- Architecture on Ice: A History of the Hockey Arena by Howard Shubert
Academic monographs on hockey are relatively scarce in book stores when compared to the popular history of the game. The few that are out there are generally of good quality work, and Howard Shubert's Architecture on Ice is no exception. Through nine chapters (and a conclusion), Shubert has done a masterful job in guiding readers through a journey [End Page 136] of over one hundred years of hockey history via the venues in which the game was and is played. Calling it a hockey history book, however, is too simplistic a description of this work which, as the title and subtitle suggest, is about the buildings, and one cannot possibly discuss buildings hosting hockey games without paying attention to its economics. Indeed, Architecture on Ice is also a business history of the arena business—an enterprise that was created when hockey became an important cultural institution in much of its early history and an entertainment option in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
In one sense, Architecture on Ice takes a slightly different approach to hockey history's periodization. Shubert divides the nine chapters into four parts that detail six different stages in the development of hockey venues. His periodization scheme is based on a careful distinction in the use of the terms for the venues. "Rinks," used to host early hockey matches, denote the multipurpose nature of the venue in which hockey was but a late addition to its usage. "Arenas," on the other hand, represent the success of hockey as a stand-alone business venture that was the raison d'etre of the buildings' existence. The book begins with the game moving indoors to be played on ice rinks (1852–1904). As the game became popular, spectator demands drove the design and construction (1898–1912). Once the game was professionalized, hockey arenas had to maintain a level of certainty for the successful completion of the hockey seasons. Artificial ice-making technology became standard consideration. This is important as professional hockey expanded its reach beyond its traditional locales in Canada and into the United States (1920–31). Postwar arenas (1960–83) represent a period when these buildings "emerged as the first arenas worthy of the name through their employment of an architectural Modernism composed of simple forms and advanced engineering that expressed structure and function" (167). Yet these single-function buildings disappeared as market demands and economic forces turned hockey-specific venues into corporate entertainment centers (1990–2010) where the game experience was more than just watching a hockey game. These corporate entertainment centers also morph into what Shubert labels sports-anchored developments (2012–present) when cities decided to used sports to lure people back to the downtown core. Sports in general and hockey in particular now are part of the downtown experience, and design and construction of the hockey arena no longer take the sport as priority. Instead, an arena is now just one of the many downtown entertainment/shopping facilities that fits into the grand urban redevelopment layout.
Architecture on Ice is well researched, and its extensive bibliography draws from a wide range of disciplines. A large number of photographs, illustrations, and prints accompany the text throughout the book. Shubert's skill as an author makes the book very readable even if one has little or no knowledge on architecture and its history. The book's contribution is not limited to architecture and hockey histories but also to the business and economic aspects of the game over time, which are too often ignored. Indeed, Architecture on Ice is a rich, nuanced history of the game and its playing facilities. [End Page 137]