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AIA Institute Honor Award goes to CHS Field

CHS Field

Huge award for CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association): the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has recognized the first-year ballpark with a distinguished AIA Institute Honor Awardthe first time ever to a minor-league ballpark.

CHS Field, our Best New Ballpark of the Year and one that deeply impressed us during our first visit, is one of 18 projects that will receive the industry’s highest recognition of works that exemplify excellence in architecture, interior architecture and urban design at the National Convention and Design Exposition in Philadelphia May 19-21. The 7,210-seat ballpark recently received an Honor Award from the Minnesota chapter of the AIA in early December.

“The Saints couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the vision for CHS Field,” said Saints Executive Vice President Tom Whaley.  “We’re grateful for all the hard work and perseverance of the design team and our partners, the City of Saint Paul and State of Minnesota. From the start, our hope was that the design would reflect and complement the architectural brilliance of our neighborhood. This award is a tribute to that hope. We still pinch ourselves every time we walk through the gates.”

“This award and recognition is such an honor, and I continue to be so pleased and appreciative of the efforts of our entire team that helped bring this innovative and cutting edge ballpark design to Saint Paul,” said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

The uniquely designed ballpark in Lowertown, Saint Paul, CHS Field is just the sixth sports venue to receive the AIA Institute Honor Award joining San Diego Stadium (currently Qualcomm Stadium), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Jacobs Field (currently Progressive Field) and Honk Kong Park (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China).

Building and design of the ballpark was overseen and performed by Snow Kreilich Architects, Ryan Companies and AECOM in conjunction with the St. Paul Saints, the City of Saint Paul and the state of Minnesota.

As noted, we were there for the first exhibition game and were very impressed:

In CHS Field, it’s all about the finishes and how they are treated. The design motif is based on the notion of taking visual cues from surrounding warehouses and office buildings and turning them inside out. It would have easier just to clad the ballpark in red brick and call it a day – like some St. Paul politicos urged when the ballpark was in its design phases – but instead architect Julie Snow focused on the inside of the surrounding buildings and brought those elements to the ballpark. There is a brick exterior of sorts, but they’re done in black, and the black extends all the way around the grandstand, but along the way the finishes change from brick to blackened steel metal plates. Consistent throughout: a red cedar ceiling on the grandstand and plenty of red cedar in the second-story club. The use of red cedar as a ceiling and design element is stunning, especially at night, when lots of indirect lighting gives the grandstand concourse a warm feel.

That attention to detail manifests itself throughout the ballpark, whether it be signage or seat design. The seating is done in shades of black and grey with an occasional yellow seat thrown in. Why? No functional reason; it exists to break up the row lines and to be interesting. (There’s a proud tradition of Minnesota venues using funky seat colors, ranging from the green, gold and white seats at the old Met Center to the multicolored hues installed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Ralph Rapson at the original Guthrie Theater.)

There were some protests from the Saints faithful about the move to CHS Field; the Midway Stadium crowd who had supported the Saints from the beginning was irate about losing the peculiar charms of a mediocre 1980s municipal ballpark. Over the years the Saints had applied as much lipstick to that pig as was humanly possible, but the facility – never intended for pro ball – had reached the end of its economic life. Now, on the one hand, you can see what the faithful were protesting: they were concerned that a move to a new ballpark would mean higher prices and a corporate atmosphere.

In a way, they were right: the whimsical touches at Midway Stadium – the potted plants, the outlandish murals, train – are gone. But the vibe at CHS Field is arguably better: the attitude of the PA announcer and game-day staff hasn’t changed (indeed, there’s a table next to the field a la Midway Stadium for between-innings personnel), and the food is definitely improved (and affordable — $2.50 hot dogs?). If Midway Stadium was a hangout for adolescents and rebels, CHS Field is a place for the cool hipster, enjoying the Lowertown lifestyle.

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