It's a familiar sight on game day and begins about two hours before kickoff. First in a trickle, then in a torrent, football fans move along Charlottesville's curving, narrow sidewalks toward University of Virginia's Scott Stadium, as if drawn to the mother ship. Older folks move stolidly and clutch blue and orange pennants, lap blankets and plastic seat cushions. Students Gap-garbed in light-colored cotton shirts, rep ties and khakis amble along with youthful abandon.
This autumn, however, the processions are bigger with the stadium's recent expansion by a whopping 20,000 seats. Capacity is now 61,500.
But additional bleachers are only part of UVa's $86 million retooling of what has become the state's largest sports coliseum. Architecturally, a facility that for some 20 years was a work in progress is now complete. Unresolved areas have a purpose, and poorly defined entrances and exits are well-marked.
And inevitably, all manner of accouterments demanded by the razzmatazz of big time college football have been added. There's an electronic scoreboard that's taller than most buildings in Charlottesville. Forty-four new sequestered "luxury" suites provide perches from which big givers and their pals can watch games. A new president's box holds 320 guests. Press facilities and locker rooms have been expanded.
Amid the 21st century updates, however, there's an architecturally deferential nod to The Lawn, the Jefferson-designed centerpiece of the university. At the stadium's north end is a sweeping new pergola that departs from the workmanlike functionalism of the overall stadium design to add a touch of classicism and perhaps whimsy. The pergola is also a reminder of the stadium's original, 1931 design.
This dramatic expansion of UVa's football facility is one of many since the first stadium, 20,000-seat Lambeth Field, opened in 1903.
As fans increased, Richmond financier Frederick W. Scott, a co-founder of Richmond investment banking firm Scott and Stringfellow and a rector of the university, gave the new stadium as a memorial to his parents in 1931.
Nestled brilliantly into a gentle ridge of Blue Ridge foothills on Alderman Road, Scott Stadium was a highly detailed structure. It had a low-slung rake to the stands and was trimmed in details of Beaux-Arts classicism. There were columns on the press box, Flemish bond brickwork and an elegant balustrade encircling the playing field.
By 1974, Scott Stadium had been expanded to 45,000 seats, and in the modernist spirit of the times, all the classical detailing was removed. Second tiers of seating on the east and west sides projected the stadium high above the tree line, and the elegant character of the place was lost. Other changes followed. In 1984 a 30,000-square-foot building, Bryant Hall, with improved locker rooms and a players' cafeteria was added at the south end of the field (this was rebuilt as part of the current rebuilding). And in 1995 the playing field was named for David A. Harrison III, a Hopewell lawyer, when his monies underwrote replacing the artificial playing field with sod. This latest major renovation and expansion was partially underwritten by Carl W. Smith, a 1951 grad and former football player whose fortune comes from coal and natural gas.
The most dramatic change at the new Carl Smith Center at Scott Stadium is enclosing the south side of the stadium with seating. Previously, this end of the stadium had been open and from the high seats spectators could see impressive vistas of the Albermarle countryside. By linking the east and west stands, this enclosure now makes the stadium feel more intimate.
The so-called luxury boxes are built at the south end on a tier situated midway between the lower and upper stands. These come with five-year leases. Among the names currently identifying the various suites are Wachovia, SunTrust and Marvin Bush (a U.Va. alumnus and the younger brother of W.). The suites are furnished like midpriced hotel rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting, crown molding, comfortable easy chairs and sliding glass doors that open onto the outdoor seating balconies.
At the opposite, northern end of the field, rather than enclose an existing grassy knoll with seating, this area has wisely been kept open. It is a popular spot for students who prefer blankets to bleachers.
Behind this knoll is the encircling pergola. This grand, open-air concourse comprises 72 Doric columns, each 18 feet in height. It was a trick to pull this feature off to create a scale large enough to be read from the far reaches of the stadium while providing an intimate pedestrian space for those walking underneath. It works on both counts.
When approached from the north, the stadium still has a relatively low presence on Alderman Road. On the southern, Stadium Road side, however, things are different. Here, a parking deck has replaced a grove of trees and rebuilt Bryant Hall takes on the scale one associates with professional football stadiums. The mass of the looming fa‡ade, however has been softened somewhat by symmetrical, flanking extensions of pedestrian ramps that take patrons to the new upper reaches of the stadium.
They built it; will they come? Apparently so. Tickets are reportedly scarce for Sept. 23 when the Virginia Cavaliers meet Atlantic Coast powerhouse Clemson.
And will they like it? Probably. Architects Heery International Inc. of Atlanta and VMDO Architects of Charlottesville have created a stadium that both makes Virginia a contender from a facilities standpoint, while celebrating the university's storied architectural
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