Going on two years in the real world, I am no longer privy to every Viewpoint war and lecture series, but occasionally some news of Our Lady’s University achieves escape velocity and imposes itself upon the extended Notre Dame family.
The Campus Crossroads project is one such story.
The institutional impact of the project is being actively marketed as an intersection between football, academics, student life and campus infrastructure; as such, it finds interest with virtually everyone who has ever been associated with Notre Dame.
Consequently, there are two criteria by which to judge the success of this project: (1) the degree to which it unifies and strengthens these disparate disciplines under a single programmatic approach, and (2) the quality of the result in its relationship to the surrounding campus.
The alumni to whom I have spoken express a failure on the part the university to adequately articulate why, pedagogically speaking, putting sacred music in near proximity to football produces any particular benefit to sacred music, or to football. While the buzzword “interdisciplinary” is all the rage—and certainly merits some of the hype, as it concerns cooperation between different academic units of the university—the stadium connection seems tenuous at best.
There is a perception among us would-be donors that this is driven in part by the stark reality that it is easier to solicit donations for a stadium expansion than for an anthropology lab, and therefore the university is “piggybacking” underfunded initiatives on the massive fundraising engine that is Notre Dame football. There is nothing inherently wrong about that, but please don’t insult our intelligence by veiling it under platitudinous contrivances.
In addressing the project’s architectural manifestation, I am constrained by what information and renderings the university and its chosen architects have made public thus far. In terms of design, they are consonant with the recent work at the Purcell Pavilion and its jawab cousin, the Compton Family Ice Center, which I reviewed as a student in May of 2011. Much of what I said then remains applicable to the Campus Crossroads Project.
The stadium itself appears virtually unchanged in its essentials. Some cosmetic adjustments to concessions and restrooms appear to be the order of the day, along with the conversion of some bleachers in the upper section between the 40 yard lines to chairback seating. The primary focus is on the three new structures abutting the stadium on the west, south and east sides, and the permanent deactivation of Moose Krause Circle as a public thoroughfare. These buildings are explicitly styled after the original “House the Rockne Built,” still visible beneath the stadium concourse.
In a unique nod to the 1920s and 30s in which Notre Dame football achieved national prominence, the massing of the three pavilions is terraced back as if subject to the New York City planning laws that generated such landmarks as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. Arguably the most successful ensemble of buildings in 20th century urban planning, the NBC connection and the Rockne/30 Rock allusion probably didn’t hurt, either.
Alas, the comparison seems to end there. The 1930s bowl of the stadium was reputed for its half mile circumference; without permeability, each subsequent renovation only increases the distance to navigate around its hulking mass. It’s a stark contrast with Rockefeller Center, where public spaces of 5th Avenue and the interstitial plazas are more famous than the actual buildings.
At Notre Dame Stadium, the challenge, therefore, lies primarily in the resolution between these pavilions and the adjacent structures. The west building exemplifies this struggle to relate. The neighboring DeBartolo classroom building lacks the hierarchical discipline to feature a true façade, but the frontage along the present Moose Krause Circle is indisputably the rear, adorned with garage bays and air intake vents. The “fishbowl” computer lab could be made the centerpiece of a much-needed rebadging, except that access is restricted to a circuitous route from inside DeBart. In short, it is going to take significantly more than simply eliminating the road to make the proposed canyon between DeBart and the expanded Notre Dame Stadium an attractive pedestrian space.
Lastly, I wish to stress that, while the sheer expanse of this undertaking directs our attention to the footprint of the stadium, the proposed 9-story ascent of the trio constitutes the most significant alteration to Notre Dame’s skyline since the construction of Grace and Flanner Halls in 1969.
I remember coming back to campus one fall and going to an evening soccer game. Having been accustomed to Mount Nittany growing up, I forgot for a moment that I was in Indiana and found myself facing west toward the sunset, admiring the looming shadow of a familiar mountain in the distance. I thought “Oh, how nice, they built a mountain for us over the summer,” before I did a facepalm and realized I was looking at the double-domed silhouette of the Joyce Center.
As if haunted by Father Sorin’s admonition against “dreaming too small,” the administration now seems intent on building a bigger, better mountain. And so, someday soon, I will return to campus to discover that the undulating, Appalachian contour of the Joyce Center has been subsumed beneath the craggy heights of what I hereby dub “The Rockies.”
Matthew Balkey, B.Arch. ‘12, is an architectural associate at Mark P. Finlay Architects, AIA in Southport, CT. If you have a comment about this article, send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a cool $10 million to drop on a house, please direct your inquiry to MBalkey@markfinlay.com.