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Thesis or dissertation

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This dissertation provides the first treatment of the origins and development of the roofed arena in the United States and Canada. Supported by archival resources of graphics and text, and informed by direct contact with arena architects, design and operations staff, this study examines the arena as a place for spectacle within the larger environments of city and campus. The arena's site, massing, and design revealed the expectations of its sponsorship. The arena's internal configuration of roofed seating bowl, floor, portals, and passages was a purposeful arrangement intended to accommodate attendees and manage their movement through architectural space.

The first chapter focuses on the transmission to the nineteenth century, via the architecture of theater, circus, and other spaces of public assembly, of the Greek and Roman hippodrome oval for accommodation of multiple kinds of revenue-generating activities situated within a circular, elliptical, or rectilinear seating bowl. The significance of the Royal Albert Hall, London, as the conceptual model for the presentation of modern indoor spectacle is recognized. But within the context of the growth or urban centers and the expansion of commercial leisure, Stanford White's Madison Square Garden, New York, is documented as the principal formal model. White's facility, a hippodrome within a rectangular industrial shed, whose impact was amplified by the communications media that disseminated its image and the reports of its spectacle, generated successors on a continental scale.

The research method identified buildings, sought to find relevant information, and fixed the buildings along a time line. Populated with enough examples, the time sequence yields affinities and clarifies differences, making possible useful generalizations about site and design in context. Across the time period considered, enclosure evolved from arched and pitched forms, and thin-shell experiments, toward the anti-industrial dome and drum. The emergence of tensile solutions allowed roof support to act as a design element as well as engineering. But by the end of the 1960s, circular and ovoid buildings receded in favor of the operationally more efficient rectilinear footprint covered by a flat truss or space frame. Exteriors of brick and stone became complex fields of concrete, glass, and multiple forms of metal. Over the long term, internal treatment of attendee space emphasized presentation of finished surface.

This dissertation identifies those formal architectural attributes that carried the arena's programmatic objectives. It examines the emergence of the commercial, mercantile arena; higher education's recognition of the capacity of the architectural fabric of arenas to support institutional growth; and municipalities' use of the form to project government-defined civic values. The chronological narrative recognizes the intensity of concurrent strands of development between the World Wars and concludes by noting arena managements' increasing interest in building commercial destinations for attendees outside the seating bowl. Finally, the work establishes the role of the arena in large-scale repurposing of urban land in the 1960s.

The Appendix is an extensive census of the large roofed arenas built in North America between 1853 and 1968. It provides the name of the facility, dates of design and opening, architect, type of siting, and configuration of building envelope. The Appendix introduces distinctions useful for analysis. Component siting, in contrast to independent siting, indicates placement of the arena within a system of buildings of associated purpose. Centroidal positioning indicates a building's occupation at the functional center of mass. Building envelope--with pitched or arched roof or other kind of enclosure--operates with siting as another indicator of sponsors' Intent.

By assembling and reading the evidence of site, design, and operation, this paper ventures an approach to understanding the place of the roofed arena in the North American urban landscape. It is hoped that this work will invite and assist investigation into related issues, e.g., the architectural profession's approach to arena projects and, particularly, the commercial archaeology and human geography of the arena's interior zones.


This dissertation was submitted to the Faculty of the University of Delaware in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Art History.


architecture, community, roofed arena, North America



Date Posted: 08 December 2015