Spatial indeterminacy writ large
Above is the new Birmingham Crossplex (an ostensibly temporary name until corporate name rights are purchased), a large sports facility housing swimming and track facilities at the Fair Park site in Five Points West, in Birmingham’s West End. This picture is taken from Bessemer Road looking southeast across a vast stretch of open land and surface parking; the new structure itself rises towards the middle of the property. Davis Architects of Birmingham did the design.
The core amenities appear top-notch
While the facility is not officially open yet, a special tour reveals everything mostly in place (the event bookings seem promising so far despite the fact the marketing department has yet to ramp up). The main pool (above) is suitable for regional and even national events, as is the indoor track (below).
There's nothing else like it in Alabama
While the size and cost of the facility are impressive ($46 million was spent), the site planning does not convey the excitement a facility like this could create. The building has no relationship whatsoever with the surrounding street grid; it’s car-oriented isolation does not encourage pedestrian access. Granted, much of the immediately surrounding context was “suburbanized” in the 1950’s with the advent of Five Points West Shopping Center and surrounding development; much of this context is now frayed and in great need of rethinking.
Across the street, ripe for a rethink
As seen above, the opposite side of Bessemer Road presents a dated existing condition: more surface parking, underused buildings, a hodgepodge of fast-food outlets and drive-through lanes. The approximately 85 acres that remain around the Crossplex itself are to be developed as retail, hotels, and restaurants at an unspecified time–presumably when the market demands it. This should be a chance to use progressive urbanist principles that would redeem the Crossplex’s current siting, redesign the surrounding context, and develop a reinvigorated 3rd Avenue linking this sports facility to the new baseball park and Convention Center downtown. We received international-caliber design at Railroad Park. We should expect no less in West End.
Could be helped by thoughtfully designed surroundings
The main facade (above) has no major hint of the world-class sporty activities within. Some really innovative landscaping and super-graphics would be welcome to help project more vibrancy.
Do sports happen here?
Likewise the interior (main foyer pictured above) seems functional, and it feels like a very nice public high school might feel; but I was hoping it would rise to the level of a cutting edge sports facility in terms of its form and detailing.
OK so we don't have this budget, but we can still get creative
Perhaps we won’t be hosting the Olympics in Birmingham anytime soon, despite the former Mayor’s wish to do so. But if this City continues to develop a strong reputation for hosting and supporting sporting events, and invests significant dollars in facilities and promotion–there’s no reason why we can’t demand innovative designing as you see in the Aquatics Center in Beijing (above). And to best revitalize West End, we need a thoughtful master plan that replaces suburban-style principles with pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use planning.
We love the increased interest in sports and recreation in various recent projects around the City and the potential this brings for the local economy and tourism.
Bring us your A-game.
[thanks to alphafish for the Beijing pic]