VALUE CITY ARENA AT THE JEROME SCHOTTENSTEIN CENTER
Home of the Preseason No. 4 Ohio State University Buckeyes
A three-hour trip due south takes us to Columbus, OH and the campus of the Ohio State University, Michigan’s fiercest arch rivals. Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center is home to Buckeye basketball and hockey and its 18,800-seating capacity makes it the largest arena in the Big-10 Conference.
Value City Arena is the fourth and latest home for Ohio State basketball; a quick look at its three predecessors uncovers some absolute gems, reveals clues as to the design of the current building and illuminates opportunities missed along the way.
St. John Arena, just over the Olentangy River from Value City Arena, was home to Ohio State basketball since it opened in 1956 until 1998 – the longest run the basketball team has had in any of its four buildings. The intimate, square-shaped, 13,000-seat building has a unique vaulted roof and two steep tiers of seating, and was one of the country’s great basketball venues. St. John Arena is still the home of OSU volleyball, gymnastics, hockey teams as well as numerous University functions.
For the thirty years prior to St. John Arena, the Buckeyes played at the Coliseum at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, a mile east of campus. The 6,000-seat Coliseum, nicknamed “the Barn”, continues to host Ohio State High School Basketball playoffs and can also convert to a hockey rink. As the image below shows, skylights in the barrel vaulted roof and windows at either end created a well-lit, bright Coliseum interior.
The first home for Ohio State basketball was the Armory, a red brick fortress that burned down in 1959. The Buckeyes played at the Armory for over twenty-years between 1898-1919 before being forced out by increased military requirements during the first World War. The Armory was an incredible building that featured carefully detailed brickwork and a thick exterior, both of which are no longer seen in buildings today.
The Armory and its castle-like turrets are remembered in the Peter Eisenman-designed Wexner Center for the Arts, built on the site of the Armory in 1989. The Wexner Center consists of a series of red brick, fortress-like forms broken by a white lattice structure that references the historic Armory building while creating a new, spatially dynamic arts center. This direct visual reference to the historic Armory building is a hallmark of postmodern architecture and can also be seen less successfully conceived in the design of Value City Arena.
The idea for Value City Arena was to build a large, world-class arena that would both house Ohio State basketball games and attract professional franchises and big time concerts to the State Capital. The decisions that led to Value City Arena being built in 1998 followed by the 20,000-seat Nationwide Arena just two years later, are puzzling and too complicated to unravel here, but the construction of two parallel facilities does highlight the tensions between the major state University and local business in this growing metropolitan area.
For the design of the new Ohio State-owned arena, Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects – designers of numerous collegiate sport facilities, including the Crisler Center – were teamed up with Moody/Nolan and the result is disappointing. Located across the Lane Avenue Bridge from the old St. John Arena and 90,000-seat Ohio Stadium, the design of this hulking brick and metal paneled-edifice is a clear reference to both the Armory and the Wexner Center, yet the reference is poorly conceived and misguided. The weak allusion to history and apparent adherence to a checklist of modern arena “must-haves” makes Value City Arena seem cheap and forgettable.
The allusion to the Armory building is not necessarily a bad one but in conception it favored surface-deep aesthetics over performance. Gone is the incredible depth of the Armory exterior or the spatial dynamism of the Wexner Center entry, in favor of a hulking white structure surrounded by a banal brick base featuring clichéd turret-like columnar corner towers. Unlike the exciting collision of volumes at the Wexner Center or the depth of windows and doorways at the Armory, the brick base and metal arena at Value City offer little tension or spatial creativity – a static coupling of two disparate architectural elements.
The interior of Value City is fine if uninspired. Unfortunately, the design team chose not to reference some of the truly great elements of OSU basketball’s past homes – the soaring roof at St. John Arena or the natural light that floods into the Coliseum. The Arena sits atop a slight incline and unlike the partially-submerged Crisler Center, the Value City Arena seems to sit atop in a slab-on-grade condition. The result is an unnecessarily tall building that draws attention to its poorly proportioned, tepid façade.
The 19,500-seating capacity may be too large, considering the 20,000-seat Nationwide Arena is just down the road and average attendance at Value City is never near capacity. Last season student seats were added behind the benches to help improve the atmosphere, a problem we discussed at PNC Arena. The rows directly behind the students are covered with tarps to discretely ensure no seated fan’s feathers are rustled by the standing student section. Covering these seats has reduced the capacity to under 19,000. Requisite video banding lines the upper tier of seating, luxury suites are nestled beneath and a four-sided video board is suspended over center court to create the aura and comfort level typical of a professional venue. The exciting, energetic old college venues like St. John Arena are an endangered species.
Value City Arena doesn’t stink because of its unfortunate corporate name, its luxury suites or its large size. Value City stinks because of its design team’s inability to balance the requirement of certain modern amenities with the need for creative, inspired design decisions. This balance, this ability to fulfill client demands while producing something original – either by referencing arenas past or conceiving something new – give a building unique character and tie it to its particular site. Without this balance, it is just another building in Value City.