May 14, 2021
On Saturdays in the fall, tens of thousands of screaming fans fill the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. But what about the other three hundred and fifty some odd days?
Stadiums, the modern expression of antiquity’s amphitheater, rank among the most inefficient structures of all time. Depending on how the governing organization operates them, stadiums may only host eight to ten events annually and sit vacant for the rest of the year. The versatility of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, however, enables its use year-round.
Located in the middle of an historic college campus, it stands tall as a landmark for the city. The stadium seats 88,548, making it the largest in Florida. The intentional omission of parking immediately adjacent to the stadium (with the exception of one lot) is a critical design element, blending the stadium into the urban fabric of campus and the city of Gainesville. Steve Spurrier Field sits in a bowl below ground level, raising temperatures to swamp-like conditions (hence the moniker, “The Swamp”). This feature lowers the stadium’s outward profile to West University Avenue adjacent to the commercial activity of Midtown. For game days, roads are largely closed off in order for fans to walk safely to the game.
The key for the University to activate the stadium when the football team isn’t playing is to simply open it up to the public, offering many different uses. These include office space, a site for campus tours to conclude in impressive fashion, study space enabled by offering wi-fi, and a club area which can be rented out. Concerts and other events are held intermittently. The University of Florida has also recently begun testing students and faculty for COVID 19 and administering vaccines to combat the virus out of the facility. But the most common use of the stadium throughout the year is for exercise. The infamous “stadiums,” as students call them, involve running up and down the stairs. It seems easy enough until you actually try it for yourself.
Ben Hill Griffin stadium is a case study for making the most of an enormous space in an urban context. Could a stadium in your area be made more available to the public? Could Ben Hill Griffin stadium add a greater variety of uses beyond what it currently offers? Enjoy the accompanying video.
Scott Gann of ‘The Bold Cities Project’ is a fifth year student at the University of Florida majoring in civil engineering and minoring in urban and regional planning.