August 13, 2006

A LADY'S TOUCH:

A League of Her Own: Remember when Fenway Park felt crusty, creaky, and unsafe? The woman behind its extreme makeover isn't done yet. (Brian MacQuarrie, August 13, 2006, Boston Globe)

Janet Marie Smith, the architect transforming Fenway Park, works in an office that, at first glance, could be confused with a large storage closet. But look again, past the clutter and the mementos, and a few telling tools of Smith's trade lie scattered about this room overlooking Yawkey Way. Slightly unrolled blueprints lean in one corner. Architectural renderings of future changes at the hallowed ball yard hang from the opposite wall. A hard hat is set by the window.

If this unkempt cubbyhole of a workplace is meant to impress, the impression is not one of complacent corporate power. It's an impression of a work in progress, and Smith - the architect who jump-started the retro-revolutionary movement in American ballpark design and the mind behind the renovations that have saved, improved, and polished what might be Boston's most recognizable landmark - insists she has no timetable for completion. "I guess it's hard to know what 'finished' means," Smith says, the words drawn slowly with a lyrical accent that speaks of her native Mississippi. For 2007, Smith says, there's a plan to build a new batting tunnel for visiting teams. For 2008, there's a plan to extend the left-field pavilion along the third-base line toward the Green Monster, providing more amenities and space for fans. And although Smith, 48, won't reveal the team's closely held hand, it wouldn't be a surprise if its owners were to add to their growing real estate portfolio in the neighborhood.

In Smith's view, part of what makes Fenway Park special is its neighborhood, where many of the buildings are as old as the oldest ballpark in the major leagues. And although Fenway is fundamentally a baseball park, Smith says, its significance transcends the game. What fascinates her about this work is the challenge to make space where a city can breathe, interconnect, and share experiences. "I like seeing how people use a place," she says, whether it's a city sidewalk, a small urban park, or a river filled with boats.

Smith helped make that vision of common public experience a stunning reality on a shabby piece of Baltimore waterfront, where the 1992 opening of Camden Yards ushered in an era of aesthetically pleasing and fan-friendly ballpark design. Later, she helped convert the main stadium for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics into a home for the Braves. And when new ownership bought the Red Sox in 2002, Smith was lured north to rethink Fenway by Larry Lucchino, her old mentor in Baltimore who had become Sox president. Almost immediately, the new team - whose owners include the parent company of The Boston Globe - began turning on its head the generally accepted notion that Fenway was outdated, unsafe, and overdue for a wrecking ball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 13, 2006 6:16 PM
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