The new Home of Champions is not a museum, it’s a paradigm
By Charles Russo
This past week I exited Stanford’s Home of Champions feeling inclined to quote the Hagakure. Yes, you read that correctly, but I’ll reiterate: the collective poise and purpose of the University’s new shrine to its athletics legacy left me wanting to cite the Book of the Samurai.
For a few reasons, actually, but mainly because the new museum does far more than just broadcast Stanford’s sports triumphs (of which there are many). Rather, it gracefully manifests a clear expression of the school’s athletic code.
In the age of over-amplified American sports bar culture, Stanford has created an homage to its athletes that is as mindful of its identity as it is measured in celebrating its victories. In this sense, the Home of Champions does not convey its purpose by overwhelming its guests with an abundance of trophies, memorabilia, and celebrations of high-profile stars, but with an underlying emphasis on aesthetics, individuals, and values. So like I said — pure samurai.
“We didn’t want to just load the place with trophies and plaques,” explains Brian Risso, Assistant Director of Communications for the athletics department, “but rather to talk more about the individuals who were on those teams and won those championships.”
To be clear, the Home of Champions certainly does have an assortment of trophies on display, from Jim Plunkett’s Heisman Trophy to the school’s coveted Director’s Cup. Yet in both of these particular cases, the presentation leans towards understatement when it could have been overbearing, and minimalist when it could have been extravagant. In fact, I almost missed Plunkett’s Heisman entirely because it is located in one of four corner displays that are visually obscured from side angles.
“The blurring is intentional,” Risso states. “We wanted it to be a bit understated to convey the humility and humble nature of our student athletes.”
And whereas the University has won the Division I Learfield Director’s Cup — for success in collegiate athletics — for 23 consecutive years, the designers opted to showcase only one of the crystal trophies (when, let’s face it, they could have stacked them like cans of soup on sale at Safeway).
And yes, there is memorabilia on display as well — including a signed tennis racket belonging to John McEnroe and a golf club once used by Tiger Woods — yet these are not only in short supply, but relegated to the wings rather than spotlighted front-and-center near the entrance.
Formally conceived and constructed over the past two years, Stanford Athletics teamed with Advent, the cutting-edge Nashville design firm, to enact its vision. What followed was an ambitious conversion of a basketball gymnasium within the Arrillaga Family Sports Center amid the Department offices on the Stanford campus.
“We challenged Advent every step of the way to make things that were unique to Stanford, and they really delivered on everything,” says Araceli Ortiz, the Assistant Athletics Director, Marketing, who oversaw much of the project.
Her assessment of Advent’s end results is in itself understated, especially when considering the uniquely detailed aesthetics of the space. From the redwood ceiling to the one-of-a-kind technological exhibits, the museum continually evokes Stanford, from its landscape to its community.
“The history of the University is really incredible,” Ortiz says, “and we sought to highlight it in a way that is authentically Stanford.”
Of chief importance in this approach is a reluctance to state the obvious, as the exhibits all seem to hinge on an outside-the-box footing and wide view scope of the athletes. (I had been in the museum for close to an hour before I came across something featuring Andrew Luck.)
Of course, Stanford isn’t exactly resource-challenged when it comes to this kind of venture, which in one sense just makes it all the more fascinating that the University got it right and remained so precisely on message. In listening to one of the state-of-the-art tech-based exhibits on a large wall display containing interactive video interviews of alumni athletes, much of the focus revolves around how the athletes translated their sports experiences into positive ventures out in the world, well beyond their years as students. And at a time when there is so much discussion about the place of athletes in society, the Home of Champions has put an emphasis on values that transcend the playing field into a much wider context, not unlike the virtues that Tsunetomo Yamamoto praised two centuries ago in the Book of the Samurai: “Respect, Honesty, Courage, Rectitude, Loyalty, Honour, Benevolence.”
The hours for Stanford’s Home of Champions is as follows:
Weekday: 10 a.m. — 4 p.m. (closed Tuesdays)
Weekends: 11 a.m. — 4 p.m.
Football home games: TBD, pending kickoff time announcements
Weeknight basketball and volleyball games: 10 a.m. — closing 30 minutes prior to event start
(Note that the museum may close between 30–90 minutes prior to most home sporting events.)
641 E. Campus Drive, on the Stanford campus.
Admission is free.