium would extend well beyond the regular football season. And from BIG's renderings, it appears that the moat would transform from a white sand oasis to a winter wonderland during the chilly months complete with ice skating and hockey on the frozen-over moat. All that’s missing is an artificial ski slope off the undulating roofline.
While BIG’s proposal is truly like nothing we’ve seen before, it is worth mentioning that there are indeed other kayak-friendly stadia including AT&T Park in San Francisco and a venue that I spent a good amount of time at as a kid-accompanying-his-dad, Husky Stadium in Seattle.
In addition to 60,000 seats, the curvaceous D.C. stadium would include a museum and training facilities. Other stateside BIG commissions include Google HQ in Mountain View and a pyramidal high-rise in NYC. (Rendering: Bjarke Ingels Group)
This all said, NFL fans are a group certainly not lacking in strong opinions. So what’s the general consensus over Ingel’s latest head-turner?
Eh, not so great.
Writing for Co.Design, Diana Budds brings up a valid point: is Ingels, “notorious showman and very-gifted self-promoter" that he is, just trolling now? From the mostly incredulous reactions to the new stadium, it does kind of appear that way:
Some fans wondered if BIG's renderings were an early April Fool's joke. Others were more complimentary but with reservations. And leave it to veteran Washington sportswriter Rick Snider to truly take the design to task:
The supposed new Washington Redskins stadium is surrounded by water with limited walkways, high walls and a pricey look that will prevent many middle-class fans from entering. The Tower of London looked more inviting. It had a moat, too.
The eye went first to the surrounding moat. You’re thinking that can’t be right. A moat? This place will be known as 'The Moat' no matter whose name is on the stadium.
Then you noticed only a handful of walkways. A few drunken fans could surely be pushed over the side to awaiting alligators. Cowboys fans beware and walk in the middle. Seriously, ditching the moat is the first design change.
The towering walls are remindful of 'The Big Sombrero' that once housed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Note to architect — nobody liked that stadium. They blew it up for a new place with a pirate ship in the end zone.
So back to the drawing board on this one then?
"We have sought to distill the essence of the game-day experience before, during and after the game, creating a more compact, efficient and intimate stadium as opposed to the colossal facilities of the past." (Rendering: Bjarke Ingels Group)
It’s likely. But like anything Ingels and his firm touches, you can’t help but admire the idealistic, envelope-pushing spectacle at hand. It may not work in D.C. (Dubai, perhaps?) but it’s still pretty marvelous. I mean c'mon, a wave pool-cum-moat at a football stadium?
It's also a smarter breed of stadium as Ingels explained to the Washington Post earlier this year while taking some deserved heat for agreeing to take on a contentious NFL-related project helmed by a not-so-beloved team owner:
Does the typical NFL stadium have room for improvement? Yes most certainly. Is it waste of resources to have giant facilities that are only active 10 times a year. Obviously. Therefore we have worked with our team to imagine a facility that can be active both inside and outside all year and all week — not just on a game day. Also we have sought to distill the stadium experience — before, during and after the game — to its essential ingredients — to provide the greatest intimacy for the players and fans, and in doing so to create a more compact and efficient stadium as opposed to the colossal facilities of the past.
Moat or not, Snyder must address the hot-button name issue before any sort of relocation or new stadium building commences. The team's lease at FedExField, by the way, doesn't expire until 2027.
Last year, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made it explicit that Snyder was forbidden from moving the team back to Washington and constructing a new facility on National Park Service-owned land (specifically on the footprint of demolition-bound R.F.K. Stadium) unless he changed the franchise moniker to one’s that’s less inflammatory and culturally insensitive.
Citing "heritage," Snyder, who has owned the Redskins since 1999, has remained adamant that he'll never change the 84-year-old team's name, telling USA Today in 2013: "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER — you can use all caps." Despite Snyder's immense unpopularity around town, polls largely show that fans also oppose a name change.
Is Snyder's involvement with Ingels, an architect in the habit of tackling ambitious yet socially progressive projects, a signal that a name change is finally in the works? Perhaps not but it would be nice to think that the involvement of a 41-year-old Copenhagen native reared on LEGO would finally help put the Redskins, in name only, to rest.