The hockey rink has come a long way, from its humble beginnings as a frozen pond encircled by snow banks, to “old barns” like Maple Leaf Gardens, to the mall-like sports entertainment complexes of today. How this happened over the past 150 years is explained in “Architecture on Ice: A History of the Hockey Arena.” Author Howard Schubert examines the cultural factors that contributed to the evolution of the hockey rink. This is no coffee table book; this is the history book you wished for in high school.
Yet, “Architecture on Ice” is not a mere history book, either. Anyone could list out every hockey arena, the year it was built, its cost and so forth. And the author does that, too, at the end of this book. Schubert, a former curator of prints and drawings for the Canadian Centre for Architecture, goes so much deeper. He starts our history lesson with how and why ice skating became a popular activity in the 19th century and touches on some of the other “ice sports” that competed with hockey for the use of rinks. Fortunately, hockey won that battle; otherwise, we might be watching “ice polo” right now.
But hockey’s ultimate victory here had a much bigger impact than becoming the premier sport played on ice. As rinks moved indoors, both to better control ice temperature and to give shelter from inclement weather, they also changed to better accommodate hockey. For example, the octagon-shaped rink, a popular design in the mid-19th century, fell out of favor because it could not be used for hockey games. On the flip side, indoor ice rinks irrevocably changed how hockey was played, giving the game formalized boundaries and consistent conditions. Even the switch from a ball to a puck was a result of hockey’s move indoors.
In the 20th century, other factors played key roles in the arena’s evolution, such as televised sports and video games. The Beatles’ tour of North America also led to a sea change for sporting arenas, making the “old barns” obsolete. Schubert gives great insight as to why rinks like Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum became hallowed, almost-religious, grounds to hockey fans.
You don’t need a degree in architecture to understand or appreciate “Architecture on Ice,” though non-academic types may be turned off by the book’s introduction and should instead skip to the first chapter. The book is thoroughly illustrated with photographs, historical illustrations, blue prints, concept art, advertisements and other cultural artifacts about ice rinks. No stone was left unturned in the construction of this book.
What I like about “Architecture on Ice”: Schubert thoroughly researched his topic, and it shows. He digs into what was written about skating, hockey and ice rinks in the 19th century, and how everything from capitalism to gentrification shaped modern stadiums. His work as a curator of drawings and prints also is evident, as the book is richly illustrated with pictures of historical significance — many that haven’t been published elsewhere.
What I do not like about “Architecture on Ice”: The book’s introduction is dry. I bring this up not to find fault with the book, but because I would hate for anyone to stop reading “Architecture on Ice” a few pages in. There is so much to be seen and leaned from this excellent book; maybe just skip the first 15 pages, or save them for last.
“Architecture on Ice” is the ultimate book on the history and evolution of hockey rinks. You will not find a more comprehensive book on the subject. Fans who love hockey history should especially read this book, even if they never paid much heed to the stone and steel surrounding our game. ■