Palmer Stadium’s Demise

Chan-li Lin, Seat Design

Modernist Style and Rafael Vinoly

Postmodern vs Modern

Early Critic Mollified: Eric Jones

Cosmo Iacavazzi, Class of ’64

Meet the Architect

Winning Games, Filling Seats

Corrections or additions?

This article by Christopher Mario was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on September 16, 1998. All rights reserved.

A Great Stage, But the Plays Are the Thing

by Christopher Mario

On October 24, 1914, a New Jersey zinc mogul named

Edgar Palmer, Princeton University class of 1903, handed his alma

mater the keys to a brand-new 45,725-seat concrete football stadium

named in honor of his late father, Stephen. Constructed in just four

months and paid for in its entirety with $300,000 of his own money,

Palmer’s stadium would witness 461 football games and slightly more

than 82 years of Princeton history before falling victim to time,

weather, and finally the wrecking ball in March and April of 1997.

This Saturday, September 19, a new chapter in Princeton football


will begin when the Tigers meet Cornell for the inaugural game at

Palmer Stadium’s as-yet-unnamed replacement. Although no modern-day

Edgar Palmer has yet to pony up the $25 million the university is

seeking as a naming gift, the new state-of-the-art stadium was built

on schedule — 18 months — and pretty much within budget —

$45 million, more than $20 million of which has already been raised.

A projected sell-out crowd of nearly 30,000 students and alumni,


and friends will attend the inaugural game, and amid a sea of orange

and black they will help the university begin a new era as Edgar


stadium begins its long slow slide into historical obscurity.

For a university obsessed with its history, an institution that thinks

not in years but in centuries, a school whose famously loyal alumni

reverently don their wacky class jackets and get misty-eyed singing

"Old Nassau" at the annual P-Rade each June, surprisingly

few tears have been shed over Palmer Stadium’s passing. People have

talked of their memories of great games, of Jesse Owens’s


long jump in 1936, of the infamous "Twelfth Man" showdown

against Dartmouth a year earlier, when a cook for a Princeton diner

sneaked onto the field during a blizzard and joined the Dartmouth

line for one play before the cops threw him out.

But the building itself? University president Harold Shapiro may have

summed up the feelings of many alumni in his no-tears farewell to

the stadium in the program for Palmer’s last game on November 23,

1996: "I am sad to see it go, but it has served us exceedingly


Top Of Page
Palmer Stadium’s Demise

Built to a design that overreached the capabilities

of concrete construction technology circa 1914 and plagued by


problems as early as 1925, Palmer Stadium was for most of its life

little more than a squat and brooding pile of crumbling cement,


by corrosive elements that seeped in through cracks and attacked the

steel reinforcing bars. (In response to an inquiry about why Palmer

Stadium lasted only 82 years while concrete structures built by the

ancient Romans still stand, Princeton civil engineering professor

George Scherer wrote in the Princeton Alumni Weekly that while modern

reinforced concrete offers "enormous freedom" in design, the

lesson of Palmer Stadium is that this material is not


In its last decrepit days Palmer Stadium even suffered the ignominy

of having giant nets draped from the undersides of its stands to keep

falling chunks of concrete from landing on fans’ heads. Throughout

its history, Palmer was a backdrop for fond memories, certainly, but

not really the kind of building people could cozy up to and love.

Which perhaps begins to explain its replacement. A stark and


monument to architectural modernism designed by a fashionable New

York architect from South America who had never seen even one football

game when he won the commission, this new stadium, like Palmer, is

unlikely to make even the most die-hard Princeton fan feel even


warm and fuzzy.

Yet despite early concerns and complaints from alumni and others about

the university’s choice of architect and his aggressively modernist

approach, nearly everyone now seems to agree that the new stadium

is just the thing, the logical successor to Palmer. Maybe that’s


at Princeton, an institution that thinks in centuries, people realize

that what’s important about a stadium is not the stadium itself, but

what happens inside it. Buildings come and buildings go, but Princeton

history marches on.

If Palmer Stadium was a stage upon which Princeton football history

was played, Palmer’s replacement is a machine, a carefully engineered

and strictly utilitarian building meant to perform its function and

then get out of the way.

Composed almost entirely of precast concrete and prefabricated steel,

it sits in the same location and along the same axis as Palmer


A tall, unornamented, horseshoe-shaped structure of textured


concrete defines the exterior, with the stands dropped into the


like a gift inside a box with curved ends. Although slightly larger

than Palmer, the new stadium actually seats about a third fewer


a total of just under 28,000, including a few hundred in the closed

end of the horseshoe below the scoreboard, where front-row seats are

just 17 feet from the end-line (just two feet more than the minimum

distance required by NCAA rules).

Because it’s approximately the same overall size of Palmer but has

significantly fewer seats, the new stadium affords lots of space for

all the things Palmer lacked. Like enough restrooms. But also


concession areas at ground and mezzanine levels all around the stadium

behind and under the grandstands; huge fully equipped locker rooms

for home and visiting teams; spacious ticket offices and capacious

entrance gates; and full handicapped accessibility including elevators

and spaces for literally hundreds of wheelchairs on a mezzanine


the upper and lower stadium decks with unobstructed views of the


At ground level, in the space between the base of the concrete


structure and the backside of the precast concrete stands, there’s

a wide asphalt-paved avenue called the concourse. In addition to


access — not only to the concession areas and other amenities

contained in the horseshoe structure, but also to the gates that lead

to the stands — this concourse is envisioned as a multi-purpose

space that will be used not only during the football, soccer, and

lacrosse games that will be played at the stadium, but all year


Augmented by larger open-air plazas at the curved ends of the stadium,

where the architects left large pie-shaped gaps in the stands to


limited view corner seating, the concourse will be open continuously

and will be available for a variety of formal and informal social


The concourse is criss-crossed by white-painted metal bridges flying

over the pavement and leading from the horseshoe structure to the

upper deck of the stands. Suspended from the metal beams that hold

up the concrete stands, which are punctuated by rectangular holes

that let natural light filter onto the concourse, the bridges and

the rest of the metal structural elements create an atmosphere more

sci-fi than sports. The concourse gives the impression of a super

high-tech factory, or maybe a really big Enterprise, a far cry from

the dark and dank colonnade that surrounded Palmer Stadium.

Around the top of the horseshoe structure, a single continuous room

runs from one end of the horseshoe to the other with a ribbon of large

windows that provide a panoramic view of the stadium and the field.

Much of this giant room will be left unfinished for future use, but

a number of areas are just being completed, including a President’s

Lounge for private receptions and a huge collection of high-tech press

boxes that are nothing short of luxurious.

Top Of Page
Chan-li Lin, Seat Design

All very nice. But what the near-capacity crowd expected

for the stadium’s first game on September 19 will find most pleasing

is the superb view of the field from practically every seat in the

stadium (fans in the very bottom row may complain that they can’t

see over the players on the sideline, but that was also the case at

Palmer Stadium). And for the vast majority of great seats the fans

can thank a man named Chan-li Lin.

A graduate of MIT who grew up in Clinton, New Jersey, Lin has spent

the last three years of his working life laboring exclusively on the

plans and the construction of Princeton’s new stadium as project


for Rafael Vinoly Architects.

"My boss, Rafael, gives direction to the design, and I basically

draw the plans and focus on the details," Lin explains of his

role. Although not a football fan himself, Lin spent a lot of time

at a lot of football games to prepare for the Princeton job, visiting

every Ivy League stadium and a number of larger stadiums as well.

Based on what he learned, Lin developed a seating plan for the stadium

that will give fans a view of the action on the field unparalleled,

he believes, in any similar stadium.

"People say that the bowl is the best configuration for football,

so we tried to make the tightest bowl around the field possible,"

Lin says, a job made easier when the university decided to create

a dedicated track and field venue outside the new stadium, between

it and Jadwin Gym, rather than inside the stadium around the field,

as was the case at Palmer. "And we didn’t want a lot of seats

in the corners, which place the spectators farther away from the


so we eliminated them."

Lin’s visits to the other Ivy League stadiums provided little help

beyond the idea of the bowl, however. "There was not much we could

learn in terms of technical aspects or esthetics. These places are

pretty old," Lin says of the major Ivy stadiums: Harvard Stadium,

the Yale Bowl, and Penn’s Franklin Field.

"At Harvard, they’re using precast concrete seats to update and

replace the originals, and from that we learned that precast was a

cost-effective alternative," Lin continues. "The Yale Bowl

is in a way spectacular, very monolithic and carved into the ground,

but even though we adopted the bowl design, we wanted something more

airy and open. And Franklin Field has the colonnade around the


which we transformed into a bigger and more generous concourse. But

for the most part many stadiums tend to look gloomy and heavy, which

is why we decided to use concrete elements with a steel skeletal


to give a sense of lightness."

Nor did Lin and his boss Rafael Vinoly look to Princeton’s campus

for inspiration.

"There was a desire on the part of the university to somehow


the old stadium, and therefore we used the horseshoe shape and also

included some relics from the old stadium," including the concrete

"Palmer Memorial Stadium" sign that stood between Palmer’s

towers over the main gate and now sits inside the new stadium on the

concourse. "And as far as the surrounding buildings, we made the

color of the precast concrete in such a way that it doesn’t clash

with the colors of adjacent buildings," referring specifically

to Fine Tower on Washington Road, just to the west of the stadium.

"To that extent we did try to relate to the campus. But not


Definitely not stylistically. Here’s why: Lin and his boss Rafael

Vinoly are modernists.

Top Of Page
Modernist Style and Rafael Vinoly

Developed in the 1920s and ’30s by Mies van der Rohe,

Walter Gropius, and a French architect who called himself Le


among others, modernist architecture rejected historical allusions

in buildings, stripping away ornament and decoration and instead


the structural components of buildings themselves.

As Lin explains it, modernist architects "try to make a building

design not fussy or related specifically to any building style or

era." At Princeton’s new stadium, that approach resulted in a

building that tries, in Lin’s words, "to give a straightforward

response to a given program without decorating too much."

Bloodied but unbowed by the post-modern movement — which reacted

against the perceived sterility of modernist buildings beginning in

the 1960s and continues to this day in the works of Robert Venturi,

whose Wu Hall on the Princeton campus has become a post-modern


and Princeton’s own Michael Graves — modernism has made a comeback

in recent years. And one of the strongest proponents of resurgent

modernism today is none other than Rafael Vinoly.

A native of Uruguay who did much of his early work in Argentina,


(pronounced Vin-yoly), 53, was virtually unknown in the U.S. until

he won a competition to design a $1.6 billion performing arts and

convention center in Tokyo a few years ago, according to a story about

the architect in the Wall Street Journal. Since then, Vinoly has


hot stuff in the architecture world, winning major commissions all

across the country, including the new Regional Arts Center soon to

be built in Philadelphia. No less a personage than Herbert Muschamp,

architectural critic of the New York Times and a well-known proponent

of modernism, has declared Vinoly "the most elegant architect

now practicing in the United States."

Not everybody agrees, of course. And while Vinoly’s new-found


stardom provides vindication — if any is needed — for the

Princeton trustees’ decision to entrust their $45 million stadium

project to a man who not only had never before designed a stadium,

but hadn’t been to a single football game in his life, some people

will inevitably remain unimpressed by Vinoly’s handiwork when they

see it at Princeton. (And some are sure to be less impressed when

they discover that the $45 million compares to $30 million as the

going price for a college football stadium of this size.)

"Can the June 10 cover photograph possibly convey what the new

stadium looks like? I pray it does not," a 1982 Princeton alumnus

wrote to the Princeton Alumni Weekly recently. "Princeton’s new

stadium appears from your photograph to be the most forbidding and

uninspiring piece of public architecture in existence outside a


Communist country."

Extreme words, but not terribly surprising ones given the style of

the new stadium. According to an architect with a nationally known

firm who spoke on condition of anonymity (with over $200 million in

construction projects under way right now, Princeton University is

one potential client that no big firm can risk annoying), Princeton’s

new stadium represents an extreme position in an ongoing debate in

the architectural world over what stadiums ought to look like.

"There are two different movements in stadium design right


this architect says. "One is a quasi-historical, classical style

made of brick. The other is modernism."

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the wildly popular baseball stadium in

Baltimore, was the original and remains the most famous of the first

kind of new stadium. Designed by HOK (Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum,

which nearly 30 years ago designed the Squibb headquarters on Route

206 in Lawrenceville), Camden Yards’ famously intimate setting and

unobstructed views depend on some very advanced technology. But unlike

a modernist stadium, Camden Yards hides its technology behind


bricks and friendly arches, and tops it all off with whimsical touches

like the twirling birds atop the old-style scoreboard — which

nevertheless incorporates a very new-style giant video screen.

Princeton’s modernist stadium, on the other hand, "says here’s

the structure, look at it," our architect explains. "The


movement does away with old details, with trim, with decoration. It

says that the beauty of a structure is the structure itself, and that

it shouldn’t be hidden. It says that buildings are a series of systems

that fit together, and a good architect will express those systems

and let you see them."

Top Of Page
Postmodern vs Modern

Not so many years ago, the modernist view was architectural orthodoxy.

But with the success of the post-modern movement, this view has become

controversial. It’s fine to show off a building’s structure,


critics say, but what’s the point if only other architects get it?

"Modernist buildings tend to be very abstract," our architect

says. "But the problem is, the average person doesn’t pick up

on the parts that have been abstracted. They just see a big glass


There are three major criticisms of modernist buildings: they don’t

have a sense of place, they don’t relate to their surroundings, and

they don’t provide even the most rudimentary cues to help people do

some pretty simple things, like find the front door. Each of these

criticisms can be directed at the new Princeton stadium, our architect


"This stadium could have dropped out of the back of an airplane

and could have landed anywhere on any campus in the country and it

would still be the same. Nothing about it says Princeton," our

architect says. "It could be argued that this stadium doesn’t

take advantage of its site and its campus, which has the best


gothic architecture on earth. But Princeton is not afraid to hire

architects who want to make statements. And the statement here is,

this is a new stadium."

But even if you’re not a fan of modernism, as our architect most


is not, you can still appreciate the new Princeton stadium and respect

its ingenuity if you know what to look for and what its architect

had in mind.

"Vinoly wants you to see that this particular building is a kit

of parts," our architect says. "He’s more interested in


than history. He wants to express the parts, the pieces, and let you

see them, and let you see how they all fit together. And if you look

very closely and study it for a while, you’ll begin to understand

what it’s all about."

Given its modernist esthetic, the new Princeton stadium will


strike some as forbidding, monolithic, even a bit puzzling. Yet


the complaints of alumni like the one who wrote the letter mentioned

above, it’s hard to find anyone who’s not tickled absolutely pink

by how things have turned out — including those who were early

critics of the stadium plan.

Top Of Page
Early Critic Mollified: Eric Jones

"By and large it has worked out very well. It’s a terrific


says one such early critic, Eric Jones ’54, an investment manager

in Rochester, New York.

In April, 1997, Jones wrote to the Princeton Alumni Weekly that "a

costly fiasco appears to be brewing with the plans for the new


and called for increased involvement of alumni in the stadium’s


Jones got his wish. The Stadium Advisory Committee, a group of alumni,

staff, and faculty that included such Princeton football legends as

Stas Maliszewski ’66, Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65, and Dick Kazmaier ’52,

played a central role in the new stadium’s planning.

"We were supposed to give alumni input. We gave a lot," says

Maliszewski, a pension fund manager in Chicago who is also president

of the Princeton Football Association, a group of alumni that supports

the Princeton football program. "Taking the track out and putting

it in a separate facility and making the size of the stadium about

30,000 seats were the two primary recommendations."

Maliszewski and his group worked closely with the architects and


staff, and with the stadium nearly complete, nobody has any


he reports.

"We worked on every aspect of this thing, and we’ve seen it from

the ground up," Maliszewski says. "And as one who has been

there, I can tell you that if you ask any athlete, I don’t care if

they’re playing tiddly winks, what kind of arena they’d like to play

in, they’d tell you they would like one where the crowd completely

surrounds the playing area. And I think we’ve accomplished that."

Top Of Page
Cosmo Iacavazzi, Class of ’64

Cosmo Iacavazzi, captain of the undefeated 1964 Princeton team, agrees

with Maliszewski’s assessment. "We alums are very pleased with

the results," says Iacavazzi, an energy efficiency management

consultant who lives in Princeton. "The stadium is absolutely

gorgeous. Very striking. First class. And very appropriate for


the grandeur of it all, the first-class approach in design and


and the total package."

Although the architect had already been chosen and much early concept

work was already complete when the Stadium Advisory Committee made

its recommendations, the committee saw all of its core recommendations

adopted in the final plans, Iacavazzi says.

"We wanted a modern, up-to-date stadium that offered some


with the past, something that had a connection with Palmer Stadium,

but could stand on its own," Iacavazzi says. "And we wanted

a sense of intimacy between the fans and the players. It was a good

collaborative effort."

Much of the credit for the success of the collaboration goes to Rafael

Vinoly himself, Iacavazzi believes.

"He was part of the committee, and responded to the alumni and

the committee’s concerns," Iacavazzi reports. "And I must

say he did an outstanding job. Not only in terms of the finished


but also in the communication of the project step by step."

Of course there were disagreements and controversies. That’s


in a project of this size involving so many people and interests,

Iacavazzi says.

"As far as I’m concerned, the end product speaks for itself,"

says Iacavazzi. "You always get some controversy up front, but

performance makes it all go away," Or as some sportswriter will

certainly say, it’s not where you play the game that counts, it’s

whether you win or lose.

Top Of Page
Meet the Architect

Architect Rafael Vinoly, the man who designed the new

Princeton Stadium, will offer "The Architect’s Perspective"

on Saturday, September 19, at 10 a.m. in McCosh 10 on the Princeton

University campus. This discussion is free and open to the public.

The actual dedication of the stadium occurs on the field at 1 p.m.,

followed by the kickoff at 1:15.

Vinoly has detailed drawings and accompanying discussion of the


at his website: http//

Top Of Page
Winning Games, Filling Seats

At many of the football games played at Palmer Stadium

in its last years, upwards of 40,000 of the stadium’s nearly 46,000

seats were empty. Average home-game attendance was a paltry 12,000.

The university hopes its new football venue will help make those kinds

of attendance figures a distant memory.

Spurred no doubt by a rock-bottom $5 ticket price for the inaugural

season, 6,500 people had bought season tickets for 1998 by early


the best showing in recent memory.

Thanks to its great sightlines, the new stadium virtually guarantees

each and every one of those 6,500 season ticket holders a great view

of the action. But can a new stadium also guarantee a great game?

Probably not, says Princeton head coach Steve Tosches. But it


can’t hurt. "We spent all last year on the road and got off to

a great start, 4-1," Tosches says. "But then we lost some

ball games and we started feeling maybe all the roadtrips were wearing

on us. Sure you want home games, but when all is said and done, a

home stadium doesn’t mean automatic victory. You still have to do

the things a good team needs to do."

It’s not the stadium, it’s what happens on the field. Yet Tosches

believes that the new stadium will have two positive effects on the

team this year and into the future: first by boosting morale, and

second by increasing fan involvement in the game.

"It’s a beautiful facility," says Tosches, now in his 12th

year as Princeton head coach. "The intimacy, the closeness, how

near the fans are going to be to the field. The noise level will be

incredible. It’s just the perfect modern stadium suited for the Ivy

League games. And the best thing is, because of its size, even when

half-full it’s going to seem like a big game."

And for the 1998 team, there will be an added benefit: the knowledge

that this team will be the first to inscribe its record on a new page

of Princeton history.

"We’re very excited about the opportunity to get in there,"

Tosches says. "From the close of the ’96 season through the


and construction and being on the road, we’ve kind of paid our dues.

Now it’s finally time. We’re anxious and honored to be the first group

that will play there. This university is steeped in history and


and here’s the facility that’s going to stand for the next 100


After the stadium inaugural on September 19, there will be four more

home games this season, all at 1 o’clock. On October 10, the Tigers

meet Brown; on October 24, Harvard; on November 7, Penn; and the


ends November 21 against Dartmouth. For tickets call 609-258-3538.

Corrections or additions?

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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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