Taking a peek at A.G. Odell's Hampton Coliseum.
Not quite a masterpiece of the 'modern era,' the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, is still an interesting exercise in mid-twentieth-century stadium design, a hovering concrete disk equal parts engineering marvel and playful amusement park. Signaling America's postwar ambitions, the Hampton Coliseum (and other stadiums like it) redefined the country's public spaces as technologically expressive structures geared toward the car-owning suburbanite. The region's first large-scale multi-purpose arena, the distinctive concrete form set among a park-like landscape has managed to stand the test of time to become one of Virginia's most recognizable landmarks. Standing as an autonomous piece of sculpture, the coliseum's unique triangular-shaped wall panels are illuminated at night with colorful lights, a playful wink to the structure's Space Age bona fides.
Designed in 1968 by Charlotte-based A.G. Odell, Jr. and Associates, the Hampton Coliseum is an exercise in expressive geometry, its bold forms full of freedom and whimsy, a contrast to the rigid angles of Modernism. Odell began his career as Charlotte's foremost advocate of the International Style, devoting his life to reshaping (with some struggle) the traditional Southern city into a modern metropolis. Graduating from Cornell before studying at the École des Beaux-Arts, Odell worked in New York City for Wallace K. Harrison and Raymond Loewy before returning to Charlotte in 1939 to open a small office. Dismayed at the city's overwhelming penchant for Colonial Revival architecture, Odell worked instead in the Modern mode, gaining an international reputation with his Charlotte Coliseum in 1955.
Using the same expressionism as many of the domed structures of the period, Odell designed Hampton Coliseum as a monument to the future. A descendent of the great concrete cylinder arenas that began popping up in every American city during the middle of the twentieth century, the coliseum is an architectural hyperbole, a place where music, sports, and entertainment offer escape from the real world. Like social blueprints, stadiums are spaces that help order experiences, visions of progress that can be easily defined and understood. Hosting the Rolling Stones, Elvis, and the Grateful Dead, just to name a few, Hampton's saucer coliseum with its playful modernity provides a glimpse into the many ways modern stadiums helped shape the American cultural landscape.
You can find more on A.G. Odell's work here. Happy Wednesday!
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Hampton Roads Coliseum, Hampton, Virginia [Between 1980 and 2006]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2011635286.
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