Long before Peter Eisenman rose to worldwide prominence in the field of architecture, he was a sports enthusiast and New York Giants fan growing up in Newark, N.J.
His passions for architecture and football joined in 1997 when he was hired to design a multi-purpose stadium and convention center for the Arizona Cardinals. It took nine years, but he will finally see his work pay off Saturday when Cardinals Stadium opens its doors for the team’s preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The East Valley Tribune caught up with Eisenman earlier this month.
East Valley Tribune: Two of your current projects are a cultural center in Spain and a Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Why a football stadium?
Peter Eisenman: First of all I’m a big football fan. I’ve been a football fan since I was a kid. I go to 15 football games a year. I’ve had Giants season tickets since 1957. In fact, one of the reasons I think we were hired to do the project was when they called me in ’97 I told them that I had seen the last championship team play, the ’47 Cardinals. Not only had I seen them play, I named their starting backfield. So I’m a football junkie. I assume doing a stadium for a football junkie is like doing a cathedral for a Catholic.
EVT: What was the most challenging aspect of designing this stadium?
PE: First of all, I think one of the most challenging aspects was trying to find a site. We do what I would call site-specific work. That is, our buildings have a relationship to the site. When we were in the East Valley we were looking to do Native American imagery. When we moved to the West Valley we were doing agricultural imagery. Every time we moved the site, and we had seven different sites, we had to rethink the whole look of the stadium. That was really difficult.
Another thing is that designing a stadium is like designing a hospital. You have to have so many restrooms, you have to have so many points of sale, you have to have so many fire safety (features), escalators, exits, etc. All of that stuff, you have to get it in. The infrastructure, the electrical and mechanical. All of that is part of any project. Then the client says I only have this amount of money and the first thing that gets valueengineered out is not the air conditioning or the heating or the safety, it’s the design. The Bidwills were great, because they fought to keep the design in the project. I have to give them credit for that. So fighting to keep the design intact is one of the hardest things in any project.
EVT: In what ways did you incorporate the Arizona desert into the design?
PE: We wanted to have as much vertical glass as possible so that on every level of the concourse no matter where you were, you could either look through to the other side and out or look through these slots to the buttes. When you’re standing in the slots, you get panoramas of the buttes 360 degrees. That was really important to us to be able to see and to be able to have the light come in through the (translucent) roof. The Arizona light, the color and the texture was really important to us. That’s why we had the reflective skin. The whole idea of these vertical slots was the imagery of a barrel cactus. I was always interested in the formation of these cacti and the barrel cactus has a stadium-like shape. So when we changed from the Native American symbolism to the agricultural symbolism, we went from sort of a coiled snake of the Native sand paintings to the barrel cactus. That was a big shift.
EVT: The incorporation of the exterior views is reminiscent of a baseball stadium opening to mountains or a city skyline.
PE: To do that with an enclosed stadium is difficult. Baseball stadiums are always open to the city in the outfield. You can’t do that necessarily with a football stadium. We wanted to have one end totally glass and open, but it was impossible with the scoreboards and the other requirements we had. On the south end, with the two slots of glass which are bigger than any of the other slots, at one time that was all glass. And at one time that was also moveable glass so that the whole south end of the stadium and the roof opened so you had the sense of a really open stadium. That was our original intent.
EVT: How did the retractable roof and retractable field tray come about?
PE: From the first drawings we made we had a retractable field and a retractable roof. I could show you drawings from 1997 when it was called the Arizona Sports Complex with the Coyotes stadium and a hotel and various other things. We had the retractable roof and the retractable field then. But we didn’t engineer those. The ideas were ours, but the engineers engineered the roof and the engineers engineered the movement of the field.
EVT: So it was a matter of telling the engineers, “All right, we designed this now figure out how to make it work.”
PE: You got it. (chuckle)
EVT: Were there any unique challenges in building a multipurpose building as opposed to a football-only stadium?
PE: The whole thing is like a convention center. Once you roll the field out and put an electric grid on the floor and use the suites for breakout rooms, you have a convention center. They have over 170 events booked this year. The real success of this stadium is that it’s both a great football stadium and a terrific multipurpose facility. It’s going to be an economic engine not only for the Cardinals but also for Glendale. A lot of people are going to want to come out and be there just to be in the facility. It’s become almost a tourist attraction in the Valley. I mean people drive by it. There’s a buzz out there. The lay person gets the sense that there’s something going on there. The fact that the Cardinals sold out their stadium is partly due to renewed interest in the Cardinals and partly, I think, due to the design of the stadium. I mean, I’d like to think that.
EVT: Any chance you’ll be rooting for the Cardinals this year?
PE: I always root for the Cardinals. I’ve been rooting for the Cardinals for eight years and I’m not going to stop. They were really great to us. We’ve done a football stadium and as a football fan that’s very exciting.