Upon its debut in 1970, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh was heralded as a shrine to modernity: an efficient two-sport venue boasting wall-to-wall, ultrapractical synthetic turf. The New York Times dubbed the edifice "baseball's newest magnificent ballpark." The Sporting News called it "swank," "plush" and "an instant hit."
Times change. On Saturday, Three Rivers, a steel-and-concrete period piece as cutting-edge as an eight-track player and as eye-pleasing as a leisure suit, will host its final game. Built during the wave of multipurpose parks that included Cincinnati's Cinergy Field (n� Riverfront Stadium, which also opened in 1970) and the Vet in Philly ('71), Three Rivers had the misfortune to come about when minimalism and monotony were stadium virtues. "At that time architecture's primary direction was what you could call brutalistic," says William Sippel, 76, one of Three Rivers' architects. "The emphasis was on raw, common and massive forms."
Form followed function, and dual-use parks that wedged baseball and football into the same space were a cost-effective solution to finance stadiums. "The extreme difference in configurations is why we've since decided to build separate venues," says Sippel. "But in the 1960s, by God, it seemed much more logical. The seasons didn't interfere, so why go to the expense of two stadiums?" Indeed, adjusted for inflation, Three Rivers cost about $160 million. The new parks for the Pirates and Steelers will run a combined $470 million.
Though the Pirates won two World Series and the Steelers four Super Bowls during Three Rivers' first decade, its architectural legacy won't be so glorious. "This stadium is so divorced from its site it could have gone in a suburban parking lot," says Blair Kamin, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune. "I mean, it's called Three Rivers, and you can't even see the rivers. It's a dinosaur, a concrete monster. It's truly ugly."