If They Build It: 9 Other Sports Facilities by the Architects of Camden Yards

The Orioles celebrate a win at Oriole Park.
The Orioles celebrate a win at Oriole Park.
Mitchell Layton, Getty Images

In 1983, Chris Carver, Ron Labinski, Joe Spear, and Dennis Wellner founded the first architecture firm dedicated exclusively to the design of sports facilities. HOK Sports Venue Event operated under the St. Louis-based HOK Group, an established leader in the field that was launched in 1955 by Washington University in St. Louis School of Architecture graduates George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata, and George Kassabaum.

After 25 years as an HOK subsidiary, HOK Sports Venue Event principals, including Spear, exchanged their HOK stock for ownership of HOK SVE and rebranded their independently owned, 500-person practice with the name Populous. While its title has changed, the firm formerly referred to as HOK Sport remains synonymous with excellence in sports architecture. It has designed nearly 1,000 projects and events since its inception and has played a role in the creation of some of the world's premier sports facilities. Here's a closer look at 10 of them, including the baseball stadium that launched many more.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

In the firm's early years, Populous architects created Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium and the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. They also renovated more than a dozen baseball stadiums, with most of those projects involving the addition of luxury boxes. The firm's first original major league baseball stadium, new Comiskey Park in Chicago, opened in 1991, but it was the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore one year later that established a trend in ballpark design. The stadium, with its asymmetrical playing field, steel trusses, brick facade, and iconic B&O Warehouse, was a throwback and a gem. "Like the Green Monster at Fenway or the ivy-colored walls at Wrigley, the wall of the warehouse will become instantly recognizable as part of the Baltimore stadium," said Spear, the principal design architect of the ballpark. Camden Yards became the model upon which future ballparks were designed and measured. The firm has since played a role in the development of AT&T Park, Busch Stadium, Citi Field, Great American Ballpark, Nationals Park, PETCO Park, PNC Park, and Yankee Stadium.

Dubai Autodrome

dubai.jpgBaseball stadiums aren't the only facilities on Populous' resume. The Dubai Autodrome, the Middle East's first fully integrated motorsports facility, features one of the most challenging tracks in the world. The venue was officially inaugurated on April 1, 2004. One thousand VIPs, including UAE dignitaries and motorsports celebrities, attended the black-tie ceremony, which was capped with a fireworks and laser show. The venue's 5.39 km track hosts international events and is home to the Racing Academy, which is dedicated to cultivating racing talent in UAE. For a fee, amateurs may take a spin around the track in one of a number of different racecars. According to Populous, the marketing building it created in the adjacent business park was "designed to create a feeling of motion and balance with the surrounding track and infrastructure. With almost no vertical line on the building, the structure defines the DNA of all buildings on the site."

Wembley Stadium

wembley.jpgThe defining feature of London's new Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007 and is used primarily for soccer, is the 440-foot arch that rises above the venue's roof. In addition to the aesthetic value that the arch adds to the stadium's design, it also functions to support the stadium's enormous steel roof, eliminating the need for pillars and improving the sightlines from the 90,000 seats inside. When closed, the roof's retractable panels cover every seat in the stadium, but not the entire pitch. The stadium's design, which was a joint effort of Populous and Foster & Partners, bears a striking resemblance to a 1941 sketch by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, but Niemeyer said that any similarities between his design for a national stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which was never built, and Wembley were pure coincidence. The stadium, which cost nearly $2 billion to build, opened 4 years behind schedule and 8 years after the old Wembley Stadium, which Pele dubbed "the church of football," was closed.

Taipei Arena

taipei.jpgTaipei Arena opened on Dec. 12, 2005, on the site of the former Taipei municipal baseball stadium and was the first major entertainment building to be built in Taipei in more than 20 years. While the multi-purpose building was designed primarily for sports "“ its natatorium, 20,000-seat arena, Olympic-size ice rink, and tennis center can accommodate a variety of athletic events "“ its high-quality acoustics have made it a popular venue for musical acts as well. According to Populous, the basement of the arena is used to house two gas turbine power generators, which could be used in the event of an emergency. The arena was used for the inauguration of President Ma-Ying Jeou in 2008.

Oval Lingotto

ice.jpg

The speed skating venue was the last major construction project of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. Populous collaborated with Studio Zoppini on the design, which received a 2007 Gold Award from the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While the building was designed to facilitate fast times, no records were set in Turin. That was in part due to the quality of the ice, which was installed under a tight deadline and can take years to perfect. Since the Olympics, the 6,600-seat venue has hosted the 2006 World Fencing Championships and the 2009 European Indoor Championships in Athletics, as well as numerous fairs and exhibitions.

Nanjing Sports Park

china.jpgAt a cost of $287 million, the Nanjing Sports Park was built in China's Jiangsu province for the China National Games in 2005 and served as a showcase for the Chinese government leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The park includes a 60,000-seat stadium, an 11,000-seat arena, a natatorium that resembles a partially submerged cylinder, a 17-court tennis center, a media center, and outdoor facilities for baseball, softball, hockey, and basketball. According to Populous, "the primary concept of the sports park was to create a "˜people's palace', a multifunctional environment, a combination of world standard sporting facilities with the main stadium as the centerpiece within parkland."

Ascot Racecourse

ascot.jpgEngland's most famous racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and closed for 20 months of redevelopment beginning in September 2004. When it reopened in time for the Royal Meeting in June 2006, the venue featured a new grandstand with a 400-yard-long, multi-tiered galleria, 40 internal bridges, and 270 private boxes. The design was driven by Populous' idea that Ascot was more than a place to watch horseracing. "Horseracing attracts a very mobile crowd," designer Rod Sheard told reporters. "The race itself lasts only a couple of minutes, but this is a place for promenading, to see and be seen." Unfortunately, the view from parts of the ground level of the grandstand for those who were there to see the races was obstructed. While this initially drew harsh criticism, Sheard and his colleagues rectified the problem one year later by installing terracing units to improve sightlines.

Wimbledon Centre Court

wimbledon.jpgFor the past three years, Populous has been busy renovating the facilities for the Wimbledon Championships. The firm has increased the seating capacity at Centre Court from 13,800 to 15,000, widening each seat in the process. The hydraulically operated retractable roof, made of steel trusses that support translucent fabric, will be operational when the 2009 championships begin next week. Sheard, who refers to the roof as "the umbrella," came up with the idea for a folding fabric roof out of necessity; the Centre Court stadium is hemmed in and was never designed to support a roof, so there's no place to roll a non-folding roof when open.

University of Phoenix Stadium

phoenix.jpgPopulous teamed with architect Peter Eisenman to design University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. The stadium, which opened in 2006 and hosted Super Bowl XLII in February 2008, was the first in North America to feature a retractable, natural grass playing surface. This innovative design enables non-football events to be held in the stadium while the grass field, which can be rolled outside, receives the sunlight it needs to grow. The 63,000-seat venue has a retractable roof covered with translucent fabric and was the only stadium in North America to make Business Week's list of world-class sports stadiums.

2012 Summer Olympics

london-olympics.jpgPopulous' work will be on prominent display at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The firm was chosen to lead the design effort for the facilities, including the main stadium. London Games organizers communicated their desire to create facilities that will continue to be used after the Olympics, leading Populous to propose a plan that represents a significant departure from the Bird's Nest built for the Beijing Games. "This is not a stadium that's going to be screaming from the rooftops that it's bigger and more spectacular," Sheard said at the unveiling of the design in 2007. "This is just a cleverer building. This is a cleverer solution." The plan for the main stadium calls for 55,000 temporary seats to be installed on top of 25,000 permanent seats housed in a sunken bowl. The steel structure that supports the temporary seats will be concealed by a porous, translucent fabric wrap, or mural, that will be adorned with flags, images of past Olympic champions, and sponsor logos. A cable-supported roof will cover two-thirds of the seats.

Tom Molineaux: The Ex-Slave Who Became America’s First International Boxing Superstar

George Cruickshank (NYPL), via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
George Cruickshank (NYPL), via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Tom Molineaux found freedom with his fists.

Regarded as America's first great prizefighter, very little is known about Molineaux’s early life. The most common account, however, says that he was born a slave in Virginia sometime around 1784. The local plantation owners took amusement in pitting their enslaved people against each other in bare-knuckle boxing matches, and Molineaux showed a knack for the sport. One day, he won a match that earned his master a huge sum in bets, and was consequently granted his freedom.

(There’s an unsubstantiated rumor that George Washington, a neighboring plantation owner, might have given Molineaux a few pointers in the ring. While that is almost certainly a fabrication, Washington did in fact know a great deal about combat sports such as wrestling; Sports Illustrated called him “a master of the British style known as collar and elbow.”)

After gaining his freedom, Molineaux moved north to New York City around 1804 and began honing his bare-knuckle boxing skills. Details are scarce, but it’s obvious that the young pugilist carved out a name for himself, as he soon earned the title of “Champion of America.”

After five years, Molineaux decided to take his talents across the pond to England. “He was the first American to rise to the eminence of an international challenger,” journalist Paul Magriel wrote in a 1951 edition of the journal Phylon [PDF].

But Molineaux wasn't just hungry for new competition. In Britain, there was big money in boxing. Though the sport was technically illegal, it was well-respected and well-attended. It also had a set of well-defined rules, which Brian Phillips wrote about in a fantastic piece for Grantland:

"Bouts were held outdoors, on bare ground, in rings marked off from fields. The fighters wore no gloves, which probably made them safer. (Gloves were introduced to protect the hands, not the head, and allowed fighters to punch harder.) But rounds didn’t end until one man or the other went down. And there was no limit to the number of rounds that could be fought. After a fall, fighters had 30 seconds to return to the scratch, a mark in the middle of the ring."

Arriving in England, Molineaux had one goal: To fight Tom Cribb. Cribb, who was born near Bristol, England, was considered Europe’s best boxer and routinely drew tens of thousands of spectators to his matches. He was also incredibly tough. According to Phillips, “he reportedly trained by punching the bark off trees.”

In London, Molineaux met a fellow American boxing aficionado—and ex-slave—named Bill Richmond. Richmond, who was considered one of the world’s first black sporting celebrities, was also a highly in-demand trainer. And he agreed to take Molineaux under his wing.

The duo was a perfect fit. With Richmond’s help, Molineaux began to vanquish his opponents fight after fight after fight. In one match, he beat a man so badly that it was impossible to discern his facial features. “The amateurs were completely astonished at the improvement exhibited by Molineaux, and the punishment he dealt out was so truly tremendous, and his strength and bottom so superior, that he was deemed a proper match for the champion, Tom Cribb,” wrote Pierce Egan, a celebrated journalist of the time, in his book Boxiana.

The momentous match was arranged for December 18, 1810. Immediately, the bout's implications were freighted by racism and nationalism. “Some persons feel alarmed at the bare idea that a black man and a foreigner should seize the championship of England, and decorate his sable brow with the hard earned laurels of Cribb,” one media outlet claimed, according to the book Pugilistica.

On the day of the fight, rain poured down. More than 5000 people attended anyway, including a gaggle of the first professional sportswriters. Long before the first punch was thrown, the pro-Cribb crowd began hurling racist invectives at the black American fighter.

Molineaux seemed undeterred. Round after round, he knocked the English champion down. At one point, Molineaux held Cribb in a legal headlock, and the fight's action stalled. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of impatient fans stormed the ring. The scrum injured—and possibly broke—a few of Molineaux’s fingers.

The American continued to dominate anyway.

By the 28th round, the afternoon’s wagers—which had started at 4 to 1 in Cribb’s favor—were now even. According to Egan, “In the 28th round, after the men were carried to their corners, Cribb was so much exhausted that he could hardly rise from his second's knee at the call of 'Time.'" It was clear that Molineaux was on pace to win.

In fact, many people believe he should have already been declared the victor. In the 27th round, Cribb fell and failed to get back up after the required 30 seconds. By all means, Molineaux should have been celebrating. But Cribb’s minders distracted the refs and managed to buy enough time for Cribb to regain both his consciousness and his composure. Whether they were complicit or just clueless, the refs let the time violation slide and the fight continued [PDF].

Shortly after, the momentum shifted.

Cribb landed a few lucky punches. Molineaux, whose eyes had swollen over, began to stagger. After 44 rounds, the American quit and Cribb was declared the winner. The crowd went nuts, leading Pierce Egan to call the whole event, "[T]he most dreadful affront to British sportsmanship ever witnessed."

A few days later, Molineaux sent Cribb a letter blaming the loss on the weather and asking for a rematch. A second fight, which occurred approximately nine months later on September 18, 1811, was attended by more than 15,000 people. This time, Cribb out-trained the American and defeated Molineaux in 11 rounds.

But history had already been made. The first match had secured Molineaux a hallowed place as one of the sport’s top athletes, and in 1997, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?

Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT
Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT

Before anyone brings home the hardware, let's answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman's Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn't really Heisman's Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer—he consistently received rotten reviews—and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere—in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

Possibly, but Heisman didn't have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists—Vinny Testaverde won that year—and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time."

What's a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

Steve Spurrier playing quarterback in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Steve Spurrier playing quarterback for the University of Florida in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol' Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida's student government thought Spurrier's generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he'd get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World's Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman's Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn't show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren't totally clear—some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion—the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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