Miss Management: You can’t take it with you—yet.

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In February, Fabric Architecture editor Bruce Wright and one of his longtime writers, Frank Edgerton Martin, wrote an opinion piece, “Why industrial fabric makes winning sense for a new, mobile Vikings stadium,” for our local paper about the possibility of building a mobile stadium for our peripatetic football team, named after hordes of marauding Norsemen. The Minnesota Vikings, somewhat less talented at ravaging the surrounding teams, renewed their demands for a new stadium after the Minnesota Twins finally squeezed Target Field out of reluctant state taxpayers. But the new stadium debate was just following old patterns: who pays, and how much? Wright and Martin took a completely different look at the issue, suggesting that a transportable stadium constructed of industrial fabrics would have a number of advantages, both economic and environmental:

  • Permanent structures aren’t really permanent, especially sports structures, always a moving target. How much energy and resources does it take to construct a building out of steel and concrete, and how much of it can be recycled? Lightweight, sustainable fabric structures require fewer resources and less energy.
  • Transport, set-up and take-down of a portable stadium would provide hundreds of jobs that would last throughout each football season. The stadium could travel from one county fairground or college campus to another; those venues are already designed to handle large numbers of people, so few infrastructure changes would be required.
  • The design is flexible, and can easily accommodate the most lavish fabric-clad high-end suites for the well-heeled, simply by bringing in a local rental firm/event supplier.
  • Home games could be spread around the state, eliminating perennial grumbles about “the cities.”

Who knows? With enough design work, maybe the team can take the stadium along to all of its games around the country—if it’s an air-inflated venue already, why not make one that flies? If you check out the article, you’ll see a structural concept model from Various Architects, Oslo, Norway. The idea of a fabric stadium may be a little out there, but it is certainly not impossible. What does seem to be almost impossible is in getting people to stop reacting to the usual “if you don’t give us $500 million we’ll find a state that will” extortions and think about the problem from the ground up.

At our IFAI staff meeting last week, our CFO mentioned—to widespread applause—that they will be repaving our crumbling asphalt parking lot this summer. Bruce Wright then asked: “and will we be using geosynthetics to reinforce it?” We publish a magazine called Geosynthetics, yet until he asked that question, incorporating geosynthetic textiles into the project hadn’t been under consideration. Now, thanks to the intrepid editor in the next (fabric) cubicle, there’s a new design element under discussion.

In last week’s editorial (“People, planet, profits—and purpose”), I talked about full cost accounting and the need to have all the data before trying to approach that triple bottom line. Even if we don’t have all the data, we have enough to step away from these invidious “either-or” scenarios and come up with some creative alternatives. Will the Minnesota Legislature put aside its tiresome partisan sniping long enough to consider a different kind of solution to the stadium problem? Not likely, I suppose. But, unlike several posted “is this a joke?” responses to the MinnPost article, there was another reaction:

“This is no joke at all. A proposal like this represents the leading edge of thinking in the design disciplines about how to accommodate growing public needs at a time of shrinking public funding and growing environmental damage. 21st century architecture and design will have to become lighter, more nimble, and less costly than what we have built in the past, and Minnesota would greatly enhance its reputation as a design leader by putting up a rapidly deployable and reasonably affordable stadium like this.”

—Galynn Nordstrom, senior editor, Specialty Fabrics Review

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