Classical Models and Techniques

Sketch plan of Franklin Field

Sketch plans of Franklin Field, ca. 1920

Brickwork on Franklin Field

Brickwork on Franklin Field

Roman bricks: tomb on via Appia antica in Rome

Roman brickwork from tomb on Via Appia Antica

To understand the architecture of Franklin Field, it is necessary to understand its history.  Franklin Field did not always have its current form.  The development of Franklin Field began in 1894, and the first edition, with a field, track, and wooden stands, was completed in 1895 for the first Penn Relay Carnival.  For $100,000, Penn had the most complete athletic field in the country at that time.   However, it took the University until 1904 to collect the roughly $500,000 needed to build the permanent grandstands to replace the wooden ones, and build both the training houses and Weightman Hall, the adjacent gymnasium.  With these improvements, roughly 20,000 spectators could be accommodated.  However, this brick horseshoe structure still did not meet the demand from fans.  In 1922, the stands were destroyed, and the current ones were built for $725,000.  The foundations allowed for a second tier to be built, but this was not done until 1925, for an additional $500,000.  The University needed to arcade the sidewalk on several sides to support the second tier.  The architects needed to fit 78,000 seats in a small space, so they stretched over the sidewalk.  The arcade of the second tier over the first is where the arches were built.  In 1970, The Sunday Bulletin claimed that the arches in the arcade were intended to mimic Roman aqueducts, while George Thomas and David Brownlee say in their book on Penn’s history that the arches resemble the Colosseum.  Both claims are valid insofar as they show that one ancient model or another came to mind when people looked at Franklin Field.  A sketch plan and memorandum in the University of Pennsylvania Archives, however, suggests that the Colosseum was in the minds of at least some of the planners of the 1922 version of Franklin Field. The  memorandum describes the seating capacity of Franklin Field as 19,244, suggesting a date before the 1922 expansion.  The sketch plan shows a three-tiered, oval structure resembling the Colosseum. 

If we continue to look at aspects of Franklin Field, more roads will lead to Rome. While Weightman Hall is in the collegiate gothic style, the architecture of Franklin Field itself has classical roots.  This style connects Franklin Field to other buildings on Penn’s campus, such as the Archaeological Museum.  The fact that these two buildings are similar is no surprise, since simplified classicism flourished as an architectural style in the 1920s.  Weightman Hall was built in 1904, while the current structure of Franklin field was finished in 1925, so that explains the disparity.  This design sub-plot which connected the east end of the campus involved broad mortar joints and paired bricks.  These paired bricks were intended to imitate the charactistic long, thin bricks of Roman architecture. So-called "Roman" bricks were popularized by the classicizing New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White in the early 20th century, just as Franklin Field was being designed.   Some north Italian influence can also be noted on the Franklin field cornice.  Apart from the architectural influence, the priorities of the people who designed the Colosseum aligned with those of the architects who designed Franklin Field in many ways.  First, the visibility from all seats was a top priority.  The cantilever construction of Franklin Field, along with intelligently placed support posts, were the result of intentional decisions made by the architects in order not to block the view of any spectator.  The Colosseum was similarly designed to allow for a good view, regardless of where the spectator sat.  Another key was to be able to empty out the stands quickly.  Franklin Field’s upper deck can supposedly be comfortably emptied in under ten minutes.  Exit from the Colosseum was equally expedient, as the eighty exits allowed for the crowd of up to 80,000 (similar to the maximum capacity of Franklin Field) to be emptied in a few minutes.