Yankees Go Home
C&G Partners provides context in another kind of American monument: the baseball cathedral.
Baseball is only a game?
Not to devotees of the New York Yankees. The renowned team’s 106 years contain whole sweeps of history. Its roster has boasted Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and too many more legends to list. In 1977, the Yankees’ World Series win lifted the spirits of New Yorkers buffeted by the city’s financial crisis, the Son of Sam murders, and a blackout that resulted in the burning of the Bronx. (This year’s World Series win was another well-timed morale booster.) And even the club’s ballparks are historic. In 1921, Yankee co-owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Huston announced the construction of baseball's first triple-decker grandstand. On Opening Day in 1923, more than 74,000 people crowded the new structure.
The newest Yankee Stadium pays homage to the team’s venerable past as well as its 1923 home. Designed by Populous—formerly HOK Sport, known for its historically inspired stadiums since Camden Yards in 1992—the new stadium largely recreates the dimensions and exterior of the 1923 building (marred by renovation in the mid-1970s), but fashions the interior to the demands of the contemporary spectator and player.
"We consider this whole building to be a museum," Yankees Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost told USA Today, "…a living museum not just to the Yankees but baseball in general."
The New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff declared, “Yankee Stadium is the kind of stoic, self-conscious monument to history that befits the most successful franchise in American sports.”
Environmental graphics: “spirit of the past”
C&G Partners (New York) was charged with the stadium’s wayfinding, environmental graphics, and exhibit design program, and its work needed to be equally respectful of the Yankee heritage and brand. That respect started at the stadium façade and worked its way through the structure, from adaptation of the original stadium typeface on the limestone exterior to fan favorites such as banners, exhibits, and signage that honor legendary players.
“There were some solid ideas that would intuitively come to mind at the onset of a project like this, and they were realized faithfully in the end,” says C&G Partners Principal Keith Helmetag, whose team worked with Populous as well as owner’s representative Tishman Speyer and the Yankees themselves on the project.
Another “good fit” for the Yankees commission, Helmetag says, “was to keep the depiction of their brands, and without a lot of adornment or design pyrotechnics.”
But respect didn’t mean the C&G Partners team couldn’t do some tweaking. Such was the case when C&G decided to render the stadium’s primary identity using the original 1923 typeface. Helmetag’s crew designed channel letters mounted above the stadium and carved letters inscribed into its limestone elevation.
“It’s not a verbatim representation,” Helmetag clarifies, “because there wasn’t great documentation, and there were probably different iterations of typography over time. But it tries to take the spirit of the 1923 type and refine it so it can move forward.”
Using available photographic evidence and archival blueprints, Helmetag’s team determined that the 1923 letters were neither perfect nor so inconsistently rendered by hand that they were endearing. C&G used a custom serif typeface whose tall, narrow forms express the urban condition of the stadium and its predecessor. While silver leafing the carved letters would have been consistent with the team’s color palette and the extensive use of stainless steel and anodized aluminum throughout the stadium, Helmetag says gold leafing was ultimately chosen.
“There were questions of legibility, and ultimately gold leafing was appropriate to the monumentality of the facade.” The letters were carved at the limestone quarry and those panels were positioned on site.
C&G used the same modified 1923 typeface for the LED-illuminated channel letters that crown the new building, standing 12.5-ft. tall above the Gate 4 entry. “The beauty of those letters is that all the structure is internal,” Helmetag says. “There are no gantries and the finish level is relatively high for a letter that’s seen from an extraordinary distance.”
C&G also resurrected the original eagle medallions that had been stripped from the 1923 facade. In addition to photographic evidence, C&G found an architectural line drawing of the original, which it used as a springboard for fine-tuning the medallions—simplifying the borders, making the eagle more pronounced, verifying the historical accuracy of the athletic equipment it depicted, and readying the design for casting in both limestone and bronze by Jan Spoerri & Company and the Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry. Today the pair of limestone castings flanks the gold-leafed inscription on the façade, and the bronze medallion is inside, a popular centerpiece for fan photos.
Placemaking: continuing the legacy
In another example of extrapolating and refining old graphic elements into new ones, C&G branded the bullpens and dugouts with the 59-year-old New York Yankees script logo, and extended the woodmark to proclaim, “Welcome to Yankee Stadium.”
Inside the stadium, the EGD program continues its nods to legacy. Another of the project’s “original ideas” was to install banners along the stadium’s Great Hall to celebrate legendary players. The C&G team designed a series of 11 40-ft.-tall banners that picture current players on one side and historic legends on the reverse. “The idea was the Dream Team, then and now,” says Amy Siegel, C&G associate partner and lead sign designer on the project. Mounted perpendicular to the walls, the banners were sized and shaped to precisely match the Great Hall’s elongated windows with their curved tops.
Other placemaking graphics include retired jersey numbers superimposed on pinstripes and reproduced on wall-mounted porcelain enamel circles in fan circulation areas. The same jersey letterforms are rendered in acrylic and internally illuminated at the entrances to private suites. And the familiar interlocking NY logotype (originally created in 1877 by Tiffany & Co. and adopted by the Yankees in 1909), punctuates banners, signage, and stadium seating.
In addition to applying vintage motifs and creating sleek counterpoints to them, C&G’s most memorable work at Yankee Stadium may be what Helmetag calls the giant “experience graphics” that meld past and present—applying current display technologies to the team’s extensive image archives. Just inside Gate 2, a pair of 20- by 10-ft. trilons rotate photography vertically on opposite ends of this business entrance. At Gate 6, on the upper level, five rollers cycle larger-than-life images of baseball cards, and the lobby of Gate 8 is distinguished by a series of flip discs displaying Yogi Berra’s most famous screwball quotes, while one of the concourse hallways show MVPs in silhouette and in full glory using lenticulars.
Wayfinding: getting the job done
Wayfinding graphics were the utility batter of the EGD program, abandoning the historical references in favor of sheer functionality.
“We wanted the wayfinding elements to be relatively reserved and they needed to present the information clearly and succinctly,” Helmetag says. “It was an effort of reductionism rather than embellishment.”
The signs are hydro-cut stainless steel and powdercoated aluminum in the Yankees palette of blue, gray, and white, with die-cut vinyl lettering in Univers Bold Condensed.
The challenge, says Steven Finley, project manager for signage fabricator Architectural Graphics Incorporated (Virginia Beach), was engineering the signs to accommodate field conditions and load criteria.
“As a finish trade contractor, we install our product in the latter stages of construction and have to take typical construction variables into account,” says Finley. Finley’s past stadium projects featured overhead signs above concourses, whereas the Yankees job “was cantilevered as well as spanning significant distances across gate/concourse intersections. The challenge was determining the structural components in the mounting of the assembly.” Hesitant to drill through the thick flanges of vertical steel columns, AGI field-welded mounting plates along the concourses to accept the fabricated-aluminum signage.
Museum exhibits: wrapping up the perfect game
A heritage like that of the Yankees deserves not only a cathedral, but a museum as well. So the new stadium includes a 5,000-sq.-ft. museum space whose centerpiece is an installation depicting one of the franchise’s Great Moments: Don Larsen’s perfect game pitched against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
The installation includes statues of Larsen and Yogi Berra created by Studio EIS (Brooklyn) based on meticulous research of photographic evidence, interviews, eBay discoveries, recorded dimensions, and live models. The portraits were fabricated in aluminum-embedded fiberglass resin with underlying steel armature, says Studio EIS president Elliot Schwartz. Between the two players, a collection of more than 1,000 baseballs signed by Yankee alumni are displayed in casework mimicking the trajectory of the final pitch.
Larsen’s perfect game also perfectly captures C&G’s ambition for the project: to guide and teach Yankees fans about their team and its new cathedral in a way that draws on a wealth of historical material, innovative display techniques, and a strong emotional connection.
By David Sokol, segdDESIGN No. 27, 2009
Editor's note: David Sokol is a contributing editor for Architectural Record, Greensource, and Surface magazines, and the author of The Modern Architecture Pop-Up Book (Universe, 2008).
Location: Bronx, N.Y.
Owner Representative: Tishman Speyer
General Contractor: Turner Construction
Wayfinding, Environmental Graphics, and Exhibit Design: C&G Partners
Design Team: Keith Helmetag (partner in charge, exhibit planner); Amy Siegel (associate partner, lead sign designer); Craig Gephart (senior designer, content developer); Mika Owens (senior sign planner); Thomas McMahon, Cigdem Tanik, Rob Jarocki, Daniel Fouad, Bob Callahan (sign and exhibit architects); Jonathan Alger, Steff Geissbuhler, Emanuela Frigerio (partner input); Selina Hunt, Brandon Downing (designers)
Collaborators: Architectural Graphics Incorporated (lead signage fabricator), Alex Reardon (map designer), Capital Signs (sign fabrication advisor), Design Communications Ltd. (sign fabrication advisor), Dimensional Communications (museum casework fabricator), Exhibitology (museum display fabricator), Jan Spoerri & Co. (medallion artists), RBH Media (interactive programming), Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry (medallion bronze casting), Signs + Decal Corp. (food service signs), Spectrum Signs (architectural graphic mural fabricator), Studio EIS (statues)